Eve Mason, a very light-skinned negro, leaves Selma, Alabama for the northwest town of Oristown to occupy the land she inherited from her grandfather. There she meets kindly Hugh Van Allen, who turns out to be her neighbor, and he gives her a lift to her place outside of town. Jefferson Driscoll is another very light-skinned negro who wants to be taken as white, and he hates the negro race because his mother once interfered with his wooing a white girl. Driscoll gets in league with unsavory August Barr, an Indian fakir called Tugi, and horse thieves Bill Stanton and Philip Clark. When Driscoll intercepts a letter for Van Allen showing his land is on an oil field, the group posts notes on Van Allen's tent, threatening his life if he won't sell his land. Van Allen ignores the the notes, which are signed "The Knights of the Black Cross," leaves for town to buy furniture and won't be back for 48 hours. In his absence, the last note is posted, giving him 48 hours to sell. The group, led by... Written by
Arthur Hausner <email@example.com>
THE SYMBOL OF THE UNCONQUERED (1920) is one of the earliest surviving silent films to prominently feature a black cast, and is directed by Oscar Micheaux. It tells the story of Eve Mason (Iris Hall), a woman from the south who inherits property from her grandfather and journeys to settle there. Along the way, after being forced to stay in a barn by a light-skinned black, Jefferson Driscoll (Lawrence Chenault) who hates his race and tries to pass for white, she encounters Hugh Van Allen (Walter Thompson), a neighbor who owns property which turns out to be very valuable. When Driscoll and his white friends learn of the value of Van Allen's property, they plot against him in order to force him to sell - or suffer the consequences...
SCRIPT: As with Micheaux's previous feature WITHIN OUR GATES, the narrative rambles and is crowded with too many characters to make a definite impression. The central themes deal with a black woman trying to find a place for herself in a hostile world, and a biracial man who harbors resentment against his own race for supposedly hampering his progress in society. (A flashback shows why Driscoll's mother unwittingly interferes with his attempts to court a white girl, and he reacts by throwing his mother to the ground.) Interesting themes, but unfortunately the narrative sags fatally in the middle with rather uninteresting plotting by the villains, and by the time the climax comes along, it's too late to really perk things up. There's also really very little character definition nobody seems like anything more than a character type here. SCORE: 5.5/10
ACTING: The acting is adequate here for the most part, but since there are so many characters to keep track of, I can't say that I felt any of the performances really stood out. There is some melodramatic behavior and mugging early on, and some of the scenes are unintentionally funny as a result. Iris Hall is charming as the heroine, but she doesn't really get enough screen time to do much with her role. Chenault is a bit broad but mostly effective as the villainous Driscoll. SCORE: 6/10
CINEMATOGRAPHY/PRODUCTION: The camera-work is fairly competent here, with some interesting and evocative shots of the night sky, as well as a few menacing shots of the KKK ride at night. The editing is a little clumsy at times. There could be a bit more variety in long, medium, and close- up shots, though. It would help to maintain interest. SCORE: 6/10
SUMMARY: THE SYMBOL OF THE UNCONQUERED does have an intriguing premise, and one has to commend Micheaux for being willing to bring such uncompromising material to the screen. The narrative is uneven and the acting is adequate, but there's not much chance for anyone to make an impression. Still, the movie does have historical importance as an early example of films that address the issues of black life in the early 20th century. SCORE: 6/10
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