The happy Indians live in Antelope Valley and Eddie is the new Indian Agent. Everything seems fine until the town selectmen want the valley occupied by the Indians because it contains ...
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The happy Indians live in Antelope Valley and Eddie is the new Indian Agent. Everything seems fine until the town selectmen want the valley occupied by the Indians because it contains silver. So they hire outlaw Indians and Chico to start trouble hoping that the army will forcibly remove them from the valley and they will claim it. But Father Sullivan and Eddie believe the Indians are being wronged even though they cannot convince anyone else.Written by
Tony Fontana <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Low-budget color B-western holds a strange fascination
I first read about the Cinecolor westerns made with Eddie Dean for poverty row studio PRC in William K. Everson's "A Pictorial History of the Western Film" (Citadel Press, 1969) and I've been curious to see them ever since. (Cinecolor was a cheap two-color process used for budget reasons from the early 1930s to the early 1950s.) When Encore's Western Channel ran one of these films in January 2005, I taped it and have now finally watched it. ROMANCE OF THE WEST (1946) was preceded by a credit for digital restoration by "hypercube IIc, New York City." I can only imagine what the surviving print they had to work with must have looked like, because the finished product is notably soft throughout, although the Cinecolor hues are generally pretty accurate.
It's a crudely produced movie with stilted dialogue and perfunctory acting, but it remains weirdly compelling. It was shot on location at the Corriganville movie ranch in California, with an eerie period authenticity provided by the starkness of the town set and the surrounding locations. Given the softness of the image on the print and the odd colors, it plays out like an artifact from another time, as a film would look if there had been movie cameras in the 1870s and an early form of color film available. Or if a "lost" silent western was newly discovered and turned out to have been in color and to have a soundtrack! It helps that the cast offered no one from Central Casting, but is instead peopled with actors who looked like they could have stepped out of old western tintypes. The actor who plays Chico, a cowboy villain, looks like he would have been perfectly at home in THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903). There is a full tribe of Indians in the cast and most are played by real Indians (including notable Indian actors Chief Thundercloud and Jay Silverheels), adding to the authentic touches. (B-western producers could both save money and achieve a more realistic look by hiring ex-cowboys who brought their own costumes and equipment and real Indians who brought their own regalia and didn't need any special makeup.)
While the plotting generally hews to standard B-western formula, there are enough twists to keep it interesting, including an unusual rescue finale that I won't give away. The storyline is the old one about greedy white townsmen trying to provoke the Indians into breaking their treaty so that the cavalry can be called in to move them off their land, thereby enabling access to the land--and its secret riches. Singing cowboy Eddie Dean plays Indian agent Eddie Dean, who promises the Indians he'll protect their right to live on the land. The sentiments are generally pro-Indian, although there is some startling condescension at times. At one point, an orphaned Indian boy is about to be taken by Chief Thundercloud to be raised by squaws in his village when Dean intervenes and asks if he can give the boy to the mission priest, Father Sullivan, at a place called "the Compound," where, Dean tells the chief, "he'll be raised right." The implication, of course, being that he won't be raised properly by Indians. To add insult to injury, Dean's bearded old sidekick, Ezra, promptly renames the boy, "Little Brown Jug."
There's quite a bit of riding and chasing action and a big shootout in town at the end. At 58 minutes, it only lags during the song interludes and that's only if Mr. Dean's gentle singing style doesn't appeal to you. (It appealed to me.) Is this an unsung western classic? No, of course not. But it's a remarkably vivid journey into the western past achieved by way of some happy accidents and the shrewd choice to shoot in color.
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