Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jason goes to the Niles Film Museum and sees THE VANISHING AMERICAN

Of course, first a couple of shorts:

A DASH THROUGH THE CLOUDS (1912): A very early Mack Sennet short that I had seen at the Broncho Billy Silent Film Festival back in 2008. An exciting story of a couple, the aviator who comes between them, and the angry mob who nearly kills him.

CRAZY LIKE A FOX (1926): Hilarious Charley Chase flick. Charley is being forced by his father to marry a woman he's never met. Neither of them are up for it, especially when he meets the woman of his dreams (Martha Sleeper). So he an his valet come up with a cunning plan--he'll pretend to be insane and scare the bride's parents into calling off the marriage. Everything is going great, until he meets the prospective bride, and she turns out to be the girl he met at the train station. Hilarious, and basically an excuse for everyone to act completely nutty.

and then after a short break we saw the feature, THE VANISHING AMERICAN (926). In an age when Hollywood really treated Native Americans poorly (i.e., 'the only good good Injun is a dead Injun'), Richard Dix pushed Paramount to make some small amends by producing this picture, based on a Zane Grey novel. Shot in beautiful Monument Valley, it starts with a brief history of the peoples who lived there for mere blinks in the geological time, and sets up the theme of stronger races constantly conquering weaker ones. Flash forward to the early 20th century, a strong, proud tribe lives on the land, but is being pushed to worse and worse reservations by U. S. Government agents who claim to have their best interests at heart. The worst of them is Booker, who shamelessly steals from the Indians. Richard Dix stars as Nophaie, the chief of the tribe, who has the guts and the smarts to stand up to Booker. It's a gripping, epic story, even including the exploits of American Indians in World War II, where many gave their lives for "their" country and the survivors were still not treated fairly upon return. Excellent, and kind of exhausting movie.

BTW, for all the positives of this movie, and as good an actor as Richard Dix was, it was still awkward to see him and other characters in face paint to play Indians. Which reminds me, there was a black-face butler character in CRAZY LIKE A FOX that also doesn't stand up to modern sensibilities. That's the price of watching silent films, seeing things that just aren't right anymore.

Robert Dix, son of Richard Dix was on hand to introduce the film, answer question afterward, and sign copies of his book, Out of Hollywood.

Which reminds me, during the day he also played his father's movie, THE WHISTLER. Based on a radio play and TV series, this was the first of a series of 8 movies made for Columbia. Richard Dix starred in the first 7, but had a heart attack and was replaced for the 8th (he passed away shortly after). Each movie is introduced and narrated by The Whistler, and they were all unrelated stories (Richard Dix starred in 7, but as different characters every time). In this first one, Richard Dix plays a man overcome with grief from his wife's death (and haunted by rumors that he was responsible), so he hires a man to hire a hitman to kill him. But when the original man dies, and he changes his mind, there's no way for him to find the hitman and call it off. Pretty cool.

Total running time (including THE WHISTLER): 206

My Total Minutes (unofficial): 165,618

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