9 August 2011 | bkoganbing
Although Richard Barthelmess was on the downside of his career which began in silent films with Massacre you couldn't judge by the quality of this film. I am really surprised that this film is not better known. It is a remarkable portrayal of the American Indian in the New Deal years and the entrenched powers arrayed against them as a conquered people.
The story begins as Barthelmess is summoned to the Sioux reservation because his father is ill. He finds when he gets there that his father is dying mainly because of the lack of medical attention. After that he learns of other injustices suffered and he's determined to do something about it.
The villains in Massacre are Dudley Digges as the Indian agent and Arthur Hohl as a missionary. You know this film was made before the Code was in place because after this you could never show a man of the cloth as a villain. In fact Barthelmess after his father dies is determined to bury him with the traditional Indian ceremonial rites. That totally drives Digges and Hohl up a wall as they do not want this Indian Bolshevik which is what Digges calls Barthelmess to be bringing these Indians back to paganism and against what the missionaries have been trying to instill in the Sioux. When you think about it, this film is decades ahead of its time.
Ann Dvorak plays the Indian maid who falls for Barthelmess and Sidney Toler plays the man that Barthelmess kills forcing him to flee the reservation and seek redress from Washington, DC. What happens, well the Sioux nearly go on the warpath as they are in a take no prisoners mood.
Sad to say in a film so sensitive about Indian rights and stereotypes, black people come in for a bit of racial stereotyping in this film. It is probably what keeps the film from getting a higher rating or from being a classic on the subject like Devil's Doorway or Fort Apache. Still Massacre is a great film that too few people know about.