A Romance of the Redwoods (1917) Poster

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Elliott Dexter Is the Real Star
drednm30 August 2010
A ROMANCE OF THE REDWOODS is an odd little film. This 1917 entry has Mary Pickford as an eastern girl who heads west to be with her uncle, her last surviving relative. In separate action we are introduced to Black Brown (Elliott Dexter) a desperado who comes upon the body of a dead man and changes clothes with him, assuming his identity. When a posse comes upon the dead man, they assume it's Black Brown.

In the mining town of Strawberry Flats, Dexter continues his charade as the dead man and everything goes well until Pickford arrives in town and takes up residence in his cabin. Of course he's still robbing stagecoaches. Pickford begins cleaning up the filthy cabin and comes upon a bandana with odd holes cut out of it. She holds it up to her faces and peers out through the holes.

She realizes Dexter is not Uncle John but he threatens to tell the world she's his gal if she breathes a word about his identity. Of course they fall in love.

The twist ending is quite good. Not a major vehicle for Mary Pickford, the film really stars Elliott Dexter, a favorite leading man of director Cecil B. DeMille. The location shooting is a plus. Look for Tully Marshall, Charles Ogle, Walter Long.
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"Try this one – it's loaded"
Steffi_P31 August 2008
The western picture is almost as old as the cinema itself, and the genre and the medium to some extent developed side by side. Here, in 1917, as the feature film was becoming more the norm than a novelty, we see the western becoming more than just a genre in itself and becoming the backdrop for a romance.

Although parts of this story stretch credibility a little (this is DeMille, after all), the strength of the director and his long-time collaborator screenwriter Jeanie Macpherson in storytelling is evident. As was by now customary with his pictures, he economically introduces each character with a title giving their name followed by a brief shot which tells us everything we need to know. For DeMille this era was the peak of his visual storytelling abilities. One technique he uses is a quick shot of something happening out of a character's sight, yet which it is implied they can hear. For example, Elliot Dexter puts his ear to the ground, we cut to a close-up of horses' hooves, and we understand. It is not always so effective – for example the scene where Mary Pickford is startled by a wolf howling in the forest. From the way the sequence is edited it is not clear whether she is hearing the wolf or seeing it as well, even though we assume the former because it makes more sense.

One thing that sets Romance of the Redwoods apart from DeMille's previous effort, the spectacular Joan the Woman, is the frequent use of close-ups and multiple angles. This reflects changes going on in the cinematic form around the time, as more freedom was given to camera placement, and the idea of placing the audience inside the action gained currency. In the case of this picture, it of course enhances the ability to tell stories with images, but it also adds emotional and psychological weight to the scenes that need it. DeMille uses the soon-to-be standard trick of keeping the camera back for the purely expository stuff, then moving in close when a dialogue between two characters enters a deeper, more emotional level. It says a lot for his cinematic method that he manages to sustain a western with very little action, mostly through an air of menace, which inevitably gives way to romance.

This was Mary Pickford's first film with DeMille, and you can see she benefits from the time and space he allows his performers to act. Pickford was far more interesting before she began playing children, and here she is convincing as a youngster on the cusp of adulthood. Her most memorable moment in the film must surely be when she discovers Dexter's bandit mask. Horrified at first, she slowly lifts the rag to her own face – the scene is like a distant ancestor of Lorraine Bracco being given the gun to hide in Goodfellas. Elliot Dexter is adequate as the male lead, even if he does look more like a Dickensian villain than anything out of a western.

For all its merits, Romance of the Redwoods is a worthy yet somewhat bland entry in the DeMille canon. It is full of nice touches but lacks a real punch. What's more, the premise of the innocent easterner heading west was growing a little tired. It would be a few years yet before pioneer westerns The Covered Wagon and The Iron Horse would arrive to revitalise the genre.
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Very good until the end--then it all fell apart.
MartinHafer9 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
At first, I really liked this film because it offered a different sort of film for Mary Pickford. Instead of the typical film she made where she was cast as a child, here she plays an honest-to-goodness woman. Considering the film was made in 1917, this is not super-unusual, but after Pickford played in dozens of films where she pretended to be characters as young as 8! Also, oddly, this is a western--the sort of film you normally would not associate with Pickford. Unfortunately, while I loved this novelty and much of the film, the whole thing ended quite badly--and it undermined the movie badly.

The film begins with Mary's father dying. She is convinced to travel west and live with her uncle. However, at about the same time, the uncle is killed in an Indian attack and an outlaw assumes the uncle's identity. Now I thought for sure than he'd fool Mary and she'd only find out the truth late in the movie. However, Mary must have known her uncle, as she instantly sees the guy is NOT the uncle. However, and this is BIZARRE, she agrees to pretend he is her uncle--even though the logic of this is fuzzy to say the least.

Over time, the 'uncle' is supposed to fall for Mary and reform. Well, this is partly true. While he falls in love with her and promises to change, he really doesn't. However, inexplicably, Mary STILL agrees to marry him AND what happens next is just freaking weird...and dumb. And so ends the movie. You just have to see it to understand what I mean--but it is pretty bad. And so, when the movie ends, you are left focusing less on the good in the film (and there was plenty) but on the bad.
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The mores of the times
bkoganbing10 June 2014
Romance Of The Redwoods was the first of two films that Mary Pickford did for Cecil B. DeMille. Pickford came as part of the package when the Famous-Players Company merged with the Jesse L. Lasky Picture Corporation to form Famous-Players-Lasky which eventually was Paramount. Adolph Zukor asked DeMille to do a film with her and DeMille wanted a war film. Zukor insisted on a western first and we got Romance Of The Redwoods.

Both DeMille and Pickford came from the tradition of the Victorian Theater and in fact when DeMille was an actor he appeared with Pickford on stage in one production. Now she was a big star and rising and usually had her own way in terms of crew, script, and directing. That was not how DeMille worked and he got his way.

Romance Of The Redwoods sadly is terribly dated and could use some restoration. Mary plays a girl gone west to live with her uncle in the California gold fields. But her uncle was killed by Indians. Notorious road agent Elliott Dexter finds the uncle's body and swaps clothes and identity with him as he's looking to get out of the outlaw game as folks are getting tired of the lack of law and order and are ready to form a vigilante committee.

Mary, America's Sweetheart, faces a challenge in that she knows Dexter is not her uncle, but where else can a good girl go in those wild mining camps and keep her virtue. As for Dexter he's impressed with her virtue and the inevitable happens.

As another reviewer said, the ending is quite unbelievable but it was in keeping with the Pickford image and the mores of the times. Still it's sadly dated and probably won't find favor with current audiences.
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Strawberry Flats Forever
wes-connors11 October 2007
Mary Pickford (as Jenny Lawrence) finds herself all alone in New England, after the elder Mrs. Lawrence dies; so, she moves to the "Gold Rush" state of California, to live with her uncle. What she doesn't know (initially) is that her uncle has been killed by Indians (Native Americans); and, outlaw Elliott Dexter (as "Black" Brown) has assumed his identity. Arriving in the little mining town of Strawberry Flats, Ms. Pickford discovers Mr. Dexter's charade, and learns of her uncle's death. Dexter demands Pickford pretend she's his niece; and, with nowhere to go, Pickford agrees.

First and foremost, Dexter and Pickford are marvelous in the lead roles. Dexter begins to amaze when, in a barroom scene, he rescues Pickford from the advances of Raymond Hatton (as Dick Roland). Pickford performed nicely when first entering her shabby new home, but becomes amazing when waking in the shed up as a wolf howls… the two exude an unmistakable sexuality in their earliest scenes together, assisted by fine light and shadows direction from Cecil B. DeMille (and, watch how the camera places their hands in a couple of scenes). As the film moves along, it loses focus on some of the sensuality, unfortunately. A subtle scene showing the leads' passion would have been nice.

Joining Hatton, supporting players Charles Ogle (as Jim Lyn, who dates Pickford), Tully Marshall (as barman Sam Sparks), and Walter Long (as the Sheriff) are entertaining. Pickford's last minute way of getting the townfolk to reconsider Dexter's fate is ingenious. The fact that "twenty men are fooled by one small woman" was nicely put, especially since it involved a doll given to Dexter's so-called "little girl"!

******** A Romance of the Redwoods (5/14/17) Cecil B. DeMille ~ Mary Pickford, Elliott Dexter, Charles Ogle
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Wonderful silent western directed by Cecil B. DeMille!
vquinterocastro9 July 2015
Cecil B. DeMille's "A Romance of the Redwoods" is one of the greatest silent films ever made and one of my personal favorites. DeMille, who had started making films three years prior to this film, gives skillful direction to the whole production. I'm new to the work of the film's star, Mary Pickford, America's Sweetheart, and America's Sweetheart she was and is! Pickford was a very beautiful woman and an extremely good actress; her performance is subtle, endearing and convincing. Elliott Dexter and Charles Ogle are also believable. The story is interesting, poignant and beautiful. There are several humorous moments between Pickford, Dexter and the other characters. The log cabin, redwood forest and outdoor locations make the film all the more authentic. This is a wonderful film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, the best director of all time.
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Marry Pickford gets to act her age
sraweber3698 May 2011
Romance of the Redwoods is an early western feature film produced and directed by Cecil B. DeMille if stars Mary Pickford as Jenny Lawrence. And Elliott Dexter as 'Black' Brown. The story line goes as Jenny is sent west to live with her uncle after the death of her father. In the meantime her uncle has been killed by Indians and Black Brown as assumed his identity They both make it to Strawberry Flats a gold rush town. Jenny makes it to Blacks cabin and knows he is not her uncle well they fall in love and the law catches up to Black the rest is to be watched.

It is good to see Pickford play a real woman in a film and she really makes this movie worth watching. Also Dexter does a good job of acting as does the rest of the ensemble. The real downfall of the film is the implausibility of the story line along with an unbelievable ending. It is nice to see Big Basin State Park used for the exterior shots this is one of the loveliest places in all of California, Grade C
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America's Sweetheart Goes West!
bsmith555225 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"Romance of the Redwoods" produced and directed by Cecil B. De Mille stars filmdom's first female super star Mary Pickford. The petite, attractive Ms. Picford was at or near the peak of her popularity when this film was made in 1917. She was still young and able to play convincingly, the vulnerable child like heroines for which she became famous.

In New England, Jenny Lawrence (Pickford) has just lost her grandmother and plans to move west to live with her Uncle John Lawrence (Winter Hall). While Jenny is en route, her uncle is attacked and killed by Indians. Road Agent "Black" Brown (Elliot Dexter) comes upon the scene and takes on the late uncle's identity to escape from the law.

Brown presents himself as John Lawrence in the gold mining town of Strawberry Flats (I think I've got that right). He is a boozing, gambling no account. Jenny arrives and goes to "Lawrence's" cabin finding the place a mess. Brown arrives and Jenny discovers the deception. Having no where else to go, she decides to stay. She begins to tidy up the place and sleeps out in the shed with the horses.

Brown takes her to the local saloon to show her what kind of life he leads. She meets the corrupt sheriff (Walter Long), townsfolk Sam Sparks (Tully Marshall), Jim Lyn (Charles Ogle), Dick Roland (Raymond Hatton and the "ladies" of the town. Roland tries to have his way with Jenny but Brown steps in.

The gruff Brown begins to soften as he starts to fall in love with Jenny and she with him. He even lets her sleep inside while he takes the shed. Brown abandons his trade for the present and tries to make a go of it. To help support them, Jenny takes in laundry.

Going to a picnic one day aboard the stagecoach, the coach is held up by Brown and Jenny thinks she recognizes the bandit. Later, she discovers Brown's road agent mask and puts two and two together. Brown decides to pull one last job and robs Roland's partner of his gold dust. Roland incensed, goes to the sheriff but is killed by the lawman. Roland had earlier apologized to Jenny for his earlier discretion so Jenny is distraught over news of his death.

Jenny makes Brown promise to send his booty to Roland's mother and he agrees. But as luck would have it, "Lawrence" is identified as "Black" Brown and the sheriff and townsfolk come to his cabin to arrest him and...................................................

Although it's hard to imagine that Brown and Jenny carried on a platonic relationship under the circumstances, the ending suggests that there may have been more to their relationship than met the eye.

Mary Picford was often cast with much taller leading men and villains to emphasize her petite stature and innocent beauty. She also played many waif like young girl type roles but this was not one of them. She is lost and vulnerable here to be sure, but innocent? Hmmmmmmm. Oddly enough "America's Sweetheart" was actually a Canadian, born in Toronto.

Mary Picford at her best.
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Flat "Romance"
overseer-35 July 2003
I didn't know what to make of this Mary Pickford film. I've seen quite a few of Mary's films by now, and this one was just strange. There was no chemistry between Mary's character and the thief she falls in love with, no foundation for that to happen at all. The story was implausible; why would the girl stick around after she found out the uncle was dead? She should have turned right on home again. Instead she compromises her own honor by trying to save the villain, and then she tricks the law in order to escape with her "love". Poor script, to say the least. Not on par with Mary's other films.
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Black Brown is one of the best characters in 1917
classicchocolate0019 September 2013
Jenny left home for meeting her uncle. She arrived at the town where she and her uncle were determined to see each other. But there was not her uncle, the strange man who was a burglar appeared in front of her. His name is Black Brown. Black Brown let her know that her uncle was killed by arrows of apaches. Then Brown pretended to become her uncle at the moment, Jenny told other people that he was her uncle. His mind got weaker(I am unsure), owing to her innocent personality. He swore to not do something bad to Jenny. Brown, however, broke a vow, stole gold, and then purchased the doll to give Jenny a present. Sheriff and other people came, were determined to strangle him. Brown confessed the truth that he was not Jenny's uncle, requested her to save him. Jenny requested Sheriff or one man. After all, Brown was not strangled. Then Jenny and Brown left the town together.

Black Brown was quite hot in the film. It was cute that his heart became weaker in front of Jenny. Jenny was boyish, she targeted someone(She did not know the man was Black Brown at that time) with the gun. Eliott Dexter looked a lot younger than his age, forty-six or seven in the film.
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Michael_Elliott10 August 2008
Romance at the Redwoods, A (1917)

** 1/2 (out of 4)

Jenny Lawrence (Mary Pickford) goes to stay with her Uncle in California at the height of the gold rush after her grandmother dies. What she doesn't know is that her Uncle has been killed by Indians and an outlaw known as "Black" Brown (Elliott Dexter) has taken his identity. When Jenny finds out the truth she decides to stay with the outlaw in hopes of reforming him. As is the case with many of DeMille's silents, this one here is rather hit and miss. The biggest problem are some logical issues, which ring out very loudly with the first one being why in the heck does the religious Pickford stay with this guy when she has plenty of opportunities to escape or turn him in. All of this makes for a very predictable story, which leads to a very silly ending, which doesn't do the film any good. Pickford is very charming and delightful, as usual, in her role and she makes the film worth watching. Dexter is also very good in his role as is Tully Marshall and Charles Ogle (Edison's Frankenstein) in his small role. Character actor Raymond Hatton is also very good. The cinematography is rather bland considering the era that the film was made and I think this is something DeMille, and his ego, wasn't allowing himself to expand on. Those expecting something epic or big in terms of production since this is DeMille will be disappointed because this is a pretty small melodrama that never tries anything in larger terms. This might be due to the fact that the budget was set at $135,000 with $97,000 of that going towards Pickford's salary.
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