The Invaders (1912)

In my review of Ingeborg Holm (1913), I suggested that it is hard to find good feature film older than that, but during the early years of the 1910s, many good films were created that do not quite qualify as a “feature” by modern standards, yet are long enough to tell a reasonably complex story and helped to pave the way for future film makers. The Invaders is one of those films.

Francis Ford and William Eagle Shirt in The Invaders (1912)

The Invaders, which has been called “cinema’s first great Western epic”, starts with a peace treaty being signed by a U.S. colonel and a Sioux chief (both fictional, as far as I can tell). This gives the Indians the rights to their own land. The treaty, however, is soon broken. Some white people are killed by the Indians, and all of a sudden the war is in full swing.

The film contains many great battle scenes, and though they were dwarfed by D.W. Griffith’s great epics a few years later, they are still very impressive for this time.

Another important factor is the camerawork. Long distance unmoving camera was the norm at this time, and while that is common in this film as well, we see several scenes when the camera breaks free of its limitations, either panning or showing details in close-up. While not very spectacular today, it must have been effective for the audiences of the day.

This film is best enjoyed not only because it is a good film for its time, but also because it treats the Indians in a much more respectful manner than many later Westerns, especially during the sound era. These Indians, evidently played by real Sioux, are actually portrayed as people, with humans rights and human feelings.

Francis Ford and Ethel Grandin in The Invaders (1912)

The Invaders
Internet Archive page
Year: 1912
Running time: 41 min
Directors: Francis Ford, Thomas H. Ince
Stars: William Eagle Shirt, Francis Ford
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (651×498; not counting black border)
Soundtrack: None
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.4 G)

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The Last of the Mohicans (1920)

The Internet Archive contains a bit of everything. High and low. Old and new. Good and bad. You can find just about every major genre that you can think of (short of hard-core pornography). Diversity is a key word, but if there is one genre which is more dominating, it must be the westerns.

IA has given me some perspective on the incredible number of westerns that have been made. The archive contains hundreds; probably only a fraction of all that have been produced. Many of them have generic titles such as Raiders of Old California, Oath of Vengeance or Gangsters of the Frontier. Now, western is not my favourite genre, but I am always ready to acknowledge a good movie when I find one. And one such good western is The Last of the Mohicans.

Wallace Beery and Barbara Bedford in The Last of the Mohicans (1920)

This is not the typical western with John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. There is no main street, no saloon, no six-shooters and no Mexican bandits. Not even a single cowboy as far as eye can reach. All those clich├ęs were already well established by 1920, but this is not that kind of a movie. Instead, it is a movie about native Americans and impossible love.

“The Last of the Mohicans” was originally a novel by James Fenimore Cooper. It is set in the 18th century, during one of the wars between England and France. In those days, natives sometimes took sides in the conflicts of the Europeans and fought side by side with them.

In the movie, two sisters are travelling across hostile territory to visit their father, an English colonel. They soon find themselves in deep trouble, but are helped by the Mohican Uncas and his father; the last remnants of a once mighty tribe, who have sided with the British.

Very much like modern historical movies, The Last of the Mohicans is not an accurate history lesson. It is highly romanticized and historical events are adapted to fit the story rather than the other way around.

By 1920, the art of film had not yet attained the heights that it was to reach within a few years, neither in terms of visual expression nor in the flow of the story. Even so, The Last of the Mohicans is majestic and beautiful almost beyond belief. Whether vistas of nature or battle scenes, everything is breathtaking. And there is no green-screen and no CGI. This is the real deal.

It is common when this film is mentioned to make note of the fact that Boris Karloff (later famous as Frankenstein’s monster) plays a minor role as an Indian. (There, now I went and did it too.) This is unfortunate, because there are so many other reasons why it deserves to be remembered.

This film is best enjoyed if you love historical costume movies.

Maurice Tourneur and Clarence Brown's The Last of the Mohicans (1920)

The Last of the Mohicans
Internet Archive page
Year: 1920
Running time: 1 h 11 min
Directors: Maurice Tourneur, Clarence Brown
Stars: Wallace Beery, Barbara Bedford
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640 x 480)
Soundtrack: Random classical music
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (721 M)