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Thursday, February 20, 2014

RAMONA (1936)

Third go-round for Helen Hunt Jackson’s period tale of a Spanish gal in old California who falls in love, marries, then finds tragedy with an American Indian. Sounds just right for Loretta Young and Don Ameche, no? Considering the casting conventions of the time, they do well enough under Henry King’s uncharacteristically brisk helming, assuming you can accept Young in dark, brunette tresses and Ameche’s distinctively non-Native American profile. The story’s good guys and bad guys come off as very P.C., but you have to wonder if victimizing the Noble Native American is just as culturally harmful as making them all vicious savages, as per scores of cheap Western Serials. (When it comes to the Indian Nations, the level of patronizing sentimentality grows in direct proportion to a film’s budget.) In any event, the true purpose of this production was to let 20th/Fox get their mitts on the newly perfected 3-strip TechniColor process on a story with scenic settings to ravish the eye with purple mountains majesty, fields of yellow wheat and flesh tones you’d want to lick. Mission accomplished.

DOUBLE-BILL: A restoration of the 1928 version w/ Dolores Del Rio & Warner Baxter is being unveiled in March: http://www.cinema.ucla.edu/events/2014-03-29/special-screening-ramona-1928

Or, if you just can’t imagine a Latino actress playing a Spaniard, there’s D. W. Griffith’s two-reeler from 1910, with Mary Pickford hiding under a dark wig as Ramona. It’s an antique, of course, but not without a certain charm and considerable tragic force.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: David O Selznick’s production of THE GARDEN OF ALLAH/’36 was probably the glamorous highpoint in the first wave of 3-strip TechniColor features. But the process really came of age when Warner Bros. did without a TechniColor specialist as cinematographer, forgoing the likes of Ray Rennahan (BECKY SHARP/’35); W. Howard Green (ALLAH) and this film’s William V. Skall to stick with brilliant house lensers Sol Polito & Tony Gaudio for THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD/’38.

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