In California’s Antelope Valley, the local Indian tribe lives peacefully alongside the recently arrived white settlers. However, some of the settlers want to end that peace and deliberately try to provoke the Indians into raiding a nearby town. When the Indian village is attacked and a young boy is turned into an orphan, the tribe prepares or war. It falls on the new Indian agent, a singing cowboy named Eddie Dean (played by real-life singing cowboy Eddie Dean) to capture the real culprits and maintain peace in Antelope Valley.
Romance of the West was the first of many films that Eddie Dean made in which he played a character named Eddie Dean. Dean had a good singing voice and an amiable screen presence but he was also a pretty stiff actor. That’s particularly obvious in Romance of the West, where he breaks out into a huge grin whenever he has to deliver any of his dialogue. Even when he talks about something as serious as finding a home for an orphan, he still smiles like someone who has found a month’s worth of moonshine. With the exception of Forest Tucker (who plays a sympathetic priest), the rest of the cast isn’t much better. Eddie looks convincing in a gunfight and on a horse but whenever he has to speak or show emotion, the action comes to a halt.
Compared to other westerns of the period, Romance of the West is sympathetic to the Indians, with Dean speaking up for them every chance he gets and telling one bad guy that the Indians are more American than he’ll ever be. But the movie also features a lot of scenes of the Indians speaking in exaggerated broken English. After an Indian child is orphaned, Eddie refuses the chief’s offer to raise the child, saying that it would be better that the child go to the church orphanage so he “can be raised right.” The film should be commended for rejecting the “savage” stereotype but then it goes too far in other direction, portraying the Natives as being almost child-like and without any agency of their own. Always, it falls on Eddie Dean to explain things to everyone and hold together the fragile peace.
Seen today, the most interesting thing about Romance of the West is that it was shot in color, at a time when that was a rare occurrence. Unfortunately, Eddie Dean was just as boring in color as he was in black-and-white.
On a final note, the singing cowboy genre has always been a strange one to me. Did no one in the old west find it strange that men were riding through the wilderness and singing songs of love to their horses? For some reason, singing cowboys were always appointed to positions of importance, like town marshal or Indian agent. Were people that impressed by a banjo?