The Monday Intertitle: Um

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Just finished writing about THE SQUAW MAN, America’s first feature film and the first movie adaptation of a Broadway play (or is it? No it isn’t: see Comments section). The article will appear elsewhere, it is hoped, and I will tell you about it later.

Which means I have nothing to say here except to laugh and point at the funny intertitle.

Oh, OK. Let’s compare DeMille’s original (available only in its 1918 re-release form, I believe) with his talkie (VERY talkie) remake.

The first film manages to get its hero, an English toff, Out West in about fifteen minutes, despite pausing for a blaze at sea and some tricky business in New York. The remake takes half an hour to accomplish the same task, and doesn’t even manage the oceanic inferno or the Big Apple stopover.

The first film stars Red Wing, a full-blooded Winnebago (a tribe with what you might call cinematic implications), whereas the talking picture stars Lupe Velez. Lupe Velez was famous for not being an Indian.

The second film gets by with intertitles, although admittedly they have that Edisonian quality of sometimes telling you what you’re about to see — a film with its own spoilers — but the remake has as much verbiage as it has prairie, going on for miles in all directions. Everyone has been instructed to talk slow for the nice microphone, so that Warner Baxter (as an English nobleman, pwahahaha) sounds as much like an Indian as Lupe.

In spite of all this, I do find the remake, ponderous though it is (crude by 1931 standards) slightly more fun, if only because it contains this image –

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In fact, Eleanor Boardman, in her penultimate film,  seems to inhabit better compositions than the entire rest of the cast. I must see more of her, starting with Borzage’s THE CIRCLE, recently supplied by a thoughtful Shadowplayer

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9 Responses to “The Monday Intertitle: Um”

  1. Off-Topic: I am in mourning for Mickey Rooney.

  2. Actually, the first American feature film was Hobart Bosworth’s now sadly lost THE SEA WOLF (1913) that suffered from poor distribution. It was actually screened at New York’s prestigious Strand Theater and preceded THE SQUAW MAN by several months. At the beginning of his autobiography DeMille generously stated that others had preceded him in this venture.

  3. P.S. Maybe the Kalem BEN HUR was actually the first adaptation of a Broadway play? Wallace’s novel was performed in New York with William S. Hart as Messala.

  4. Yes, RIP Mickey. Ironically timed just after the rediscovery of, I think, his first film role. But I guess it had to happen sometime.

    Interesting, Tony — have been reading the excellent Cecil B DeMille’s Hollywood, which seems very well researched, but it misses out on The Sea Wolf and Ben Hur as rival claims to DeMille’s firsts. At 70 minutes and with a 1913 release date, Mr Bosworth’s turn as Wolf Larsen would indeed predate DeMille.

  5. This is confirmed in a 1992 study JACK LODON: THE MOVIES published by David Rejl in Los Angeles. The more one researches into this area the more one finds exceptions to the popular historical line. I think the filmed version of the BEN HUR play which resulted in legal action from Lew Wallace is in youtube but I’ve not looked at the tableau production to see if William S. Hart appears in (which some sources claim). There were many films made pre-1914 from Broadway stage productions some licensed, others not.

  6. So I guess all we can say is that The Squaw Man is America’s earliest known surviving feature film, and the first feature film based on a Broadway play…
    You’d be hard pressed to identify William S Hart in this copy, or anyone else:

  7. Mickey had just returned from Canada where he made A Night at The Museum 3 — so there’s a bit more of Mick to come.

  8. The IMDb has him involved with a version of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, still in production, also starring Margaret O’Brien!

  9. Yes, that’s the copy I refer to.

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