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This was Cecil B. DeMille's first picture as sole credited director.
Like the better known yet inferior Squaw Man, which he co-directed with
Oscar Apfel, it is a western starring Dustin Farnum. Unlike its
predecessor, The Virginian bears the hallmarks of having been made by a
classy albeit inexperienced director, and the definite DeMille style is
beginning to emerge.
Part of The Virginian's superiority over The Squaw Man is its tighter storyline. This is probably helped by the fact that it unswervingly follows genre convention. The western may have been in its infancy, but even in 1914 the iconic cowboy and his inevitable shootout with the villainous outlaw were already synonymous with it. One factor which characterises this as an early western is the theme of an outsider coming to the west in this case the love interest Molly. At this time the west was not yet old, and it was an exotic place for easterners to discover. There's already something of a shift going on here though as the hero himself is an established westerner. I have to say, Dustin Farnum looks a lot more comfortable here playing the genuine cowboy as oppose to the English gentlemen traveller of The Squaw Man.
Right from the start, Cecil DeMille differed somewhat in approach from DW Griffith in that he was most concerned with what went on in individual shots rather than the relationship between them, favouring long takes and rich compositions. He shows some promise here, making good aesthetic use of depth and balance, although he's not quite there yet when it comes to clarifying action and character. For example, he introduces the villain Trampas with a title card, then confuses us by showing three men sitting round the table. Our eyes will probably be drawn to the man on the left with the large sombrero, but it's only thirty seconds or so into the scene that we realise it's the man on the right who is Trampas.
Some more typical and innovative DeMille touches emerge later. DeMille was one of the first filmmakers to convey psychology through technique. For example, when Farnum and his pal Steve are fondly remembering their adventures together, he literally shows their memories on screen in a superimposed image. Of course, this technology had been around since Melies' heyday fifteen years earlier, but DeMille is using it to photograph thought. You don't see anything like that in the work of Melies, or Griffith for that matter.
By and large however, De Mille is still taking his lead from Griffith, which is fair enough as Griffith was the undisputed master at the time. His staging and use of close-ups looks very much like that in the Biograph shorts. There's also some Griffith-style parallel editing to contrast the diverging paths of Steve and Farnum, when the former falls in with the cattle rustlers and the latter falls in with the school ma'am. The later DeMille tended to keep individual scenes intact. However, it would not be long before fully-fledged DeMillean classics such as The Cheat would appear.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cecil B. DeMille had made his film directing debut with The Squaw Man (first feature film) the same year as the film discussed here. While still a little on the primitive side, this first film version of Owen Wister's novel The Virginian does move along at a brisk pace and has a couple of humorous scenes before the drama involving the title character's friend Steve and thief Trampas. The first involves Virginian's (Dustin Farnum) attempts to get a hotel bed by himself by sleeping next to someone and shaking his leg bothering the other bed mates. The next one involves the title character and Steve switching babies in a separate bedroom from the parents celebrating in the dance hall. There's also a surprising scene where after Virginian hangs Steve, teacher Molly's schoolkids nearly reenact the event before she stops them. The person who plays Molly (Winifred Kingston) was married to Farnum in real life from 1924 until his death in 1929 and Dustin Hoffman later revealed he was named after this silent cowboy actor. Remade a few more times with the best known being the talkie Gary Cooper one from 1929. Worth a look for Cecil B. DeMille completists.
Interesting silent from the very early days of Universal, based on a
Owen Wister novel and perhaps partly scripted by him. What impressed me
most about it was the command that director Cecil B. DeMille has over
feature editing at this early stage. His handling of the principal actors
is not particularly outstanding; and DeMille would not further distinguish
himself in this area as his long career unfolded. But DeMille understands
how to intercut separate scenes so they fold into one another and move the
story forward. Also DeMille shows skill in coordinating crowd scenes,
would certainly serve him well in his later biblical epics. In these
respects "The Virginian" is one of the most advanced features of it's time,
at least of the ones from 1914 which we can still see today.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Virginian", DeMille's first solo directorial effort, is far better
than "The Squaw Man" (1914)Cecil B. DeMille's co-directorial debut,
which was also a Western popularized in other media (paperback and
stage). Moreover, "The Virginian" is better than most of the films I've
seen from the period of early feature-length films (from about 1910 to
"The Birth of a Nation"). It isn't nearly as tedious and confused in
its storytelling as "The Squaw Man" and includes many would-be staples
of its genre. The shootout in the street is but one example. These were
already standards of the genre in literature and theatre, of course,
but this is one of the earliest examples of them so thoroughly being
transplanted to cinema.
Perhaps even more important, the film contains some comparatively brisk editing and a few examples of then-advanced photography: all of which were lacking in "The Squaw Man" and many films of the period. According to historian Robert Birchard, the film we see today is a 1918 reissue, which included new intertitles. I suppose it may have been reedited some, as well, which is important considering that films in 1918 tended to move faster than even many films made today, let alone the often meandering pacing of the typical 1914 feature.
One important addition "The Virginian" has over "The Squaw Man" is cinematographer Alvin Wyckoff, who would continue to collaborate with DeMille on many of his early silent films, including the landmark film "The Cheat" (1915) and "The Whispering Chorus" (1918). "The Virginian" includes some impressively composed scenes and competent photography throughout. In one punctuating shot, only shadows on the ground of hung outlaws are shown. In another scene, two characters watch their shared memory before a fireplace via double exposure photography. The use of a mirror in one of the final shots to show the reunion of the two leads is an extraordinary case of framing and lighting, as well as dramatic effect, for its time. It also seems to be taken straight out of early Danish films, where mirrors were often used to reflect off-screen action and comment on the narrative. Two other impressive scenes seem to be entirely lit by campfire; it may be the earliest example I've seen of nighttime photography in a narrative filmeven predating "The Birth of a Nation", which has often been cited as introducing this effect to a non-actuality film. (By the way, one campfire scene crosscuts between scenes shot in daylight. It's likely that this sequence was originally tinted blue, as was then the custom for making day to night scenes.)
The Californian landscape is also used rather well here, compared to "The Squaw Man" and other early films. Despite using much of the same cast from "The Squaw Man", the acting even seems more tolerable in "The Virginian", although still very dated. The use of some medium shots and scene dissection in the latter film surely help there. Comparing the two films, it's remarkable how much DeMille learned and was inspired to do within one year. Otherwise, "The Virginian" is, in ways, still a rather slipshod early feature-length film, with a throwaway story advocating the death penalty without trial to protect private property, with a couple very poor drawn-out jokes preceding the dramatic third act. Yet, it does show DeMille's promise as a filmmakera promise fully realized just the following year in "The Cheat".
Dustin Farnum is "The Virginian", a cow-puncher who arrives to settle
in Bear Creek, Wyoming; where, he meets, and falls in "lov" (sic) with
newly arrived schoolteacher Winifred Kingston (as Molly Wood). His life
is complicated when his best friend Jack W. Johnston (as Steve) gets
involved with town gangster William 'Billy' Elmer (as Trampas).
The part, early on, with Mr. Farnum and Hosea Steelman (as Lin McLean) exchanging guests' babies while they dance and drink whiskey, is amusing. There are some interestingly set-up outdoor shots from director Cecil B. DeMille. The story is sometimes odd; for example, Mr. Johnston takes up with Mr. Elmer, it's stated, as Farnum "neglects" him to be with Ms. Kingston. Later, Johnston writes something on a newspaper - "good by (unreadable) i couldn't speak to you without (unreadable) the baby Steve". I watched it with my finger on still, and still couldn't figure it out. Among the featured players. Johnston delivered the best performance. Farnum and Kingston, who had just co-starred in "The Squaw Man" (1914), would later marry.
***** The Virginian (9/7/14) Cecil B. DeMille ~ Dustin Farnum, Winifred Kingston, Jack W. Johnston
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Virginian" was a follow up of sorts by Director Cecil B. De Mille
to his "The Squaw Man" released earlier in 1914. It has largely the
same cast, a practice that De Mille would follow the rest of his
The Virginian (Dustin Farnum) is a fun loving cowboy who takes his work seriously. He and Steve (Jack W. Johnston) are good buddies but Steve is a mite wilder in his ways. School teacher Molly Wood (Winnifred Kingston) accepts a post in Wyoming and arrives in town after The Virginian has rescued her from a drunken stagecoach driver. A party is held in honor.
At the party The Virginain and Lin McLean (Hosea Steelman) play a prank on the party goers by switching their young children. The parents become angry when they discover the ruse and Molly scolds The Virginian as they become attracted to each other.
Steve meanwhile, has joined the gang of Trampas (Billy Elmer) a hell raisin' cattle rustler. After some cattle are stolen, the towns people ask The Virginian to head up the posse. The Virginian knowing that his friend Steve is among the rustlers, reluctantly agrees.
The posse corners the gang but Trampas and Shorty (Tex Driscoll) manage to escape. Trampas and another bandit are captured. The Virginian is forced to administer some frontier justice and Steve and the bandit are lynched. The Virginian pursues Trampas and Shorty who have only one horse so Trampas takes care of Shorty and escapes as The Virginian is closing in on him.
Trampas incites the local Indian tribe to attack the Virginian, He is wounded but manages to escape. Molly finds him just as she is about to go back east, and nurses him back to health, cementing their relationship in the process.
Later, The Virginian learns that Trampas is in town. He confronts the outlaw who calls him a nasty name. In the story's trademark line (often attributed to Gary Cooper in the remake) The Virginian replies: "When you call me that...smile!" Trampas gives The Virginian until sundown to get out of town and.................................
As I was with "The Squaw Man", I was amazes at how good these early westerns really were. "The Virginian" has all of the elements of the later remakes and has what I believe to be the first ever street shootout, a staple in many later westerns.
Dustin Farnum looks at home in the saddle and makes a creditable hero even though he didn't fit the later mold of the western hero. Winnifred Kingston makes an appealing heroine and Billy Elmer an excellent rotten good for nothing villain.
Followed by two sequels in 1929 a sound version with Gary Cooper and again in 1946 in color with Joel McCrea.
Virginian, The (1914)
** (out of 4)
Dustin Farnum plays a cowboy from Virginia who goes out West with his best friend but a woman (Winifred Kingston) comes between them. To make things even worst, the best friend gets caught up with some castle thieves at the same time the Virginian is hired to bring the gang down. This was DeMille's second feature coming after the same year's The Squaw Man, which he would go onto remake twice. This is certainly a step down from his previous film but there's still some mild entertainment to be had here. The young DeMille hadn't came down with any of his trademark style at this point in his career but he does a good job handling the story and keeping it moving. The film runs a short 53-minutes and that time goes by real fast without any down time. The cast is pretty good and that includes leading man Farnum who was also in the director's first film. There really isn't too much action until the end but there's still some fine humor to keep the film moving.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An interesting early American feature narrative, based on the novel by
Owen Wister which was also the basis for a number of later films as
well as the famous television series. DeMille's film is a model in
early action storytelling, with the travails of the Virginian and his
feckless friend interspersed with the Virginian romancing a prim new
The Virginian and his friend are pretty unlovable characters, bullies and tedious practical jokers, although the film seems to posit these as positive traits. Although the Virginian is happy to bully weaker men out of their beds for the night and worry women by switching their babies around, he is slavishly bound to the rule of private property and acquiesces to the hanging of his best friend because he seems to have transgressed that law. The original book is a partisan version of the Johnston County War told from the point of view of the wealthy landowners - this film continues the book's noxious suggestion that lynching is the rightful if rough frontier justice of power.
So, as usual with DeMille, we get reactionary ideology told with immaculate storytelling skill.
so I watched this with a couple of friends and I don't know if Demille did it on purpose, but it has got a high value of comical performances. actors are portraying this silent as if they were the main characters in a Shakespeare play. sometimes they overact so much it becomes silly and even stupid. that's why my friends and I enjoyed it so much. they were telling each other what the persons in the movie must have been thinking. things as 'get that gun out of my ass' and 'don't you touch my horse' came spontaneously out of our minds, which made the old movie funnier to look at. it was generally stupid. I broke a finger while watching this movie and that did hurt a lot, more than I enjoyed the picture.
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