Monday, September 1, 2014

The Invaders (1912)

Francis Ford, 1919
Here is another Thomas Ince production (see the recent BITS review of his 1919 film with William S. Hart, Wagon Tracks). A short, 40-minute western, The Invaders tells a familiar story of U.S. Cavalry vs. Indians on the frontier.

The film is notable for its direction by Francis Ford, elder brother of John Ford. While active behind the camera during the silent era, with 177 directing credits, Francis worked chiefly as a film actor in Hollywood. IMDb lists a phenomenal total of nearly 500 on-screen appearances in mostly uncredited roles during 1909 – 1953.

Plot. The story concerns the breaking of a treaty with the Sioux, who are promised that settlers will be prevented from entering their lands. Trouble quickly ensues as a party of surveyors arrives to take topographical measurements for a transcontinental railway.

In a parallel plot thread, we learn that the Sioux chief’s daughter, Sky Star (Ann Little), is being courted by a member of the tribe, who attempts to trade for her with a gift of horses. Her father is happy with the deal, but she is not. Before long, one of the surveyors, who spies her in his scope, takes an amorous interest in her.

When the Sioux learn of this development, they are joined by the Cheyenne to complain to the Army about the “invaders.” Before long, the surveyors are under attack. Greatly outnumbered, they are shot and left to die after being tortured.

Ann Little, 1916
Sky Star, who has witnessed the attack, rides off to the fort to warn the cavalry that the tribes are on the warpath. She takes a bad fall from her horse, and arriving at the fort she is taken in by the Colonel’s daughter (Ethel Grandin) who attempts to revive her, but to little avail.

Under siege, the cavalry attempts to hold off the assault, but the Indians have the upper hand. When a white flag is waved from inside the fort, the Sioux chief offers a ceasefire if he is permitted to speak with his daughter, Sky Star, but the girl has not revived and appears to be dying.

An attempt is made to reach another fort by telegraph, but the Indians burn down a telegraph pole, thus cutting off hope of rescue. A young officer, Lieutenant White (Ray Myers)—the sweetheart of the Colonel’s daughter—then bravely rides off to the next fort.

The attack intensifies, and seeing the end near, the Colonel puts a shell in his revolver and holds it to the head of his daughter, intent on taking her life before she can be taken captive. Fortunately, Lt. White returns in time with troops to drive off the Indians. As he reenters the fort, he is greeted by the Colonel and his daughter. The three then grieve the death of the Indian girl, Sky Star.

What to look for. For such an early film, The Invaders is competently made. The attack scenes are full of action, smoke, and swirling dust. Interior scenes show the influence of theatrical staging, but the many exteriors make use of the depth that can be suggested by movement towards and away from the camera, as well as movement in and out of the frame.

Ethel Grandin
In an early example, a mule-drawn coach arrives at the fort, emerging through the gate and coming directly toward the camera, passing to the right of it before stopping to let five men jump one after another from the open door. While the camera is typically stationary, Ford introduces a long, smooth panning shot to capture the action as the surprised surveyors futilely fire their guns at the approaching band of Indians, who are on horseback.

Not all went smoothly in production. In one interior scene, obviously shot on an open stage set, papers on the Colonel’s desk can be seen blowing in the wind. Later, when the actors playing Lt. White and the Colonel’s daughter have a scene, he grabs at her as she pulls away and gets a fistful of her hair.

The print available on YouTube is in excellent condition and a prime example of the movie experience (although without musical accompaniment) as it would have been enjoyed by audiences at the time. Here is the opening scene:

Wrapping up. In the film, Francis Ford takes the role of the Colonel. In an unusual bit of casting, the Sioux chief was played by an actual Sioux, William Eagle Shirt, who appeared as an Indian in a dozen short films, 1912–1917. Screenwriter C. Gardner Sullivan, with almost 200 writing credits over three decades in Hollywood, also wrote the script for Wagon Tracks (1919), reviewed here earlier.

The entire film is currently available at YouTube. For more Overlooked movies and TV, click over to Todd Mason’s blog, Sweet Freedom.

Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Coming up: Elmer Kelton, Other Men’s Horses


  1. Didn't know John Ford's older brother was also a director'

  2. Ron, thanks for the link to this excellent early silent film. I just finished watching it and I was very impressed by the attack on the fort at the end. In fact, I'll watch it again later. The print is very clear and for 1912, this is a real surprise.

    Every now and then film buffs complain about the silent films but there are some real treasures.

    1. I am wondering how many early films like this are in private collections that will eventually find their way to places like UCLA, which have been preserving them.

  3. Love silent films and will check this out over the weekend. Thanks for the link and forgotten history, Ron. Or, rather, hidden history.

  4. I like some of these little silent. Thanks for the heads up on this one.

  5. Fine preserved photography. I think I've seen a remake of it, but can't recall the title. Those actresses look almost too young for the roles.