White Fawn’s Devotion (1910)
This, I believe, is the first movie I’ve reviewed by James Young Deer, a Native American director who mostly made movies about Native Americans for white audiences (at white-owned film studios). This is a short movie, based on the themes of “The Squaw Man,” but told from the Indian girl’s perspective, utilizing fairly basic editing techniques and a central chase sequence to heighten tension.
The movie begins with a white settler receiving a telegram informing him of his inheritance. He has to go to some unspecified place to receive it (the ancestral home, I suppose), but he’s very happy to hear it and runs home to tell his family. Said family consists of a small child and a Native wife. When he tells them of his good fortune, the child seems happy for her father, but the wife looks uncertain. Finally, when he gestures about his coming departure, she objects. They argue, apparently the wife is concerned that he plans to go for good, abandoning her (and the child? It’s never clear what her intended fate is). No matter how he tries to reassure her, she will not be consoled. Finally, the father sends the child away, not wanting her to hear the dispute, which escalates until the father goes into the house to pack his belongings. He has left his knife on the table, however, and his wife grabs it and plunges it into her heart. He comes out and finds her, pulling out the knife just as the child returns, making him look like the murderer!
In a panic, the child runs to the neighboring Indian tribe and speaks to a Native elder. When he hears her story, he demands justice for the wife, and sends out the warriors to hunt the white man down. He figures out what is happening and runs for it, grabbing a horse and making tracks as fast as possible. Unfortunately, he is cornered at a cliff and has to climb down, leaving the horse behind. He winds up in the river, fighting the current and losing, ending up passed out on the shore. His pursuer finds him, binds him, and returns him to the tribe, where the elder tells the daughter to kill him, giving her a large dagger. She balks, and the warriors begin a dance. Just as it seems that the elder will take his tomahawk and do the deed himself, White Fawn suddenly arrives, apparently uninjured, and interposes herself. She, evidently, explains the situation and the white man is freed. The family gathers together and the elder signals them to leave.
According to the notes that came with the DVD, there’s a missing scene at the end where the father renounces his inheritance and stays with his family, making this the one version of “The Squaw Man” with a truly happy ending. I guess. It seemed to me as if he could go attend the will reading or whatever and then get his money and come back to the homestead easily enough. This version didn’t make it clear what all the fuss was about. In “The Squaw Man” it’s made very obvious that his marrying a non-white is unacceptable, and there’s even some question as to the child. Apparently, Young Deer later made a gender-reversed version in which a white woman was married to a Native American, which Moving Picture World found “disgusting.” There’s also some dispute about the female lead: the “Treasures” disc and the imdb attribute Lilian St. Cyr (aka “Princess Red Wing”) as the actress, but Wikipedia says it doesn’t look like her. I’m inclined to agree, but it’s hard to tell from the distance of the shots and the quality of the available prints (and my own uncertainty regarding the still images Ive seen of her).
In this movie, the focus is really on the chase, which is handled competently, but not especially innovatively. Action tends to cut from the pursued back to the pursuer just as the latter reaches the place the former just left. There’s a bit of more sophisticated inter-cutting for the scene at the cliff, where the warrior cuts the rope that the white man is climbing down on, but it’s pretty standard for 1910. There are no close-ups or camera movement, and pretty much the whole movie is done in wide shot. Young Deer made this fairly early in his contract with Pathé Freres, which hired him because American critics were making fun of their phony Westerns, and it was felt that he would bring added authenticity to the new American unit.
Director: James Young Deer
Cast: Uncertain (see above)
Run Time: 11 Min
You can watch it for free: here (no music) or here (with music).