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|Index||12 reviews in total|
This excellent movie far transcends its own genre, with a resourceful
and detailed production that makes for a worthy treatment of some
thought-provoking themes. Adapted from the Zane Grey novel, it easily
does justice to the interesting story, but it is much more than just a
good melodrama. Ambitous in its scale, in its time-span, and in its
themes, it puts the main story into a context that is as interesting to
watch as it is challenging to many of the common conceptions about the
history of the American West.
The main story features Richard Dix as a Native American on a reservation, who must contend with a wide range of persons from the 'white' races. Dix succeeds in making his character interesting, believable, and sympathetic. In particular, he does well with portraying the inner torment and longings of a perceptive and capable man who is forced by his environment to keep a lot of things inside.
The 'white' characters work well, and they are well-chosen so as to avoid a simplistic portrayal of those who went west. Noah Beery plays the villainous Booker effectively, making his ill intentions clear even when his character is at his most charming, yet at the same making it believable that such a reprehensible character could so often gain the upper hand. Lois Wilson is rather meek, but she works well with Dix in the relationship that is at the center of the story.
All of that would be good enough (and it doesn't even mention the beautiful scenery and photography in Monument Valley), but what makes the movie even better is that it is set in a broader context, which places the lengthy, heart-rending clash of cultures in the American West into a sweeping, far more comprehensive picture of the unending struggle of human cultures and societies as they rise and fall through the centuries. It balances a number of perspectives, and believably shows how complex the interplay between different cultures can be.
The lengthy prologue, often detailed and interesting in itself, paints a convincing and often harrowing picture of the nature of human societies in their struggles and rivalries through the ages. It adds a depth rarely seen to the eventual conflicts between the expanding USA and the Native American nations, and even if it were made today, it would be a bold statement that challenges stereotypes of all kinds. True indeed is the movie's theme that human cultures come and go, and that those standing strong today will someday pass away, with only the earth itself remaining always.
This movie surely deserves to be much better-known, for its top quality production of some often challenging material, its interesting story, and its themes that are worthy of careful and honest consideration. If it were filmed today, some of the details would probably be handled differently, but that is to a large degree a matter of style or fashion. The specific details are far less important than the movie's impressive depth and quality.
Okay, it is very possible to quibble with this film if you are too
wrapped up in political correctness. Sure, it's a real shame that the
film starred the white actor, Richard Dix, in dark paint as the Indian
lead in the film. However, having White actors play Indians was pretty
much the rule up to the 1960s, so I could easily overlook this. And,
the beginning of the film can seem a tad preachy and irrelevant (though
I liked it, Leonard Maltin's Guide knocked this section of the film).
However, given that the film was made in the rather racist 1920s (when
the KKK was on the rise and one of the strongest political forces in
America), it is a truly amazing and transcendent film that definitely
deserves to be seen and appreciated.
Unlike the typical cowboy movie of the day, the Indians in the film are neither blood-thirsty savages nor are they simple-minded. Instead, the are uniformly shown as decent Americans who want a fair shake and a part of the American Dream. In fact, their desire to become TRUE Americans and their love of their country make this a great patriotic film. While based on all the horrible injustices they received in the film, their fundamental decency seems amazing.
In addition to excellent acting, writing and direction, special attention must be focused on the spectacular and breathtaking cinematography--especially towards the beginning of the film. The scenes of the Grand Canyon are among the most beautiful ever filmed during the silent era and are in many ways reminiscent of moving versions of Ansel Adams photos. The film is a true work of art.
This is an incredible rarity- a look at Native Americans from their first
settling on this continent (basket weavers, slab builders, cliff dwellers,
etc.) through the then present day of post WW I. Richard Dix is
exceptionally good in his finest performance as Nophaie, the tribe's leader
and Lois Wilson is equally fine as the schoolmarm. Their inter-racial love
is impeccably handled. Noah Beery lends his usual charming menace as the
villain. The screenplay is unique, balancing opposing points of view and
the cinematography is breath-taking. Had there been Oscars then, I'd have
nommed it for Best Film, Actor - Dix, Direction - Seitz, Screenplay and
Currently available on KINO Video in an impeccably restored print - add this to your collection. A most unique film and worthy of rediscovery.
Although by today's standards The Vanishing American is over the top
and melodramatic it still has a fine message about the American Indian
and their place in the American dream. The sad truth was that this
continent did belong to them and we took it from them.
Nothing to be either proud or ashamed of. A society that ranged from hunting and gathering to the beginnings of agricultural gave way to a to an industrial and full blown agricultural society. Just the sociological way of things. Everything gives way to something in time.
That being said, the tragedy of the American Indian was not often told in these years from the Indian point of view. As a writer Zane Grey was steeped in western lore and if a white man could tell the story he could.
After a prologue showing the subjugation, we see the desert tribes of today living on government handouts, trying to maintain respectability but the victims of a corrupt Indian agent played by Noah Beery. That was the way it was back then, under Democratic or Republican administrations, the Department of the Interior was a patronage trough and characters like Noah Beery were more common than we would care to admit.
Richard Dix plays a charismatic leader of his people who actually forms an Indian battalion to fight in what was called then, The Great War. It was reasoned we fight for America as good Americans we'll be treated as such when we return. Instead its business as usual as Beery has banished the tribe to desert scrub lands. Time to return to the fighting ways of our ancestors maybe.
As Dix's character is presented and he specialized in playing noble heroes on the silent screen and when talkies arrived, the personal tragedy of this tribe is that Dix comes along about four generations too late. He's the kind of leader who might have made a difference back in the day, but can only see the futility of what his tribe is about to do.
The Vanishing American shot in what became known as John Ford's Monument Valley was a big budget item for Paramount back in the day. It's got the sweep and grandeur of a John Ford western and a little bit of the influence of Paramount's number one director Cecil B. DeMille in this one who made a spectacle film or two of note.
Though melodramatic, The Vanishing American should still be viewed for the lessons it imparts to today's audience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is a 'lost' twenties film that deserves to be seen today.
This is one of the few exceptions of Western films that sympathetically portrays Native Americans and the abuses they suffered. You won't see another one like this until 'Broken Arrow' (1950). Unfortunately, many of these 'exceptions' focus on just one individual Indian and his personal story, rather than plead the Indians' case. This one mixes both, and is the only film that really attempts to put a Zane Grey novel on screen.
Today, Richard Dix's emotional range here doesn't seem very great (checking out his other films it never did), but is that because his noble stoicism is deliberate? In one of his 'Job-like' scenes it almost comes to the surface; his high morality does surely come through.
There's a mind boggling prolog of the entire history of Native Americans, including the Annazzazi Cliff Dwellers; the history of Indians moves through time ending with Dix's return to his native land after World War I.
Another real high point is the dastardly Noah Beery who doesn't need sound to convey his two faced menace. You can imagine the cheers when he finally gets it (in the neck). His amazing range as an actor can be seen in 'The Mark of Zorro' (1920) where he is the hilariously buffoonish Sergeant, and of course, as Buster Keaton's competition in 'Three Ages' (1923) Keaton's spoof of 'Intolerance' (1916).
Truly epic in scope, this is definitely a film that deserves to be seen today, and can be thoroughly enjoyed by all. I give it an 8.
What a great surprise this movie is. This silent is a sleeper, a
classic, wonderful film that does all the great things a soundless
movie is capable of doing. Most importantly, this may be one of the
most genuinely sympathetic movies ever about American Indians, because
it does so without preaching, without portraying them as these
mystical, magical humans, that, because they do things like use every
piece of the buffalo they kill, are somehow better than all of us. You
know the stereotype. It seems like Hollywood has never found a smart
middle ground when it comes to portraying Indians: they are either
savages or god-like innocents, but never normal. In The Vanishing
American, the Indians are just regular people, largely pushed and
pulled by fate and the inexorable spreading of the white way of life.
Here, we see the hurt inflicted on Indians in small ways, like a farm being taken by the Indian Agent from one man while he is away at war, or a tribe member taken to be a servant of the Agent, and dying in his service, and the pain this causes his survivors; we feel the sadness of the characters without being forced through a lecture.
At the same time, the movie is epic in nature, taking us through several millennia of time, and staging those massive battle scenes containing hundreds of extras that the silents, to me, do more effectively than the talkies ever could (perhaps it is the inherently haunting nature of all silent film that makes it seem so).
Richard Dix is acceptable as an Indian leader, but Noah Beery steals the show, playing one of the slimiest and sleaziest villains ever; he even kicks an Indian sitting at his office's doorstop, and not once, but twice, to get him out of the way!
This movie also takes patriotism very seriously; tears come to the school teacher's eyes when her class of young Indians says the Pledge of Allegiance. Religion, too, is treated with seriousness, as modern Hollywood never does; Christianity and the New Testament are held with reverence, but again, not too preachy.
I highly recommend this film to all silent film affectionados, as well as those interested to see a unique and oddly progressive film about Native Americans that was made in the 1920's.
Some small thoughts: (1) Early in the film, some Indians meet up with Spanish Conquistadors. The Indians are much more naked than we normally see them; No clothing at all up their hips: a little unnerving! (2) During an early battle scene, an invading tribe is attacking the cliff dwellers; the invaders climb tall ladders to reach the upper ledges. At one point, several ladders full of climbing invaders are seen; one of the ladders is pushed back, and a ladder full of invaders falls backwards, the men on it doomed to fall to their presumed deaths; if you look closely, though, the men on that ladder are clearly dummies.
(3) When Kit Carson's soldiers first hurry off to battle, the first carriage we see pulled by horses and supporting a cannon clearly loses a wheel as it flies down a hill. (4) Racial incongruity #1: The white Richard Dix, with make-up on to darken his features to make him look like an Indian, wearing a soldier's World War I uniform and fighting in the trenches. Racial incongruity #2: an Indian Chief introduced in a title, played by Bernard Siegle!
(5) When the Indian children in the school recite the Pledge of the Allegiance, they have their arms extended out in a manner that to modern eyes may seem like a fascist salute; is this how they used to do it? (6) At one point, Richard Dix is standing on one of the great stone arches of the American West, tossing feathers from his staff into the wind; the first feather he tosses is blown by the wind back to him, and sticks to his arm! He quickly swipes it away, though, and continues his scene.
Vanishing American, The (1925)
*** (out of 4)
Interesting drama from Paramount tells the story of Indians and how they fought to try and gain acceptance after having everything stolen from them. This film centers on Nophaie (Richard Dix), a man whose bravery leads the Indians into WW1 as well as fighting their battles at home. While this adaptation of Zane Grey's story isn't as great as one might hope, there are enough interesting bits here to make it worth sitting through. The film starts off with a nice prologue where we see various "forms" of people from the early caveman, to cave dwellers and then the Indian. These shorter sequences all look extremely good and especially the cave dwellers segment, which is real eye candy especially with the sets that really were built on cliffs. The entire look of this city makes you feel as if you're really there and this continues during the next sequence where we finally get to see the Indians and their early time here. We get some brief comic moments including their thoughts when they first see a horse but this soon turns to some battle sequences that are also well executed. I was surprised to see how graphic some of the violence was and this includes a scene with an Indian full of spikes through his body as well as another brutal scene with an Indian being shot and falling from a cliff. These early war scenes look extremely realistic as does the later one when Nophaie is fighting in WW1. Some could rightfully argue that this film's entire message of peace is pretty much wasted as the majority of the Indians here are played by white men with brown paint on. I think a lot of viewers today will see this and not even pay attention to the message here as they'll see it being double sided but it's important to remember when this movie was made and the fact that a lot of these message movies quite often appear just as racist as the film's their trying to go against. What really makes one scratch their head is the fact that this make up put on the actors is clearly melting during several scenes yet no one tried to touch it up to make it less obvious that we weren't seeing an Indian. With that said, Dix, Lois Wilson, Noah Beery and Malcolm McGregor all turn in fine performances. Each were believable in their roles with Beery clearly stealing the film and Dix coming off as a good lead even though he's be much better in 1929's REDSKIN. The biggest problem with the film is that it jumps around a bit too much and the love story itself is rather weak. The 110-minute running time could have been cut down without too much being missed. Movie legend would have one believe that John Ford discovered Monument Valley but that's certainly not the case as it's fully on display here. The images captured of it are truly breathtaking and these here are reason enough to sit through the movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director George B. Seitz was known more for the Pearl White serial
"Plunder" until "The Vanishing American". Instead of portraying him as
the usual plundering savage, the screenplay by Ethel Doherty (from a
Zane Grey novel) tried to correct a lot of the myths about the Indian's
warrior standing. Typical of the silent epic (in general) it had a
mighty sense of history as the story was played out across a vast
panorama beautifully photographed by C. Edgar Schoenbaum and Harry
Perry. Titles refer to "the mighty stage" and the movie looked at life
in grand terms but also with humanity. "The Vanishing American" was
also the last Western feature for almost 2 decades to take a
sympathetic look into Native American culture.
After a very interesting prologue showing how the different peaceful cultures (ie Cliff Dwellers) were gradually overcome by the Indian fighters and warriors. They thought if they could only capture a White God (horse) they would be supreme kings, they had never seen a horse until the arrival of the white man. When the Spaniards used their guns, the Indians felt they (the Spaniards) were in league with the Gods and were eventually conquered and forced to live on reservations.
"The Vanishing American" defied stereotype, questioned tradition and was ahead of it's time. Hooper, the Indian Agent of Mesa is too caught up with bureaucracy and paper work to effectively help the Indians so it is left to his assistant Booker, and as played by Noah Beery, he is a villain of the first order. Blatantly lying about wanting to be the Indian's friend, he only wants to get in pretty teacher Marian Warner's (Lois Wilson) good books. Apart from old timer Bart Wilson, she is the only person who wants to understand the Indians and has even bothered to learn their language. There is also an "understanding" between her and Nophaie (Richard Dix), the leader of the tribe. Richard Dix plays Nophaie with dignity and believability, even when the story becomes a bit bogged down with biblical piety (he starts to question his native God as "foolish" putting his trust in the New Testament given him by Marian).
The film shows the Indian as being truly mistreated, right through the ages, although as the story progresses it becomes trite as it shows the Native American at his noblest when he is trying to mimic the white man - joining the U.S. Army to help fight the War or becoming emotional when Marian told him he should be proud to be an American. When they return to the reservation after the War, things have changed for the worst, Booker is in charge and he and his henchmen have pilloried the land - and to make matters worse, Booker tells Nophaie that Marian has married recruitment officer Earl Ramsdale (Malcolm MacGregor)!!! That's not true and in a surprising twist, that would have been shocking for it's day, Marian comes back to the reservation to pledge her love to Nophaie.
Shannon Day, a Cecil B. DeMille protégé, whose career did not survive the coming of sound played the tragic Indian maid. I am also sure that Richard Dix became involved in the Native American cause after his performances in this movie, "Redskin" and "Cimmaron" made him more aware.
I remember seeing James Stewart in the 1950 film BROKEN ARROW and being impressed at the positive view of the American Indian shown. Stewart's love (and marriage) for an Indian maidin who is killed by vengeful white men, was powerful and very touching. The 1925 Paramount silent version of Zane Grey's THE VANISHING AMERICAN is even more of an eye-opener! This is not a run of the mill "B" Western as so many of the films based on Zane Grey works were. This is a major Western in the tradition of Paramount's famous 1923 film, THE COVERED WAGON. No film (not even the marvelous films of John Ford)have shown the Indian as he must of lived in former times. The locations are the real thing (and beautifully photographed) and the numbers of extras are huge. One sees hundreds of Indians living in the clift dwellings and riding among the spectacular areas of Arizona and Utah (made famous in the Ford films). The first portion of the film attempts to trace the history of the first people to populate this land and follows their changing conditions through history. Some tribes grow weak and are over-taken by more powerful tribes. Powerful tribes are taken in by the arrival of the white men under Cortez and there first view of a horse (actually THE BOOK OF MORMON, a second testament to Jesus Christ gives a more acurate account of where the horses came from) -- but the Indians believe the horse to be some sort of god and thus subject themselves to the white man. The main story takes up just before American enters World War I and shows the sorry stake of the American Indian, now living on reservations and being cheated out of anything of value that they still have. Richard Dix does a marvelous job playing an Indian who has great values and respect for his people. The film shows the U.S. Governments need and request from the Indians for horses to help in the war. Through Dix's efforts they gain not only horses but enlistment from many of the Indian men. They play an important part in the War effort, but when they return to their land it is to conditions that have worsened, not improved. Thus the climax is set up. Truly an unusal film to survive from the silent era -- and one well worth taking a look at. The surviving material is beautiful to look at, but does contain a degree of flicker caused by the deterioration of the nitrate film that it was printed on. A choice addition to my DVD collection!
Film adaptation of Zane Grey's western story "The Vanishing American";
once upon a time; this was considered a very sympathetic "History of
the Indian Race". Presently, it's worth is much more subjective; it
would be entirely appropriate for modern viewers to take offensive,
especially Native Americans.
The film's highlight is the opening prologue; for its time, a very nicely researched, and extraordinarily photographed, history of Native Americans. Edgar Schoenbaum and Harry Perry are the cinematographers capturing Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, and other places looking exquisitely beautiful. Some of the footage seems excitingly authentic, for example, the "Cliff Dwellers" segments.
As the film jumps to the present, Richard Dix (as Nophaie the Warrior) emerges as the "hero"; arguably, he neither looks nor acts like a real Native American. The "epic" story becomes a decidedly more boring tale involving horse thief Noah Berry (as Booker). There is a lovely white woman, of course, to turn Dix' head; she's Lois Wilson (as Marion Warner). Ms. Wilson also converts Mr. Dix to Christianity; and, he is certainly not a hard sell.
***** The Vanishing American (10/15/25) George B. Seitz ~ Richard Dix, Lois Wilson, Noah Berry
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