US Release Date: 01-06-1922
Directed by: Buster Keaton
- Buster Keaton, as
- Little Chief Paleface
- Virginia Fox, as
- Indian Maiden
- Joe Roberts as
- The Indian Chief
Keaton joins the indians.
I have often lamented the fact that Hollywood always makes rich white men the bad guy in every movie. Apparently that has always been the case. This stereotype goes all the way to such silent films as The Paleface.
A group of oil barons literally steal the deed to some Indian owned land that they want. They give the Indians one day to move off the land. The Indian chief gathers his tribe and tells his men to kill the first white man they see come through the wood gate to their village. Of course it is a clueless Buster Keaton chasing a butterfly with a big net in hand.
This leads to a huge chase. To hide from the Indians at one point, Buster wraps a blanket around him to pretend he is an Indian. It is a bit jarring, because the blanket has several swastikas on it. I know it was an Indian symbol long before Adolph Hitler used it, but the Nazi's left such a stain on it, that it will likely always be remembered for them.
They capture and tie him to a stake, in which they attempt to burn him. He keeps moving the stake to the confusion of the Indians trying to put wood at his feet. He really impresses them when he survives the burning because he is wearing a suit made of asbestos. He ends up joining the tribe and helps them fight the evil rich white guys. Buster, now called little Chief Paleface tells an oil executive, "If my tribe don't get what's coming to them, you will!"
The movie ends with a big action sequence with Keaton and tribe chasing the white men. He also gets chased by Indians form another tribe. Things get confusing when he is forced to change clothes with an oil executive. Even if you do not like slapstick comedy, you have to admit it keeps moving along quickly. It is always fun watching Keaton race about like Bugs Bunny on steroids.
One of the best parts gets shorted. At one point Buster is crawling across a canyon on an old rope bridge. He moves the wood planks as he goes along, as the bridge only has about a dozen pieces of wood laying over the ropes. The film is in good shape except for this sequence, where it suddenly seems poorly filmed. Perhaps it was the location.
Even on fire Keaton maintains his Stone Face.
Wow, rich white men rip-off land that belongs to American Indians. I wonder where Keaton got such a far fetched idea. Eric, you call it a stereotype, I call it history.
I agree with your comparison of Keaton to Bugs Bunny. Silent comedies created many gags that were repeated decades later in cartoon shorts. The scene you mention where Keaton is tied to the stake and keeps moving as the Indians try to pile sticks at his feet to burn him, for example. Bugs Bunny used that very same gag against Elmer Fudd. I also enjoyed the creative manner in which Keaton uses asbestos as long underwear.
I am always fascinated when these early movies feature many outdoor scenes like this one does. They probably didn’t have to go far into the Hollywood hills to find rugged, wild terrain then. The panoramic landscape seen here is probably dotted with houses today.
There is a funny but politically incorrect subtitle referring to the loincloth clad second group of Indians. They are called, “A rival tribe of savages that went broke playing strip poker.” The 1920’s wasn’t that far removed from the Old West. Quite often in westerns from that period it is difficult to tell just when the movie takes place. The Paleface could have been set in the 1880’s, the 1920’s, or any decade in between.
Nearly every comic in those days made a western. In The Paleface Keaton brings his inventive imagination to the genre and keeps the action flying along.
Buster Keaton in The Paleface.
So this movie is filled with the worst stereotypes of Indians, but it's the stereotype of the bad guy being white that stands out to you Eric? Not the burn your enemy at the stake, scalp him, bad dancing, feather wearing Indian stereotype? Not to mention that most of the actors appear to be white men in red face. The final scene even has the chief do the old Italian gesture of kissing his fingertips and spreading his hand out because he appreciates what Keaton did.
There are some entertaining moments here and as always, Keaton keeps the action moving along. He was so fluid in his movements, it really is like watching a cartoon. There are a couple of moments during the chase when he jumps around and falls like crazy and he almost makes it seem like ballet. When he slides down the hill and jumps to the tree or when he bounces back from it, jumps on the Indians and bounces upward again, for instance.
Like you Eric, I was disapointed in the bridge crossing scene. They should have sped the film up and shown him going all the way across the gorge, instead of cutting from one side to the other. Maybe that was beyond them then, but it seems like such a simple little effect to achieve and instead they cut over it. It could have been the big gag in a short that seems to be made up of a bunch of little gags without that one big over-the-top one.
While I'm not the Keaton fan that Eric is, I almost enjoy his shorts, as I did this one. It's not his best, but it's never boring.
Photos © Copyright First National Pictures (1922)