THE SYMBOL OF THE UNCONQUERED (THE WILDERNESS TRAIL)
(director/writer: Oscar Micheaux; cast: Iris Hall (Eve Mason), Walter Thompson (Hugh Van Allen), Lawrence Chenault (Jefferson Driscoll), Mattie Wilkes (Mother Driscoll), George Catlin (Dick Mason), Louis Dean (August Barr), Leigh Whipper (Tugi), E.G. Tatum (Abraham).; Runtime: 54; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Oscar Micheaux; Micheaux Film Corp. ; 1920-silent)
“Embodies black soul.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Prolific black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux(“Within Our Gates”/”Lying Lips”), who made over 40 featured films, makes this passionate indie silent as a protest against the racism of The Birth of a Nation. The lost film was found in the Belgian cinema archives and restored by TCM and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, with chunks of it still missing. The light-skinned Negro, Eve Mason (Iris Hall), leaves Selma, Alabama, after the death of her prospector grandfather (George Catlin). She goes to live in Oristown, in the Pacific Northwest, in a humble cabin she inherited from her grandfather. At a hotel stopover during a storm, she’s treated terribly by the owner Jeff Driscoll (Lawrence Chenault), a mulatto passing himself off as white. He hates blacks and gives her a room in the barn. In the morning, she limps away and is befriended by a handsome Negro prospector, Van Allen (Walker Thompson), who resides in a tent near her cabin. He acts as her protector. Though attracted to her makes no advances fearing rejection from the woman he perceives as white. The unscrupulous Driscoll partners with a slimy former white pastor (Louis Dean) and and a con man Indian fakir (Leigh Whipper) to swindle Van Allen out of his land when he discovers oil on it. The swindlers hire a white horse thief Bill Stanton (Jim Burris?), with connections to the local KKK, to work over the prospector. But he still can’t convince him to sell,. So they get the KKK (here called the Knights of the Black Cross) to drive him out of his land. Unfortunately the climax battle scene of the raiders thrown from their horses by Van Allen heaving bricks at them is lost. We learn that Van Allen survives and later we see he has become an oil tycoon. When he learns Eve is also Negro, they embrace. The score is tacked on by black jazz drummer Max Roach. It’s hard to fairly judge this melodrama since there’s key footage missing. But though it seems to be awkwardly paced, it embodies black soul.
REVIEWED ON 9/10/2016 GRADE: B-