Miracles are still happening on the silent film front. In 2004, a private detective notified the Oklahoma City Museum of Art that he’d received a film print in payment for a job. The museum was astounded to realize he was talking about a long-lost 1920 feature, shot in Oklahoma with a cast entirely of Kiowa and Comanche Indians. When the museum acquired the film, it turned out to be complete and in excellent shape, though in need of restoration. Several years later, the six-reel feature has been selected for the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry and it’s now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
So how’s the movie? This independent production tells a very simple story in a genre once called “Indian romances”. It’s prettily photographed in medium shots at natural locations, and now accompanied by an original score from David Yeagley. Not in itself a masterpiece of cinema, it’s a creditable, professional effort that’s most fascinating for its preservation of artifacts provided by the actors. We see tipis (tee-pees), clothes, weapons, dances, gestures, and bareback riding, along with herds of buffalo and various vistas amid the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, still unspoiled today.
A good man and a bad man are rivals for the hand of a Kiowa chief’s daughter (Esther LeBarre). When the good man (White Parker, a son of famous Comanche chief Quanah Parker) emerges victorious after a challenge of bravery, the bad man (Jack Sankey-Doty) betrays the tribe to rival Comanches. In a rectangular twist to the triangle, another maiden (Wanada Parker, a daughter of Quanah Parker) yearns for the bad guy. Don’t worry, it all works out after some touches of tragedy.
This film might have been the only feature for Richard E. Banks’ Texas Film Company, or at least the only one noted at IMDB. According to the intertitles, Banks produced and scripted, based on his experience of living among Indian tribes for 25 years. Directer Norbert A. Myles had a much longer career in the business. He was a prolific actor during the silent era and became a busy makeup artist in the talkies. For example, he was assigned to Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow makeup on The Wizard of Oz (1939). This is the first of three silent features he directed, and he does a good job in the era’s straightforward manner without getting fancy or innovative.
The Comanches are pretty much depicted as bad guys and horse thieves while the Kiowas are good and honorable. Evidently the Comanche actors didn’t mind, and in fact Comanches play some of the Kiowas and vice versa.
A few of the participants are still alive, as are many of their descendants who’d heard about the film while growing up, and one of the disc’s attractions are interviews with a grandmother who was a teenager in the film and those who are getting to see the picture for the first time.