The emigrants are seen fighting the hordes of redskins. The hero rides to the settlement for help and engages in a thrilling duel with pursuing Indians. The settlers swoop down on the ... See full summary »

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Drake, a Treacherous Prospector
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Ethel, the Wagon Captain's Daughter
Ray Myers ...
Howard Davies ...
William Eagle Shirt ...
An Indian
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The emigrants are seen fighting the hordes of redskins. The hero rides to the settlement for help and engages in a thrilling duel with pursuing Indians. The settlers swoop down on the unprotected Indian village and burn it up. The savages seeing the flames, hurry back and fall into an ambush. They are attacked from the rear by the emigrants and from the front by the settlers. In a wild scene of carnage the surprised Indians are mowed down by the hail of bullets, horses and riders falling in tangled masses. Written by Moving Picture World synopsis

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The biggest frontier picture ever produced!


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23 February 1912 (USA)  »

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Across the Plains  »

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1.33 : 1
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A preserved print survives in the UCLA Film and Television Archives. See more »

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An early Western by Thomas Ince, straightforward and effective
30 December 2006 | by (Westchester County, NY) – See all my reviews

This short Western drama was the work of pioneer director Thomas H. Ince, who arrived in Southern California in 1911 and began producing films that were superior to the obviously bogus "Westerns" produced back East. Audiences were already tired of watching fake Injuns battling fake cowboys in the New Jersey suburbs, and Ince was determined to give the public something resembling historical reality. He established a studio near Santa Monica that would become known as "Inceville," twenty-eight square miles of canyons and grassland that would prove to be a goldmine for location shooting, and hired genuine Oglala Sioux Indians from South Dakota. The Indians had formerly been employed by a Wild West show, and they lent an indisputable air of authenticity to the films. The comparatively few critics who paid attention to the cinema at this early stage immediately noticed the high quality of Ince's work.

In its opening scenes War on the Plains focuses on two prospectors who have lost their way in the desert, and have reached the point of desperation. Late one night, the villainous Drake steals the remaining water and sneaks away, leaving his partner to die. Drake finds his way to a wagon train of emigrants and joins them, compounding his earlier sin by telling tall tales of his heroism. Ethel, daughter of the wagon captain, is impressed by his stories, which upsets young Meyers, a settler who has his eye on her. But when the wagon train is attacked by Indians Drake shows his true colors by turning coward and fleeing the battle; Ethel has to take up a rifle herself to help defend the others. Meyers, meanwhile, makes his way to a cavalry encampment and manages to summon help. In the end, Drake dies just as miserably as the partner he betrayed, while Ethel and Meyers are happily reunited.

The story is simple and satisfying, while the film-making is straightforward and surprisingly fluid for 1912. Ince cuts from long shots to medium shots to close-ups with a steady rhythm, and occasionally employs panning shots to follow the movement of wagons and riders on horseback. The atmosphere is dusty and gritty: these people don't look like actors, they look like they actually live in the wilderness, and have some knowledge of the hardships their characters must endure. I can see why the trade paper reviewers were so impressed with Thomas H. Ince's work, for if this short film is indicative of their general level of quality he was a real craftsman.

Incidentally, much of the personnel who took part in War on the Plains (released in February 1912) were also involved in Ince's first Western epic The Invaders, released several months later at a running time of 40 minutes or so. That film is available in the DVD set "More Treasures from American Film Archives," and is highly recommended to all viewers interested in early Westerns and silent cinema in general.


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