The Symbol of the Unconquered
|The Symbol of the Unconquered|
(The Wilderness Trail)
Contemporary newspaper advertisement.
|Directed by||Oscar Micheaux|
|Produced by||Oscar Micheaux|
|Written by||Oscar Micheaux|
|54 minutes; 7 reels (silentera has it at 8 reels, IMDb says 5 reels)|
|Language||Silent (English intertitles)|
The Symbol of the Unconquered (also known as The Wilderness Trail) is a 1920 silent "race film" drama produced, written and directed by Oscar Micheaux. It is Micheaux's fourth feature-length film and along with Within Our Gates is among his earliest surviving works. The Symbol of the Unconquered was made at Fort Lee, New Jersey, and released by Micheaux on November 29, 1920. A print of the film is extant at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Eve Mason is a "white-skinned" African American who inherits a large amount of land after the death of her grandfather Dick Mason, an old prospector. She leaves her hometown of Selma, Alabama, for the Northwest to settle in a place called Oristown. Upon arrival she decides to stay in the Driscoll Hotel but its owner, Jefferson Driscoll, has developed a hatred for African-Americans and forces Eve to sleep outside in a barn. In the morning she meets a kind young prospector named Hugh Van Allen, who also happens to be her new neighbor. They become fast friends and Van Allen offers Eve a ride to her new house. When they get there Van Allen continues to show kindness and helps Eve get settled into her new home. Before leaving he gives Eve a gun and tells her to shoot it twice if she’s ever in trouble. That way he will know to come right over.
On the other side of town August Barr and Tugi, a couple of criminals, are meeting with Barr’s brother-in-law Peter Kaden. They tell Kaden that they need a couple of important documents, most of which he can find at Dick Mason’s house and force him to go and retrieve the documents himself. He goes there later that night and peeks his head in the window, startling Eve so much that her scream is heard by Van Allen. Kaden is able to run away before being discovered by Van Allen, who calms Eve down and even offers to keep watch outside for the rest of the night.
The next day Driscoll, who has quit the hotel business, sells two stolen horses to Van Allen. Before too long Van Allen is approached by the horses’ real owner and learns of Driscoll’s true nature. He confronts Driscoll at the local saloon where the two men have a physical altercation, which ends with Van Allen as the winner and Driscoll proclaiming that he will have his revenge. Later Driscoll’s mother comes to town and runs into Eve, who befriends the woman despite still having ill feelings towards her son.
At the post office Driscoll picks up a letter meant for Van Allen that was accidentally dropped by the mail man. After reading it he learns that Van Allen’s land has incredible value and shows the information to Barr and Tugi. They enlist the help of Bill Stanton, a Ku Klux Klan member, and continually leave threatening notes outside of Van Allen’s tent in order to get him to sell. This doesn't work however and Bill Stanton decides to ride onto the land one night with other Klan members. Their attack fails thanks to some help from other members of the community, specifically a colored man with a brick, and afterwards Van Allen finally learns that the reason his land is so sought after is because of the abundance of oil fields.
Two years go by and Van Allen has become one of the oil kings, running his own company. Eve drops by to deliver a letter from The Committee for the defense of the colored race that reveals Eve’s black parentage, something that Van Allen was completely unaware of. The film ends with Van Allen learning the truth and the two of them declaring their love for each other.
- Iris Hall as Eve Mason
- Walker Thompson as Hugh Van Allen
- Lawrence Chenault as Jefferson Driscoll
- Mattie Wilkes as Mother Driscoll
- Louis Dean as August Barr
- Leigh Whipper as Tugi, Indian Fakir
- Jim Burris as ?
- E. G. Tatum as Abraham
- James Burrrough as ?
- George Catlin as Dick Mason
- Edward Fraction as Peter Kaden
- Symbol of the Unconquered at SilentEra
- The American Film Institute Catalog Feature Films: 1911-20 by The American Film Institute (1988.
- Regester, Charlene. "The Misreading and Rereading of African American Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux." Film History 7.4 (1995): 426–49. Web.
- Flory, Dan. "Race, Rationality, and Melodrama: Aesthetic Response and the Case of Oscar Micheaux." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 63.4 (2005): 327–38. Web.
- Miller, James A. "The Case of Early Black Cinema." Critical Studies in Mass Communication 10.2 (1993): n. p. Web.
- Smith, J. Douglas. "Patrolling the Boundaries of Race: Motion Picture Censorship and Jim Crow in Virginia, 1922–1932." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 21.3 (2001): 273–91. Web.
- Moos, Dan. "Reclaiming the Frontier: Oscar Micheaux as Black Turnerian." African American Review 36.3 (2002): 357. Web.
- Mcgilligan, Patrick. "Me and Oscar Micheaux: An Interview with LeRoy Collins." Film Quarterly 57.4 (2004): 2–7. Web.
- Stoddard, Jeremy D., and Alan S. Marcus. "The Burden Of Historical Representation: Race, Freedom, And 'Educational' Hollywood Film." Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies 36.1 (1): 26–35. Print
- Bernstein, Matthew. "Oscar Micheaux and Leo Frank: Cinematic Justice Across the Color Line." Film Quarterly 57.4 (2004): 8–21. Print.
- Bronski, Michael. "The Return of the Repressed: Leo Frank Through the Eyes of Oscar Micheaux." Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 23.4 (2005): 26–49. Print.
- Lennig, Arthur. "Myth and Fact: The Reception of The Birth of a Nation." Film History: An International Journal 16.2 (2004): 117–41. Print.
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