The U.S. Army and the Indians sign a peace treaty. However, a group of surveyors trespass on the Indians' land and violate the treaty. The army refuses to listen to the Indians' complaints,...
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The U.S. Army and the Indians sign a peace treaty. However, a group of surveyors trespass on the Indians' land and violate the treaty. The army refuses to listen to the Indians' complaints, and the surveyors are killed by the Indians. A vicious Indian war ensues, culminating in an Indian attack on an army fort.Written by
One of the films in the 3-disk boxed DVD set called "More Treasures from American Film Archives (2004)", compiled by the National Film Preservation Foundation from 5 American film archives. This film is preserved by the Library of Congress (from the AFI/Blackhawk collection), has a running time of 41 minutes and an added piano score. See more »
A cinematic milestone: the first great Western epic
For those of us who grew up watching Hollywood Westerns on TV, that is, slickly produced, Technicolor extravaganzas with elaborate action sequences, stunt falls, and lots of expensive costumes, this early Western drama will come as a revelation. The people in this film, whether Indians or U.S. Cavalry soldiers, look like regular people rather than actors, while the settings look weather-beaten and dusty, like actuality footage from a documentary rather than a fiction film. And although the climactic battle sequence is action-packed and suspenseful, it's also kind of ragged compared to the polished cowboy and Indian sagas we're accustomed to, the ones directed by, say, John Ford or Raoul Walsh. The Invaders is very well made for its day, but it isn't slick. It was produced before "Hollywood" as such existed, and certainly long before the tropes of studio system storytelling had become clichéd from over-use. Most strikingly, the film's Indians were portrayed by actual Oglala Sioux performers, non-professionals who embody their roles with no apparent self-consciousness and with understated dignity. When this movie was made in 1912 the conflict depicted here (set shortly after the Civil War) was still within living memory, and although this story is fictional the details are drawn from occurrences at the time of the Indian Wars. The Sioux performers appear too young to have taken part in person, but they probably heard stories of the era from parents and grandparents. Consequently, this is one of those silent films with a 19th century setting which offers us a time travel experience of sorts, an opportunity to re-experience history as re-enacted by persons close to the events. It certainly feels considerably more authentic than movies of the 1940s and '50s featuring Western towns that resemble theme parks, bogus musical numbers, and Indians played by everyone from Boris Karloff to Natalie Wood. The people who made The Invaders appear to know what they're talking about, and the Sioux Indians who play themselves look like they know all too well how it feels to sign a treaty with white men only to see it ignored.
This film was produced at the famous Thomas Ince ranch, one of Hollywood's first great studios, then still in its first year of operation. It was directed either by Ince himself or by Francis Ford, John's older brother, who plays the prominent role of the cavalry commandant Colonel Bryson. Bryson's daughter is courted by a handsome young soldier, and this subplot is presented in direct correlation with the courtship of the Sioux Chief's daughter by a young brave: a parallel that humanizes the Indians for contemporary audiences who may have been accustomed to seeing them typically portrayed as blood-thirsty savages played by white actors in "red-face." This, plus the film's emphasis on treaties signed and then broken by the whites, shows a sympathy for the Indians' cause that may come as a surprise to latter-day viewers, although sympathy for the Indians and indignation over the injustices they suffered seems to have been more common in the silent days than it would be later on. Significantly, the "invaders" of the title are white surveyors sent by the railroad onto Indian land, in violation of a recently signed treaty. Early on, one of the surveyors spots the Chief's daughter and engages in a flirtation with her. It's a sweet scene for a moment or two, but we quickly feel a sense of dread, a premonition that this courtship can only lead to trouble, and soon enough that premonition is fulfilled.
The Invaders has recently been made available as part of an excellent box set of DVDs called "More Treasures from American Film Archives." It's offered with a commentary track by a history professor named Rennard Strickland, and while his remarks were interesting I question his conclusion that the ending is a happy one. He was referring to the finale in which some of the cavalry fort's defenders are rescued, so it's certainly a happy ending for them, but in a broader sense the conflict between the Native Americans of the plains states and the U. S. Government did not end happily for all parties, and anyone with any feeling for the fate of the Oglala Sioux will be saddened by the time this movie is over. Still, we can be grateful The Invaders survives: it stands as the cinema's first great Western epic as well as a fascinating historical time capsule that captures a way of life in its final stages.
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