Starring George Walsh, younger brother of director Raoul Walsh, "The Test of Donald Norton" is fairly typical fare of its genre, but great fun. The film takes place in the great northern regions of Canada where the Hudson Bay Company ruled for years, dealing with the Natives. Walsh portrays "Wendahban," a youth raised by kindly Hudson Bay Company factor and his wife after Wendahban's unstable Indian mother, "Neetahweegan," casts him out. Seems she hates his father and all white men, and refuses to tell Donald who his real (white) father was. Neetahweegan continues to torment the lad by stalking him and crying out, "You are Indian! You are Indian!" At one point, Wendahban asks his foster mother why she does not beat him daily as his Indian mother did.
Wendahban's name is changed to Donald Norton after the factor's sweet little daughter says she cannot pronounce his Indian name, so the factor's wife gives him her father's name. The two children, raised together, naturally fall in love. At one point the foster mother makes Donald promise that he will never ask the daughter to marry him, for a white woman could never marry a man with Indian blood in that era. (Seems it was fine for a white man to take an Indian woman as a mate, but that's another story.) This story line was used in Buck Jones' fine film, White Eagle (with a similar denouement).
As an adult, Norton is given charge of another Hudson Bay trading post, where he makes friends with the factor of a rival post. The new district manager for Hudson Bay is hard-nosed John Corrigal (Tyrone Power, Sr.). He doesn't trust half breeds, and is eager and willing to believe that Norton is unreliable after a bad year. In truth. Norton was ill with fever, tended to by the rival factor. But Millington, the villain of the piece who got the job Norton wanted, also conspired to keep the Indian trappers away from Norton's post so that Donald would show up in a bad light. Donald's foster father is promoted, and recommends Donald to take his place. Corrigal refuses because of his feelings about Indians and mixed bloods, as well as the "frame" Millington arranged.
In revenge, Donald takes a position with the rival firm. When the local Indians try to attack Millington for his cheating ways, with Corrigal present, Donald intervenes, supporting the Hudson Bay Company. Corrigal sees how he was misled and tries to persuade Donald to come back to Hudson Bay. From here on the real action begins, with sled dogs racing through a blizzardone with Donald's sweetheart on itand an abandoned cabin where a terrific fight takes place. I don't want to give too much away here. I'll just say that a happy ending ensues (of course).
The acting is pretty good, considering this is a silent movie, where over-emoting often abounds. At one point, the villain's leering eyebrows and twitchy mustache will draw a grin, if not a laugh-out-loud response. And the heroine displays her knowledge of her peril with a close-up of wide, terror-filled dark eyes. These are the requirements for a film like this, after all! Easy to understand why Tyrone Power Sr. was considered an excellent actor. Once in awhile one can see vestiges of his son, especially around the eyes. The rest of the cast is equally fine.
George Walsh is very good as Donald Norton, quite often using his own eyes to get his anguish and angst across as he lives in two different worlds and knows he can never have the woman he loves. The fight scene in the cabin is excellently carried off (with both actors obviously involved), not to mention Donald has his shirt ripped off so as to display Walsh's excellent physique! I'd recommend that if one enjoys silent movies, and understands the genre, this is a good one to get hold of. I happened across a copy from "Memory Lane" on ebay and bought it out of curiosity. I'm glad I did.
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