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One Movie Punch

Apr 15, 2018

Today’s movie is “The Daughter of Dawn” (1920), the 1920 silent film directed by Norbert A. Myles and written in collaboration with Richard Banks. The film follows the courtship of Dawn (Esther Le Barre), the daughter of the Kiowa Chief (Hunting Horse). Two suitors are vying for her attention. Black Wolf (Jack Sankadota) is a wealthy member of the tribe, offering a considerable dowry. White Eagle (White Parker) is the bravest member of the tribe, and also has the heart of Dawn.

Spoilers ahead.

First, some history. “The Daughter of Dawn” was one of many attempts to create films about Native American culture. This particular film boasted a cast of 300 Kiowa and Comanche tribe members, who brought their own costumes and teepees for the production. It was only shown a few times and then thought to be lost. But a private collector offered it for a modest price to the Oklahoma Historical Society, and once purchased, was restored from the original nitrate reels, with a new score from the Oklahoma City University Orchestra.

So, how is the film itself? Pretty romanticized, and slightly westernized. The story is a classic western love triangle, which makes for great storytelling, but isn’t accurate for either the Kiowa or Comanche tribes, where marriage is a socio-economic institution, not necessarily a romantic one. Also, I’m not sure how to take a test of bravery that involves throwing yourself from a high bluff, especially when you are responsible for helping to feed and defend the tribe.

The direction has all the difficulties of filming during the time, with a need for stationary cameras and to maintain a film economy. The film has some nice wide shots of the buffalo on the plains, but some scenes also felt directed towards a western audience, needing to communicate emotion with familiar, slightly forced or overwrought facial expressions. The original score was never completed, and I wasn’t really a fan of the symphonic score made for this restoration, which didn’t help combat the westernized feel.

“The Daughter of Dawn” (1920) is a pretty mediocre film on its own, but is an example of a much larger diversity of work with Native American cultures during the silent film era. It can feel westernized and forced, and while the sets and costumes have authenticity, the overall film only comes out okay. Viewers interested in silent films or to see some once forgotten diversity from the era will enjoy this film. 

Rotten Tomatoes: NR

Metacritic: NR

One Movie Punch: 6.4/10

“The Daughter of Dawn” (1920) is not rated and the restored version is currently streaming on Netflix.