The Unconquered (Paramount) is Cecil Blount DeMille's florid, $5,000,000, Technicolored celebration of Gary Cooper's virility, Paulette Goddard's femininity and the American Frontier Spirit. The movie is getting such stentorian ballyhoo that a lot of cinemagoers are likely to think less of it than it deserves. It is, to be sure, a huge, high-colored chunk of hokum; but the most old-fashioned thing about it is its exuberance, a quality which 66-year-old Director DeMille preserves almost single-handed from the old days when even the people who laughed at movies couldn't help liking them.
The story is set in the early 1760s. Miss Goddard, an English girl, is accused unjustly, of courseof crime, and is sentenced to 14 years' slavery in North America. The highest bid comes from Captain Cooper of the Virginia militia. A scoundrel, Howard DaSilva, tricks Cooper out of his new property. The picture thereupon settles down in and near Fort Pitt, which every schoolboy will presumably recognize as early Pittsburgh.
Fort Pitt is a stockaded outpost, threatened by Indians. Scoundrel DaSilva wants war with the Indians and a weak frontier (he is a fur trader). Patriot Cooper wants peace and a strong frontier (he is the stuff that the unborn U.S. is to be made of). DaSilva gets his war and it remains for Cooper to rescue Miss Goddard from the aborigines (Boris Karloff & friends).
All this is made easier by Mr. DeMille's ability to make shot after shot bulge with energy. A suggestion about a white-skinned female slavean angle that first inspired DeMille to make the pictureis played with vigorous naiveté for not-quite-censorable leers and laughs. Miss Goddard, stripped down within an inch of the Johnston Office, is tethered for torture by the Indians and writhes exquisitely. She also takes the bath which has for many years been virtually a DeMille signature. It cannot compare with Claudette Colbert's champion dip, as Poppaea (The Sign of the Cross, 1932) in what pressagents described as $10,000 worth of grade A asses' milk; but in its crude frontier way (a cramped wooden tub) the Goddard bath is effective.
Mixed with all the 19th Century the-atricalism, the early 20th Century talent for making movies move, and the overall impression of utter falsity, The Unconquered has some authentic flavor of the period.
When Cecil B. DeMille went to California in 1913 and rented half a barn in which to film The Squaw Man, there was a village there called Hollywood. But none of the innocents who lived in the village dreamed, in their wildest nightmares, how radically Mr. DeMille and his followers would alter the community.
DeMille is a movie pioneer in various other respects, too. He did as much as any other man to develop "spectacle" movies. He doubtless did more than any other man, with his extravagant bathing scenes, to turn the U.S. bathroom into a national pride. He was the first Hollywoodian to risk a movie on an all-out religious theme (The Ten Commandments, 1923). He was among the first to use "effect lighting." He pioneered with the camera boom and the "blimp" (silencing insulation which permits the sound camera to move freely). He was among the first to use color in a feature (hand-tinting, in Joan the Woman, 1917).