When The Squaw Man was made in 1931 America was still coming out of the Jazz Age and the silent era of films. Studios were still working out sound in 1931 and still looking for fresh new stories. So many films of the 1930s come from novels of either classic or contemporary literature or classic or contemporary theater. The Squaw Man had been made by Cecil B. DeMille twice before this during the very early days of film. His first version was the very first film to be made in what is now Hollywood. The Squaw Man had a run on Broadway at the beginning of the 1900s. Needless to say the story of The Squaw Man, with its Victorian ideas of honor and what was right, were old and tried over and over again. This is a story that is dated even by 1930s standards.
Jim Wingate (Warner Baxter) and his cousin Henry are from a long line of British aristocracy. They have raised money through their name for an orphanage. Jim loves Lady Diana Kerhill (Eleanor Boardman) but she is Henry’s wife. Jim and Diana have always loved each other. She wants Jim to go away to America so he will not complicate things for the both of them. Henry hears that a man has killed himself over embezzling. He was in on the embezzlement. Henry was going to kill himself when Jim walks in. Jim tells Henry he is leaving for America and that he will take the blame so Henry can stay with Diana and repay the funds. Everyone at the party of course suspects Jim of having taken the money. Someone at the party says that Jim’s leaving exonerates Henry of any blame. Henry, standing on the staircase, has a very guilty look on his face.
Jim has changed his last name to Carston, moved to the Mid West, and owns a range. His neighbor Cash Hawkins (Charles Bickford) wants to buy his range but Jim refuses. A young Indian woman named Naturich (Lupe Velez) comes into town with her father to sell cattle. Cash wants to buy his cattle really cheap and throw in liquor. Naturich hears about the liquor, comes into the room where her father and Cash are, and tears the contract up. Cash grabs her and does not let her go. Jim comes into the saloon, sees what is going on and saves Naturich. In retaliation Cash has two of his men shoot Jim while he is out riding. Jim is shot in the shoulder. Naturich stays with Jim until his shoulder is healed. The whole town starts talking about them together.
Henry has been hurt in a riding accident. Diana and their friend Sir John Applegate (Roland Young) have Jim tracked down. They go out to the Mid West to see him. Diana tells Jim that Henry told her that he was the one who embezzled the money. Jim wants to go back to London with them but he cannot leave he is married to Naturich and they have a young son. John cannot understand how Jim could raise a child in place such as where he lives and depriving him of his English heritage. John does not want the boy to be primitive like his mother. Jim tells Naturich about sending their son to England to go to school there. He tells her he has a good heart and that their son must go. Naturich keeps saying “mine” over and over again and will not let their son go.
Cash had been killed seven years ago. The sheriff comes by with a bag that had belonged to Naturich that had been found in the floorboards in the place Cash was killed. Bullets have been found in the bag. Jim sends Naturich into the woods to her family so she cannot be found by the sheriff. Naturich comes back to the house one night. She sees her son being taken away from her. In a horrible sadness she kills herself.
I have to admit I fell asleep through much of the film. I was so tired from working all week and the story was getting boring. I could not keep my eyes open. I never fall asleep through a film but I could not help it here.
I cannot really comment on the cast because they really did not stand out to me. This is the first time I have seen Eleanor Boardman in film. Before this I had only ever seen her in photographs or heard of her when I was reading about King Vidor. I would actually like to see more of her films. This was also the first time I have ever seen Lupe Velez in a film. She really did not talk which I guess comes down to the fact that she mainly spoke Spanish and not English.
As I said at the beginning The Squaw Man is very dated even by 1930s standards. I do not really like stories or characters that are honor bound they drive me crazy. I really did not like the ending either because it was so sad. I do not have children but I cannot even imagine even thinking about what Naturich must have been going through when she saw her son going away. She had to have known that she would never see him again and that as he grew older he would never accept her as his mother. That broke my heart. I guess I was thinking of my mom and how much she loves me and my brothers and how something like that would break her heart to no end too. The Squaw Man is a film to watch once just to say you saw it. I cannot imagine audiences in 1931 liking this too much, they probably wanted something to take their minds off the economic troubles that were just starting to hit the country. I am sure in context the original silent version is better than this one.