This film was lost from 1931 to 1996 when a copy was found in Australia. It is the last surviving film made by the California Motion Picture Corporation and also the only film featuring Latino star Beatriz Michelena.
Michelena was a woman of many talents, a successful opera singer, writer and business woman who formed the CMPC with her husband in order to produce her own films… This was one of a number of independent companies that flourished in the years before Hollywood assumed its familiar pattern. But the company failed and all evidence of its output was seemingly destroyed in a fire in the early 30’s.
|Beatriz Michelena and House Peters|
Salomy Jane was based on the popular novella by Bret Harte and as with other early features struggles to accommodate all of the details and characters from even the short-form novel. It was made over a period of six months and for a reputed $200,000 yet, despite critical acclaim, suffered from poor distribution and never broke even.
As her name suggests, Salomy Jane is no shrinking violet and as with Salomé, at one point urges one of her suitors to despatch a man who has assaulted her. She’s a tough gal but then this was the old west and a town where the only women seem to be either domestic slaves or sex workers.
|Woman. horse... tree|
|Acting with children as well as animals...|
And what a lot of them there are… this is a very busy film with four main narrative strands and a lot of action – sometimes confusingly quick.
Salomy and her father Madison Clay (Matt Snyder) arrive in Hangtown a care-worn mining community still just about riding the wave of the ’49 gold rush… they have come from Kentucky and intend to breed horses.
|Ernest Joy, Beatriz Michelena, Clarence Arper and Matt Snyder|
There’s also Red Pete (William Pike) a good fer nothin’ wastrel who abuses his wife (Clara Beyers as Clara Byers) and takes what money they have to gamble and get drunk whilst she and their three children live off scraps.
|No shortage of suitors for Salomy|
But any chance of a fresh start is curtailed as there’s already an enemy in town in the form of Larabee (Harold Entwistle). His family have a long-running feud with the Clays and have warned him of their arrival.
|A sister's tragic message|
|Salomy tells Ruff to avenge her|
Salomy runs back home in distress where she persuades another suitor, Rufe Waters (William Nigh who also directed parts of the film and later had a distinguished directorial career), to kill her attacker in exchange for her hand in marriage. Very Salomé …
|Mill Valley with Mount Tamalpais in the background|
Meanwhile (again), The Man has tracked down Baldwin to his miner’s shack hideaway and engages him in a fist fight… He easily bests the baddy and slays Baldwin with his own knife. Natural justice for both his sister as well as Salomy… But Ruff sees all and aims to take the credit and claim his prize from Salomy.
|Mr and Mrs "Red Pete" and child|
This bracelet will be handed to Salomy as she plays with the children…
A posse is organised as the Sherriff enlists the local men to capture the robbers and Baldwin’s killer and things really ramp up as the trigger happy chase the felons in order to deliver a summary hanging. The Man gets caught up in the melee as he’s confused and accused by the various parties as is Salomy in possession of the incriminating jewellery.
|Salomy is accused|
It would be fatuous to say that, even by this juncture, the Western had established its familiar patterns as the templates had already been set in the works of Harte and many others in the 1800s. What cannot be denied is the enduring effectiveness of the formulae.
|You can just see House and Beatriz riding through the trees|
Beatriz Michelena makes for a compelling lead playing Salomy as a gum-chewing gal of action who is every bit as tough as the men around her. Her stage experience and operatic sensibilities suit the style of the play and she works well with House Peters. Like many of the characters in the film, she is an interesting shade of grey not clearly black and white – that’s the West alright: “ a woman’s got to do what a man’s gotta do…”
|Mount Tamalpais again in the distance...|