Dolores Del Rio in RAMONA (1928)

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“Take care of your inner, spiritual beauty. That will reflect in your face.” … Dolores Del Rio

Of his romance with her, Orson Welles called her “the most exciting woman I’ve ever met.” Her friend Marlene Dietrich thought she was, “the most beautiful woman in Hollywood.” As impressive as that sounds, Dolores Del Rio was all of this and so much more.

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Drawn to the shimmering opportunities of the silent era motion picture industry, Dolores Del Rio came to Hollywood from her homeland of Mexico to soon be hailed the ‘female Rudolf Valentino.’ After a successful film career in Tinsel Town by the age of thirty-seven (when many leading ladies would be forced into retirement by Hollywood standards), Del Rio launched into a second phase of success back in Mexico. Ushering in what was called the Golden Era of Mexican Cinema, she flourished as an international film star, but now in her native language. She continued a bountiful career in film, television and theater, with her last film at the ripe age of seventy-four.

How did I not know anything about this dazzling international star and beauty? That all changed when I screened Edwin Carewe’s RAMONA (1928) at CapitolFest this summer.

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Based on Helen Hunt Jackson’s bestselling 1884 novel, RAMONA is a dramatic tale of heartbreak and racism. Adapted into film four times, with a stage production (Ramona Bowl Amphitheater in Hemet, California) that has been running annually since 1923, this story was ahead of its time and continues to appeal to audiences. The 1928 film version is a journeyed melodrama in itself. Considered a lost film for many decades, it was discovered in a vault in Prague. The good folks at the Library of Congress went through the painstaking process of restoring and transferring the nitrate film and meticulously translating intertitles from Czech into English. Since its restoration world premiere in March, 2014, I felt like the winner of the golden ticket to be one of the lucky to screen this rare silent gem.

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Dolores Del Rio portrays Ramona, a young woman of mixed ethnicities (Native American and caucasian) adopted and raised by Senora Moreno (Vera Lewis) in southern California. Senora Moreno owns an affluent sheep ranch, along with her son Felipe (Roland Drew). Ramona and Felipe are very close. The problem is, Felipe doesn’t view her as an adopted sister, he’s in love with her. The other problem is Senora Moreno’s poor treatment of Ramona. She wants Ramona to conform tightly to her upper class world but constantly treats her differently than Felipe; a reminder that she’s the beautiful black sheep of the family.

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When shearing season comes along, Native American Alessandro (Warner Baxter) and his work crew arrive at the ranch. Soon Ramona and Alessandro fall in love. Elitist Senora Morena snobbishly objects, claiming he’s beneath her class. She also takes this opportunity to express her racist bias in the discussion that her real mother was Indian. Alessandro and Ramona escape to the mountains and elope. Years go by and they have a child, living in a nearby Indian village. She has finally found true happiness. No longer living as an outsider, she finds her place in the world with a deeper connection to her Indian roots.

The joy doesn’t last for long. Tragedy after tragedy follows in horrific detail. The racist experiences are shocking and transparent on the screen. You feel such an invested commitment to her character that when unjust horrors unfold, we as an audience are devastated too. Dolores Del Rio as Ramona is stunningly beautiful and full of life. She is strong and charismatic. Her portrayal is sincere and real and I can assure the tears welling in my eyes were equally genuine.

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Of her many talents, Dolores Del Rio was a magnificent singer. Here’s an audio clip of a beautiful RAMONA song for your listening pleasure…

The stars of this film were not of Native American background, but the director was. Born Jay Fox from Texas, Edwin Carewe’s heritage is from the Chickasaw tribe. He and two of his brothers were all very successful in Hollywood as filmmakers/producers/screenwriters. His brother Finis wrote the screenplay and created the intertitles for RAMONA. Edwin Carewe was a rather fascinating and prolific filmmaker in early Hollywood. He often made a point to feature women and focus on the ‘underdog’ of a story in his films. I believe his background was ideally suited to bring out the compassionate heart to this film adaption that it deserves. Carewe is also credited as bringing Dolores Del Rio to Hollywood. (In addition to discovering Del Rio, he is also known for discovering Wallace Beery, Warner Baxter, and Gary Cooper.)

If you’re more familiar with the technicolor 1936 version (and fourth film adaption) of RAMONA which stars Loretta Young and Don Ameche as the Indian romantic leads (because they look perfectly the Indigenous part, right??), please do yourself a favor and figure out a way to see the 1928 version instead. With all apologies to the lovely and talented Loretta, Dolores was simply born to play this role.

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*This post is my proud contribution to Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of ONCE UPON A SCREEN. I am grateful to Aurora for originally introducing me to Dolores Del Rio. Be sure to read all of the fellow participants’ contributions for a wondrous celebration of hispanic artists of the silver screen.

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CLASSIC FILM FALL REPORT: Fly in to ‘Fly Over States’

Fields of sunflowers with their friendly faces reaching up to the sky, as rumbles of enormous dark storm clouds approach rapidly. This scene was played out just a couple of days ago in my town and is pretty typical here in the heartland, as we transition from the long, hot days of late summer into cool Autumn. But what may be less known about this part of the country, is the surprising storm of classic film events swiftly advancing in the next few weeks.

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In a fun mix of both silent greats and film noir dark delights, classic film fans can appreciate the multiple offerings in northeastern Kansas and Kansas City metro area.

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FOOTPRINTS presents METROPOLIS:

  • Sunday, 9/20 at 7:30pm
  • Alloy Orchestra live musical accompaniment
  • Lawrence Arts Center, Lawrence, KS
  • cost: $19 + tax
  • Tickets and more info: FOOTPRINTS site

Mick Ranney has been the owner of FOOTPRINTS shoe store for over 35 years, operating out of an old limestone storefront, originally built as a grocery store in the 1870s. Now a successful business with a heavy focus on all things Birkenstock (plus a few other lines to boot), Mick has turned his strong ties to the community combined with his passion of classic film to bring spectacular classic film events to this enchanting small town.

For several years now, he has brought silent masterpieces and recently restored gems such as NOSFERATU (1922), BLACK MAIL (1929), BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (1925) and the restored classic THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (part of his WW2 Film Festival, which at that time was recently restored and only being shown in 2 venues across the country – the Film Forum in NYC and little Lawrence, KS). Always presented with live musical accompaniment (usually the famous Alloy Orchestra or Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra) in the intimate setting of the 300 seat capacity Lawrence Arts Center. You can find tickets online here, but you may want to hurry before it sells out.

*Mick’s creative skills are playfully expressed in his video clips to promote his screenings. I highly recommend not only attending in person, but also ‘liking’ the Footprints FaceBook page to check out his fun video clips.

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BUSTER KEATON CELEBRATION:

This year’s theme is Buster Keaton & The Marx Brothers: Celebrating American Laughter.  Andy Marx, Groucho’s grandson was originally scheduled to appear but canceled last month. No worries, a great line-up of guest speakers and artists are firmly on board with a full schedule of silver screen comedy treats.

Hosting this annual event since 1993, Iola is short hop from Piqua (pronounced “PICKway”), Buster Keaton’s birthplace. Recent presenters and speakers have included: members of the Keaton and Talmadge family, Oscar and Emmy winning director/producer/silent film extraordinaire Kevin Brownlow, actor and close friend of Buster’s James Karen, comedy legend Steve Allen, film critic Leonard Maltin, film preservationist David Shepard, Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra, and many more.

This is a must for Buster aficionados, comedy and silent film fans, and frankly anyone up for great Autumnal weekend in this quant little town.

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NOIR CITY Kansas City:

  • Friday, 10/2, Saturday 10/3, Sunday 10/4
  • Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet, Kansas City, MO
  • cost: $75 for a passport to all 10 screenings plus nightclub party
  • all the info: NoirCityKC.com 
"Czar of Noir" Eddie Muller, president and founder of the Film Noir Foundation

“Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller, president and founder of the Film Noir Foundation is a modern-day renaissance man of multi talents

Just over the state line on the Missouri side, this is the 2nd annual installment of the Kansas City Film Noir Festival. Presented in part by the Film Noir Foundation, the “Czar of Noir” Eddie Muller’s ‘baby,’ ushers in 3 days and nights of 10 noir gems. The schedule of films include two 35mm restorations and two 35mm preservations! (Three of these four are fresh from FNF!) A total of ten dark delectables to savor including, of course, The Kansas City Confidential.

Individual screenings are very affordable starting $7 per show. Full beverage and food service is offered at these shows. The Nightclub event gets swinging Friday night, 9pm-2am. With three noir acts to set the retro KC mood with sexy, jazzy and even burlesque tones, Laura Ellis, Evie Lovelle, The Latenight Callers will perform at The Chesterfield.  [NOIR CITY KC TIP: save that Alamo Drafthouse movie tix stub for a $2 drink discount.] Tickets: $10 in advance.

The best Noir City KC tip I can offer is to purchase the passport. It’s a steal for $75 smackers to get into all 10 screenings, the Nightclub and speedier, shorter lines for best seating. For directions and parking options, click HERE.

As you can see, you don’t have to fly out to one of the coasts to experience some amazing classic film events. If you’re not familiar with the Kansas/Missouri/Kansas City area, feel free to contact me for details on logistics and good places to stay and eat. Hope to see you there! Who knows. This might just change your definition of ‘the flyover states.’

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