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A Romance of the Redwoods (1917)

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A young girl travels west to live with her uncle during the California Gold Rush only to find that he has been killed by Indians and his identity assumed by an outlaw.

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Elliott Dexter ...
'Black' Brown, Road Agent
...
Sam Sparks
Raymond Hatton ...
Dick Roland
Charles Ogle ...
Jim Lyn
Walter Long ...
Sheriff
Winter Hall ...
John Lawrence, Uncle To Jenny
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Storyline

'Black' Brown, a notorious road agent on the run from the law, stumbles on the body of John Lawrence, an honest prospector during the early years of the California Gold Rush, riddled with Indian arrows. Brown takes the dead man's clothes and papers and is able to pass himself off as a good citizen in 1850's Calaveras County. When Lawrence's sister dies, her daughter spends the little money she has to journey to California and live with her uncle. Arriving at the isolated cabin, she realizes he is an impostor, but his threats intimidate her into silence. Lacking money and protection, she immediately becomes vulnerable to the advances of the largely all-male population, and so must acknowledge Brown publicly as her uncle in order to continue to receive food, shelter, and his protection. Over time, this understanding of mutual convenience turns to affection, and he pledges to reform. When former members of his gang continue their dishonest ways, however, the now rehabilitated Brown falls... Written by G. Taverney (duke1029@aol.com)

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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Details

Country:

Release Date:

14 May 1917 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

La bête enchaînée  »

Filming Locations:

 »

Box Office

Budget:

$134,832 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Most of the $135,000 budget for the film went to pay Mary Pickford's salary -$96,666.67. See more »

Quotes

Jenny Lawrence: I'd rather take in washin' the rest of my life than let you be a thief.
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User Reviews

 
"Try this one – it's loaded"
31 August 2008 | by (Ruritania) – See all my reviews

The western picture is almost as old as the cinema itself, and the genre and the medium to some extent developed side by side. Here, in 1917, as the feature film was becoming more the norm than a novelty, we see the western becoming more than just a genre in itself and becoming the backdrop for a romance.

Although parts of this story stretch credibility a little (this is DeMille, after all), the strength of the director and his long-time collaborator screenwriter Jeanie Macpherson in storytelling is evident. As was by now customary with his pictures, he economically introduces each character with a title giving their name followed by a brief shot which tells us everything we need to know. For DeMille this era was the peak of his visual storytelling abilities. One technique he uses is a quick shot of something happening out of a character's sight, yet which it is implied they can hear. For example, Elliot Dexter puts his ear to the ground, we cut to a close-up of horses' hooves, and we understand. It is not always so effective – for example the scene where Mary Pickford is startled by a wolf howling in the forest. From the way the sequence is edited it is not clear whether she is hearing the wolf or seeing it as well, even though we assume the former because it makes more sense.

One thing that sets Romance of the Redwoods apart from DeMille's previous effort, the spectacular Joan the Woman, is the frequent use of close-ups and multiple angles. This reflects changes going on in the cinematic form around the time, as more freedom was given to camera placement, and the idea of placing the audience inside the action gained currency. In the case of this picture, it of course enhances the ability to tell stories with images, but it also adds emotional and psychological weight to the scenes that need it. DeMille uses the soon-to-be standard trick of keeping the camera back for the purely expository stuff, then moving in close when a dialogue between two characters enters a deeper, more emotional level. It says a lot for his cinematic method that he manages to sustain a western with very little action, mostly through an air of menace, which inevitably gives way to romance.

This was Mary Pickford's first film with DeMille, and you can see she benefits from the time and space he allows his performers to act. Pickford was far more interesting before she began playing children, and here she is convincing as a youngster on the cusp of adulthood. Her most memorable moment in the film must surely be when she discovers Dexter's bandit mask. Horrified at first, she slowly lifts the rag to her own face – the scene is like a distant ancestor of Lorraine Bracco being given the gun to hide in Goodfellas. Elliot Dexter is adequate as the male lead, even if he does look more like a Dickensian villain than anything out of a western.

For all its merits, Romance of the Redwoods is a worthy yet somewhat bland entry in the DeMille canon. It is full of nice touches but lacks a real punch. What's more, the premise of the innocent easterner heading west was growing a little tired. It would be a few years yet before pioneer westerns The Covered Wagon and The Iron Horse would arrive to revitalise the genre.


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