Braveheart (1925) has nothing to do with the Mel Gibson film of the same name – for which we should give thanks. It is, instead, a rather strange mix of melodrama and action film that no doubt had good intentions but comes across as rather awkward when viewed today.
Braveheart is a member of a tribe of Native Americans who are involved in a dispute over fishing rights. The Chief of the tribe is convinced that violence is not the way forward, and so Braveheart is shipped off to college to learn about law so that he he can return and defeat the businessmen in a court of law. Mixed into this is Braveheart’s love for the woman he rescued after she fell from her horse (who, years later, just happens to turn up in the city where he is studying). Also thrown into this is a subplot about football!
It’s an odd film that doesn’t entirely hold together. Part of this is due to the episodic nature of the narrative – it almost feels like three short films tied together with a piece of string. Also at fault, though, is the clunky way in which the film deals with racial issues. That it deals with them at all should probably be applauded for a 1925 film, but it does so with a complete lack of subtlety. One intertitle quotes a character as saying “He is an Indian – His people are scum.” Yes, the line is intended to provoke hatred in the viewer for the guy that said it, but this bull-in-a-china-shop approach is not the best way to approach such issues. The other problem here is Rod LaRoque. Despite that wonderful name, an impressive barrel-chest, and (in this film) a very dodgy hair-do, LaRoque never manages to convince me that he is leading man material. He always seems to come across as a pretender to Fairbanks’ throne, although I admit I often find LaRoque more likeable.
Silent film fans often have a difficult relationship with Alpha Video, who present us with prints ranging from the good to the downright unwatchable. Of late, however, they do at least present us with at least some films unavailable elsewhere. Braveheart is, though, available from Grapevine as well, but I can’t comment on Grapevine’s edition. The running time is the same in both cases. The intertitles for the first ten minutes or so of the Alpha edition are new ones that are inserted, but sadly are typed up by someone who doesn’t understand the use of capital letters or realise that there isn’t a space before a comma or full stop. This does become a tad annoying, but the original titles are used after the first ten minutes or so. The print is…well, it’s ninety years old and unrestored. That said, it’s perfectly watchable (more so after the opening few minutes).
Braveheart is an enjoyable little movie to pass away fifty minutes or so and, while it’s no masterpiece, I often find that these “regular” movies are far more entertaining the more prestigious movies from the period that get released by the bigger companies.
(If anyone has seen the Grapevine edition and can comment on the quality of that print, I will be happy to copy and paste those comments at the bottom of this article)