The Squaw Man (1914) Poster


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"Come out west – where folks keep their hands in their own pockets"
Steffi_P18 February 2008
The Squaw Man may be best remembered as the first picture directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and the first made in Hollywood, then a convenient wilderness. It's a rather inglorious debut on both counts, and nowadays is perhaps most interesting as an example of the early western feature.

In pioneer westerns of the 20s and 30s the main theme was usually the exploration of the unclaimed west, but in the 1910s the most common set-up was of a civilized easterner heading to an already-settled but still unruly west. This is the case in Griffith westerns like The Battle of Elderbrush Gulch (1913), as well as later features by DeMille such as The Virginian (1914) and A Romance of the Redwoods (1917). It's worth bearing in mind that, in this early part of the twentieth century the "old" west would have been a fairly recent memory, and the western was then more a lesson in geography than history. It's also rather apt given the circumstances of production – companies from the east going out west – and probably also the reason why they are called westerns and rather than being some sub-genre of the historical feature.

While the outsider in westerns of this period was typically a lady or gentleman of New York or some other east coast city, the titular squaw man is an Englishman. There are a few establishing scenes set in England, with a plot regarding an embezzlement from an orphan's fund that is very reminiscent of Griffith's biograph shorts. This is not surprising, as Griffith took his themes from the American stage where he began his career, and The Squaw Man is based on a play. The trouble is, Griffith was a master at making these theatrical stories cinematic, whereas the adaptation of The Squaw Man is rather flat and weak. The plot takes bizarre, improbable and pointless turns, sometimes getting bogged down in subplot and at other points zipping ahead making the narrative incomprehensible at times.

As noted this was Cecil B. DeMille's debut as director, although this is perhaps misleading. It was co-directed by Oscar Apfel, who had already made two-dozen shorts for Edison and Pathe. Accounts of the production state that Apfel handled the technical side of things, whereas DeMille coached the actors. DeMille may therefore be responsible for some of the fairly decent naturalistic acting on display here, although there are some lapses into appalling pantomime. There are some DeMille style attempts to photograph the imagination, with double exposures showing the hero dreaming of home, one of which is very effective, with a picture in a magazine morphing into the woman he has left behind. There also seem to be some experiments with lighting going on with some contrasting brightness and dimness in interiors, perhaps a forerunner of the Rembrandt lighting that would soon become a DeMille trademark. It is of course very difficult to accurately attribute ideas, although DeMille is also credited as "picturizer" (i.e. screenwriter) and producer.

In spite of these meagre marks of quality, as a whole The Squaw Man lacks excitement and real drama. In comparison DeMille's first feature as solo director, The Virginian, is a far more solid production, and although made only a few months after The Squaw Man it is light years ahead in style.
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Fill in the Blanks
wes-connors11 October 2007
English cousins Dustin Farnum (as Jim) and Monroe Salisbury (as Henry) are made trustees for an orphans' fund. Mr. Salisbury has a fondness for betting on the horses, and pilfers money from the fund. For the sake of family honor, Mr. Farnum accepts responsibility for the missing funds, and sails off to America. Farnum buys a ranch, befriends the local Indians (Native Americans), and feuds with wicked William Elmer (as Cash Hawkins). When Salisbury dies, on the Swiss Alps, widow Winifred Kingston (as Diana) wants to bring Farnum home to England, but he's settled in America with Squaw Red Wing (as Nat-u-ritch)…

Due to its relatively long length, this is sometimes called the first feature film. It is also the noted as first feature filmed in Hollywood, California; but, you wouldn't know it - the Farnum ranch looks like Hollywood (check out the background), but the more memorable ship trek and heavy snowfall scenes can't be Hollywood (obviously). It's the first film by director Cecil B. DeMille, who shows some promise (in hindsight).

There are no great performances; Dustin Farnum was an important stage actor, getting acquainted with film. I thought Farnum was best and most impressive in the scenes with his "half-breed" son (who looks nothing like his Indian mother). Billy Elmer was entertaining in what should have been a larger role (Cash Hawkins). I found "The Squaw Man" confusing - some of the events and relationships are like... "fill in the blanks". The Indian/Englishman relationship was, perhaps, daring for an early film theme (if you can figure out what's going on); and, Ms. Wing was a real Winnebago Indian actress.

****** The Squaw Man (2/15/14) Cecil B. DeMille, Oscar Apfel ~ Dustin Farnum, Red Wing, William Elmer
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The first Hollywood feature?
plaidpotato6 April 2004
History seems to consider The Squaw Man to be Hollywood's first feature-length film. However, Custer's Last Fight (Francis Ford, 1912*) runs at just under an hour. I'd consider that feature-length. And it was made in Hollywood. So, I dunno.

In any event, this is a really important film, historically, and Cecil B. DeMille's first feature--and his first film, period. Supposedly, he hadn't even seen a film until shortly before he made this. It totally shows.

It's kind of a clumsy jumble of scenes taken from a book. There's no real cinematic logic or flow. There are lots of scenes of people just standing around talking--which doesn't really work in a silent film, especially without many intertitles. Characters were hard to tell apart, because they were mostly filmed in long shot. I found it all somewhat difficult to follow, although I guess I got the gist.

Still, some of the individual scenes are interesting. I suppose the theme of interracial marriage was probably notable for the time (and its outcome predictable). And the film ws mostly filmed on location, which made it a bit easier to watch. I don't imagine I'll ever feel a burning desire to see this again, but it was worthwhile seeing once as an historical document.

C. B. DeMille did learn his craft quickly. By 1915, he was doing vastly better work than this (Carmen, The Cheat).


* Although the version I saw was a 1920s reissue, and it's possible it had some footage added, but it seems unlikely, because that almost certainly would have been jarringly obvious.
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Interesting Early Silent Feature!
bsmith555219 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"The Squaw Man" was one of the first feature length films ever made. It also has the distinction of being the first film to be directed by the legendary Cecil B. De Mille. Many reviewers are divided on this film but one has to place it within the context of its time.

The film was made during the film industry's infancy, at a time before there were any "movie stars" or precedents to draw upon. The players looked more like ordinary people rather than the pretty boy leading men and glamorous ladies that were to follow. The filming techniques were new and experimentation was the rule of the day.

The story of "The Squaw Man" begins in England where Captain James Wynnegate (Dustin Farnum) and Sir Henry Wynnegate (Monroe Salisbury), the Earl of Kerhill have been placed in charge of a fund for military orphans and widows. James is enamored of Henry's wife, Lady Diana (Winnifred Kingston). Sir Henry embezzles 10,000 pounds from the fund to pay off his gambling debts. When the theft is discovered, Lady Mabel Wynnegate (Haidee Fuller) asks James to take one for the team by accepting the blame in order to protect the family name.

James decides to go to America. Arriving in New York, he meets Big Bill (Dick La Reno) whom he saves from a couple of pick pockets. Big Bill convinces James to come with him to Wyoming. James takes on a new identity, that of Jim Carston. He buys a small ranch and settles down. While looking over the property, he meets Indian Chief Tabywana (Joseph Singleton) and his daughter Nat-U-Rich (Red Wing) who takes a shine to the big Englishman.

Jim meets cattle rustler and all round bad guy, Cash Hawkins (Billy Elmer) and a conflict develops. As Cash is about to gun down Jim, he is shot by Nat-U-Rich unbeknown st to Jim and the sheriff.

During the winter, Jim and Big Bill go out into the cold to search for horses that have wandered away. Jim becomes snow blind and wanders aimlessly around the wilderness. Nat-U-Rich rescues him and nurses him back to health. Evidently, she did more than nurse him because she moves in with him. When she becomes pregnant, Jim marries her. A son, Hal ("Baby" De Rue) is born and Jim dotes on the boy.

Sir Henry dies in a mountain climbing accident in the Alps and confesses to his guilt before expiring. This proves Jim's innocence and releases Lady Diana to marry Jim. However, she is unaware of Jim's marriage to Nat-U-Rich and goes to Wyoming to find Jim.

About the same time Nat-U-Rich is discovered as the murderer of Cash Hawkins. The sheriff seeks her out, the Indians rise up and then...........................................

Oddly enough, the term "squaw man" doesn't even get mentioned in the title cards. The relationship between Jim and the Indian girl is glossed over, but there is no doubt what is going on. The film, at least the version I saw, skips lightly over this relationship, leaving the viewer to his own imagination.

The costumes were probably more true to the old west more so than later on when they became glamorized with Tom Mix. After all, it was 1914 and the wild west still existed in parts of the country at that time.

Still and all this was a landmark film and still holds up well today. It is a snapshot of the time and deals with some interesting subject matter.

Dustin Farnum had been a stage actor and at a beefy 40 years of age was hardly the dashing hero. His brother William Farnum was starring in "The Spoilers" the same year. Dustin would fade from the scene fairly quickly, but William became a major star until an accident slowed him down. He worked in films until his death in 1953. Dustin died in 1929.

Followed by two re makes in 1918 and 1931, both directed by De Mille.
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Dull, Dated, Bleak, but Nonetheless a Must-See Western!
JohnHowardReid22 April 2008
A western with dull if bleak scenery and costumes that look mighty strange (though doubtless the real items), this is an interesting example of early film-making, but one that will delight mainly critics and historians rather than the general movie fan.

The dated, old-hat story is a little difficult to follow at first because the two cousins, James and Henry, are understandably lookalikes, and neither actor has the skills to differentiate himself. In fact, it's hard to believe that stolid Dustin Farnum had a big stage reputation as he displays little charisma or ability here. However, he doubtless improved because he made another forty movies before retiring in 1926. (He married his leading lady here, Winifred Kingston, in 1924).

The rest of the players run rings around Farnum in "The Squaw Man". Red Wing is reasonably effective as the real heroine of the piece, but it's personable Dick LaReno, here making his first of 81 movies, who really impresses as our hero's foreman—not the sheriff who is played by either Dick Palace or W.H. Stratton. And I think that's Art Acord playing the deputy. It's hard to tell because there are no close-ups. Each scene is filmed with either a static long shot or medium group shot. And there is virtually no camera movement apart from a few slight pans.
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DeMille Shows No Promise
Cineanalyst13 February 2005
This is an adaptation of a stage play--an awful melodrama, which incorporates the Western and flirts with taboo love--adultery and miscegenation. Apparently, Oscar Apfel was doing poorly at teaching Cecil B. DeMille how to direct; there's plenty of outside filming, which is supposed to be a benefit of California, yet this movie is remarkably inept in how the framing of outside scenes is as theatrical as the scenes inside. Of course, it was a commercial success, leading DeMille to remake it twice, and is now a footnote in film history. Probably of more consequence than it being a feature-length film made in Hollywood, unoriginal reinforcement though it was, is the movie's soap opera histrionics coupled with a Caucasian playing a Native-American.

The actors of this movie protrude what their characters would be doing or feeling via gestures, staring at nothing and other magnified histrionics; they're trying to communicate the plot to the audience despite silence and a distanced camera. There's no realism, subtlety, nor, even, characters. The directors and actors of "The Squaw Man" blunder further by misunderstanding the silence concept. Silent films are silent to us, but the fictional world within a silent film is usually not silent. (Likewise, we still hear the music scores in modern films while the characters in the fictional world don't.) In this film, there are some awkward moments when a character lingers behind unnoticed, or is transparently suspicious-looking, but that happens to be when everyone is looking at something else. Yet, I suppose they still do that in soap operas.

In defence of DeMille, it was his first film, and senior director Apfel surely deserves more blame. One learns from imitation, and there weren't many worth imitating then. There was no indication in "The Adventures of Dolly" that Griffith would become the best director in the world. To see DeMille's potential, watch the subsequent year's "The Cheat". Its story is also wanting, flirts with adultery and miscegenation and is driven by embezzlement from charity, but, otherwise, the films couldn't be more different.
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Enter Mr. DeMille
bkoganbing25 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
The Squaw Man is a film that was probably dated before it even hit the screen in 1914. Young Cecil B. DeMille, an average playwright and protégé of David Belasco became interested in the new medium of motion pictures. He saw film as the path to much quicker success than he would have on Broadway.

Buying this Victorian era play The Squaw Man with his partners Jesse L. Lasky and Sam Goldfish(wyn), DeMille got Broadway star Dustin Farnum interested and wanted to cut him in on the profits as well. Farnum said no he would just take a straight salary. What these three would have been giving him is a quarter interest in what eventually became Paramount Pictures.

The reason the company went west was to avoid the strong arm tactics of the Edison Corporation which was trying to stamp out independent film makers. They didn't reach out as far as California.

The story is dated, old fashioned and quite frankly racist beyond belief. Farnum plays a cashiered British army officer who takes the blame for his older brother who was going to inherit an Earldom. But brother stole the regimental funds. So Farnum takes the fall in the best British stiff upper lip tradition. He also leaves behind fiancé Winifred Kingston.

Off to the American west goes Farnum where he buys some land and sets up as a rancher. He also marries an Indian maid played by Red Wing, a real Indian.

After some of the usual western situations involving some bad guys, Farnum finds out the brother is dead and he can come home. His son will be a future Earl as well, but he can't bring Red Wing into polite society.

So he asks and she does give up him and her son, a rather mind boggling situation that today's audiences just wouldn't buy. They would condemn it and rightly so. Still those were the attitudes of the times.

In DeMille's autobiography he relates that before he left for California he went over to New Jersey where a lot of films were shot back then to get a primer on just how this unfamiliar new medium worked. After about 20 minutes of watching some action sequences being filmed, he said that if this was all there was to it, he'd make the greatest films ever made.

If he didn't do that, DeMille was a visionary and realized the possibilities of motion pictures. It's for that realization that he's honored today.

And this first version of The Squaw Man is a piece of living history.
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"First Feature Film"
iquine3 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
(Flash Review)

This is widely regarded as Hollywood's first ever feature film as it is significantly longer than all the shorts being made at the time. Bummer it is such a clumsily edited film that is rather hard to follow. The plot is about an English gentleman who embezzles some money, flees the city to the rural lands and gets into a relationship with an American Indian woman which I imagine was pretty controversial at the time and conflict ensues. There are some nice scenes in the snowy lands, some horseback riding and a fairly somber finish but either it needed better editing and/or more title cards. Too many long to medium shots of people talking without words…hard to see their expressions. It was Cecil B. DeMille's first film who is a major director during the silent era.
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