THE VANISHING AMERICAN , from a Zane Grey novel, was first filmed in 1925 with Richard Dix, on location in Monument Valley ( and slightly before Stagecoach).
This remake by Republic was also filmed in Utah and gave SCOTT BRADY a chance to do something different – he plays a quiet spoken Navajo Indian – and does it well.
The film highlights the plight of the Navajo Indians as more and more of their land is taken from them.
As Scott Brady tells AUDREY TOTTER at the beginning of the film,
“This land has belonged to my people for 700 years.”
As an Audrey Totter devotee, it ‘s great to see her in the central role of the film. Like Joan Crawford in JOHNNY GUITAR, she drives the action and makes all the decisions which further the plot.
Audrey has come to take over the ranch her uncle left her. The uncle had filed a claim on the Red Dusty water hole and FORREST TUCKER and his gang need the water rights.
When she first meets Scott, her first remark to him is,
“You’re on my land. Get off – quick.”
Tucker has a trading post and is in cahoots with the local Indian agent,GENE LOCKHART. They, along with Tucker’s men, LEE VAN CLEEF and JIM DAVIS are fleecing the Navajos for all they can get.
Audrey makes it clear she is going to fence in the water hole and says to Gene,
“Get your confounded Indians off my land.”
She does however end up sympathetic to the Indian cause after rescuing a young Indian girl from Tucker’s clutches. As she says,
” Getting walked all over is a Navajo hobby,not mine.”
Audrey even gets the drop on Davis and Van Cleef as they threaten the girls’s father.
At one point the store owned by Tucker goes up in flames ,and what we see quite clearly is a clip from “Johnny Guitar” of Vienna’s saloon on fire!
Audrey shows her determination to show up Tucker and Lockhart for what they are. She tells the Indian girls’s father,
“I’m gonna bust this thing wide open.” His reply is, “If you fool around with Morgan (Tucker), you’ll end up in a pine box.”
Scott Brady actually disappears for about a half hour of the film,but then he and Audrey start working on plans to expose Tucker ,and before you know it, they are developing a relationship.
Eventually, with the help of the Navajo chief played by GLENN STRANGE, the villains get their comeuppance at the hands of marshal JAMES MILLICAN.
Millican tries to persuade the Navajos that fighting is not the way forward.But,philosophically,the Indian chief says,
“Soon the last Indian will vanish from the earth. We wish only to die killing white men in these sacred rocks.”
The ending comes too suddenly, but this is a rare, fast paced western with a good cast and plenty of action.A pity Republic couldn’t stretch to color for that magnificent scenery.
It could be argued Audrey’s softening towards Brady is a little forced and not in keeping with her character. And there is no indication how their relationship could ever develop.
JAY SILVERHEELS has a small part, and I particularly liked the old man who played the Indian girls’s father,JULIAN RIVERO.