(director: Edwin Carewe; screenwriters: Finis Fox/novel by Helen Hunt Jackson; cinematographer: Robert B. Kurrle; editor: Jeanne Spencer; music: Hugo Riesenfeld; cast: Dolores Del Rio (Ramona), Roland Drew (Felipe), Vera Lewis (Señora Moreno), Warner Baxter (Alessandro), John T. Prince ( Father Salvierderra), Michael Visaroff (Juan Canito), Rita Carewe (Baby), Mathilde Comont (Marda), Carlos Amor (Sheepherder), Jess Cavin (Bandit leader); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; Inspiration Pictures/United Artists; 1928-silent-B/W)
“Effectively condemns the white man’s racism of Native Americans.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Edwin Carewe (“The Spoilers”/”Evangeline”), of Indian heritage (Chickasaw), one of the most underappreciated silent film directors, finely directs this well-acted romantic drama of a sad love affair. It’s taken from an 1884 novel by the Native American author Helen Hunt Jackson and scripted by the director’s brother Finis Fox (he used his brother’s real last name). This was the third screen version of Jackson’s novel (a fourth version remains lost). The film effectively condemns the white man’s racism of Native Americans.
The film’s star, Dolores Del Rio, is from a wealthy aristocratic family from Mexico, who became the first Latino movie superstar. Dolores was discovered by Carewe at a party living as a married socialite in Mexico City (and made 7 films with him). After her stardom in silents, Dolores did OK in talkies in the 1930s (Carewe didn’t and soon retired). Dolores returned to Mexico in the 1940s and stayed there for 30 years and gave the Mexican film industry a big boost in prestige (especially with her work in the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prix winner María Candelaria of 1943). In the late 1960s, she returned to the States to do TV and played Elvis’ mom in the film Flaming Star.
Ramona is set in Old California, in the 1850s, at the sheep ranch of the wealthy Mexican-American widow Señora Moreno (Vera Lewis), a devout Catholic and proud Castilian Spaniard, who runs the place with an iron hand. She has adopted the half-breed (Scottish and American Indian) Ramona (Dolores Del Rio), after her parents died, and has her own son Felipe (Roland Drew). She has a cruel streak for the female teenager, showing no motherly love to Ramona but treating Felipe with tenderness. Brother and sister become close playing together, with her loving him in a sisterly way while he loves her for real. At sheep-shearing time, the Indians come to do the work and Alessandro (Warner Baxter), the son of the chief, falls in love with her. Unable to endure her hateful step-mother any longer, Ramona elopes with the Indian.
While living with his tribe in an Indian village, the couple’s blissful marriage is soured when their beautiful baby daughter (Rita Carewe, the director’s daughter) is killed when attacked by racist white criminals (and the racist white doctor won’t come to treat the little girl because she’s an Indian). The couple move away to the mountains to get away from people, but Alessandro is falsely accused of stealing a horse and is killed by a settler. Ramona has a nervous breakdown and loses her mind, whereby Felipe tracks her down in the wilderness and nurses her back to health. When he plays on his guitar their favorite childhood song, her happiness and joy for life returns.
Ramona was thought to be a lost film until archivists rediscovered it in the Národní Filmový Archiv in Prague. It then was The Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division of the Library of Congress that transferred the original nitrate print to the better quality acetate.