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It's always a tragedy when a potentially important motion picture is lost
and, therefore, can no longer be seen.
An even worse tragedy is when an important film DOES survive, and yet is
rarely shown. Such is the case of
REDSKIN, a superb drama from the late silent era that currently exists in
the film archives of the Library of
The title of the film is not meant to be degrading to American Indian. It refers to the film's hero, Wing Foot (Richard Dix), who is a Navaho educated at the school of white man. In the course of the story he experiences prejudice from both the whites (because of his race) and the Navahos (who disown him because of his upbringing. Thus, Wing Foot is looked upon as neither Indian nor white, but simply a "redskin."
I've only seen this film twice: The first more than ten years ago at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the second in 1999 at UCLA. Other than these extremely rare screenings, REDSKIN seems to have been giving very little exposure to contemporary audiences. To my knowledge, it has never been shown on television, even in this age of cable and satellite channels. Nor has it been made available on videocassette, laser disc, or DVD.
What a tragedy! REDSKIN is an excellent film in many ways - from its production values, to its well-written story, to the effective performance by Richard Dix, the film's talented and now woefully neglected star.
What impressed me when I saw it the first time - an impression reinforced by the second time - was that here was a film that dealt sympathetically with the American Indians in an era of filmmaking that far too many people THINK was one where Indians were shown as murderous savages.
Not only does REDSKIN avoid this stereotype, but it also sidesteps the more contemporary, "politically correct" stereotype offered in LITTLE BIG MAN and DANCES WITH WOLVES. In those films the Indians are generally depicted as being mainly peaceful and morally right, while the whites (save the main protagonist) are seen as the bloodthirsty savages - greedy bigots with little or no redeeming values. Instead of showing the red man as evil and the white man good - or vice versa - REDSKIN presents good and bad in both. The government agent who beats Wing Foot in the beginning of the picture eventually emerges as a decent man - some one who made a mistake and later regretted it. At the end he redeems himself by aiding Wing Foot in his attempt to register his oil claim.
Want more? REDSKIN presents not only the conflict between whites and Indians, but also BETWEEN the Indian races (Navajos and Pueblos are shown to dislike each other). How many other films do this?
If all this isn't enough, REDSKIN is important for its use of Technicolor photography. Roughly two-thirds of this film used color. Although at the time Technicolor had only a two-strip process which could not register the blue spectrum (skies appear white), the red spectrum was fully present, and quite breathtaking in capturing the ruddy hues of the Arizona locations. Color was used for the scenes taking place on the Indians' land, while black and white was used only in the scenes in the white man's world.
REDSKIN has been praised by the late William K. Everson in his book THE HOLLYWOOD WESTERN, while in THE WAR, THE WEST, AND THE WILDERNESS, author Kevin Brownlow states that it is a film "long overdue for rediscovery."
"Redskin" is included in a four disk 48 film set assembled by the
National Film Preservation Foundation entitled "Treasures III: Social
Issues in American Film 1900-1934", which is available from Amazon.com
In addition to being Paramount's last silent picture and their first color film (using two strip Technicolor), 'Redskin' was also partially filmed using an early 70mm process called Magnascope (see http://www.moviediva.com/MD_root/reviewpages/MDRedskin.htm)
"Magnascope was a special projection technology that used a wide angle, 3 1/2 inch lens to project a dramatically enlarged image (30 by 40 feet) on a screen that was twice the size of the standard Rivoli screen (15 by 20 feet). Non-Magnascope portions of "Old Ironsides" were projected with a 7-inch lens. An illusion of gradual image enlargement was produced by the movement of black masking on the top, bottom, and sides of the screen to reveal more and more of the enlarged projected image." (http://www.in70mm.com/newsletter/1999/59/rivoli/theatre.htm) ...however the aspect ratio of Magnascope was still 4:3.
The first and only road that serves as the access to the top of Acoma Pueblo's 370' Mesa was constructed in 1929 by the Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation for this production.
It is rare to find Technicolor (2-strip) used for a dramatic film. Most
often it was used for musicals. This almost forgotten film utilizes
Technicolor for 62 minutes of its 82 minute running time (only two back
to back reels encompassing 20 minutes utilized sepia and this was to
compare the washed out life of the white man with the Technicolor life
of the Native American).
The tones are beautiful and almost all of the Technicolor footage is exterior location work. Light blue, reds, greens are predominant. The new DVD is impeccable in that the Paramount print is near mint- clear sharp images and beautifully reproduced color tones. The original sound discs for reels 1, 3 and 8 survive and are optional for the soundtrack of the DVD presentation, which also utilizes a full length new piano score.
We noted the title song and main theme bear a marked resemblance to the four note title song RIO RITA but without credit.
The story is told elsewhere in these reviews, but the script, direction and performances must be very highly praised. The plea for tolerance, education and the improvement of living conditions makes this a real message film, but the low key deliverance of these messages also makes this a great film.
This was another of Richard Dix's Native American performances - see also THE VANISHING American (1925). He was most at home and is very effective, as are all cast members.
This is a true gem - we are grateful it has survived and is once again available to the public.
Wing Foot, son of a Navaho chief, is forced to
attend a US Government run Indian school. There he falls in love with the
Pueblo Corn Blossom and pledges to marry her. They are
when she is called home on a pretense and forced to marry a tribe member.
Wing Foot soon realizes that he will never be accepted by White society and
returns home. After many tribulations, he brings peace between the Navahos
and Pueblos and gets to marry Corn Blossom.
One of a number of pictures made in the 1920's and 1930's that put a melodramatic story in an exotic setting.
Unusual for being sympathetic to the Indians, who are poorly treated by the US Government and by most Whites.
Most interesting for showing Navaho and Pueblo costumes and material culture of the time.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This film is part of a DVD set entitled "Treasures III"--a set of four
DVDs all about social issues and reform. The fourth disk (where you'll
find this one) is about ethnic issues in particular.
Paramount Studios pulled out the stops for this film--at least initially. In a rare move, the studio filmed this in Two-Color Technicolor--an expensive film process that may not look fantastic today, but was quite an innovation in the 1920s. Fortunately, the color was restored to its original vividness. All too often, these old films actually lose all their color and become indistinguishable from regular black & white films. However, despite spending a lot of money for this, apparently they ran short of funds and only the initially filmed portions were done in color. Also, white the film is essentially a silent, sound disks with accompanying music and effects do exist for several of the reels--making viewing an unusual but doable process.
The film stars Richard Dix as a Navajo who was taken as a boy from the reservation and educated at an Indian school established by White America. He is forced to go to this school and his native culture is not so much celebrated as there is an attempt to make him like the rest of the Americans--the standard policy of the day.
Later, when he graduates, he attends a regular college where he's a track star. However, he's called home when his mother is ill and now he's torn because he sees his old girlfriend and doesn't want to leave her. However, he does and once back at school, he's treated more like an oddity or mascot than a man. It's especially evident when he was told that the only reason he's tolerated is because the track team needs him! Sick of this mistreatment, he vows to leave.
At the same time, when Dix's girlfriend (Corn Blossom) is summoned back home to her reservation from school, her family announce that they are tired of her learning the White men's ways AND they hate that she's in love with a Navajo. Apparently they are from tribes that are traditionally enemies--making their chances of success as a couple very slim.
When Dix arrives home, instead of being happy to see him, the tribe (like hers) is distrustful of him because they fear he's become acculturated into the White man's world. When he tries to teach them good things learned from White schools, the tribe disowns him and he leaves to live on his own.
Now, the Pueblo Indians try to force Corn Flower to marry within her tribe. However, she pretends to poison herself and escapes. In the meantime, two oil men show up on Dix's land and try to steal his claim. So, using his great running skills, he runs all the way to the claims office. Once there, an angry Pueblo man AND the two oil men show up but Dix manages to avoid their deadly intent. Now, with the claim registered, he's a rich man and gives the wealth to both the Pueblo and Navajo tribes--ensuring friendship and prosperity for all. And, of course, he can now wed Corn Flower.
While some might find the film a bit patronizing today, it was a very sincere and enjoyable effort--much like THE SQUAW MAN. Entertaining, enlightening and very balanced--a very nice film and probably the last great silent film.
*** (out of 4)
Historically important film from Paramount was the studios last silent film but it was also their first attempt at Technicolor. The majority of the film is in Technicolor but there are a few sequences, which are in B&W and this was done after the film's backers realized that it was costing too much to shoot in color so they immediately switched over to B&W. It's also worth noting that the film was originally shown in a 70mm process known as Magnascope but that version is now lost and all that survives is the 35mm version.
Richard Dix plays Wing Foot, a Navajo Indian who is forced as a child to attend a white man's school where he is constantly harassed due to this race. It's at this school where he meets the eventual love of his life, Corn Blossom (Julie Carter), a Pueblo Indian. After the harassment gets to be too much, Wing Foot returns home to see that his people have now turned their backs on him, calling him a Redskin because he's not one of theirs anymore. Even worse is that his love for Corn Blossom is causing problems in her tribe because the Navajo and Pueblo tribes hate one another. As you can tell, race is a very big factor in this film, which I think bites off a little bit more than it can chew. There are a lot of difficult questions asked and the film offers up some unique thoughts but the really bad ending comes out of no where and happens much to fast for all these questions to really be answered. The film runs 82-minutes but I think it needed to be at least twenty-minutes longer just to try and tie up some of the loose ends. Even with that said, this is a very solid little picture that manages to be funny at times but for the most part things are handled very seriously. Dix turns in a wonderful performance as the man caught between two races and another battle with another tribe. This is the first time I've seen him in a silent picture and he actually comes off very good. Carter is decent in her role but not up to Dix's league. I've read that Louise Brooks shot three weeks of footage before being fired and going to Germany so it's a shame she wasn't able to finish the film. There's some very nice cinematography and there's even some nice suspense during the ending even though it's pretty stupid and far fetched. The Technicolor process on this film looked incredible and really seemed a lot better than some of the early Technicolor films that would come out in the early 1930s. While this is a historically important film, it isn't as great as I was hoping for but there's still plenty to enjoy here.
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