R: Lucius Henderson, William Nigh. B: Bret Harte (story), Paul Armstrong (play). K: Hal Mohr, Arthur Pawelson, Arthur Cadwell. D: Beatriz Michelena, House Peters, Matt Snyder, William Nigh, Ernest Joy, Andrew Robson, Clarence Arper, William Pike, Harold B. Meade, Harold Entwistle. P: California Motion Picture Corp. USA 1914
“The visual beauty and directorial sophistication of Salomy Jane upend assumptions of what a first feature by an untried regional company ought to look like. In 1914, feature-length films were still novel, and the San Francisco boosters behind the formation of the California Motion Picture Corporation had not the slightest experience making movies. From such small companies formed that year in the West one expects the rough techniques of, say, the Los Angeles–based Oz Film Manufacturing Company or the San Antonio–based Buckhorn Film Company (…). Instead, Salomy Jane arguably surpasses the year’s best-remembered movies from mainstream studios. (…)
Although titled for its central character, Salomy Jane is a community story, set in the summer of 1852 in, appropriately, Hangtown (a California gold-mining settlement more welcomingly renamed Placerville in 1854). The film deftly interweaves older honor violence brought from the East (a feud from Kentucky and revenge for a wronged sister) with new Western threats (a stage robbery, quick-to-lynch vigilantes, and rivalries over Salomy as a rare young woman among the forty-niners*). (…)
Playing the title role is 24-year-old Beatriz Michelena in her first film. She’d been onstage since age 11, first alongside her father, a Venezuelan immigrant and opera tenor, and by age 17 she was promoted in lead soprano roles as ‘America’s Youngest Prima Donna’. In Salomy Jane, with a hairstyle evidently borrowed from Mary Pickford, she conveys the no-nonsense independence that soon made her America’s first Latina movie star.(…)
Salomy Jane survives to give vivid witness to the flourishing of the regional feature film in the years just before the conglomeration of Hollywood.”
National Film Preservation Foundation
* The people who left their homes in search of gold were later referred to as the “forty-niners,” simply because the year was 1849. Although the exact numbers are unknown, it’s believed that around 300,000 people migrated to California during the Gold Rush.
History of California Gold Rush and The Forty-Niners