Laughing Boy (1934): Romantic Melodrma of Culture Collusion, Starring Ramon Novarro and Lupe Velez

Made in 1934, as a star vehicle for Ramon Navarro and Lupe Velez, Laughing Boy was based on the novel of the same name, which won the Pulitzer Prize for 1929.

Navarro plays the titular character, Laughing Boy (whose name is Sings Before Spears), a handsome and honest Navaho youngster, living a quiet life with his family in a remote part of the reservation.

Velez plays Lily (her given name is Slim Girl), a wild woman, raised by whites in a town and living as a white man’s mistress. She has adopted the materialistic values of white culture (and its comforts) at the price of losing all sense of the traditional Navajo ways of life.

Laughing Boy and Lily meet at the Navajos’ annual Great Sing Dance at T’si Lani in the Red Blue Country. Lily hopes to immerse herself back into her native culture and to once again become Slim Girl. Despite their antagonistic first encounter, Laughing Boy and Slim Girl fall in love and want to get married, against the protestations of his mother and friends who believe she is unsuitable for him.

Those differences seem to be irreconcilable and Slim Girl goes back to her “white” way of life.  When Laughing Boy confronts her with one of her older white lovers, he intends to kill the man, but instead his arrow hits Slim Girl and she dies in his arms.

In the last, sad scene, he buries her in a respectful traditional ceremony.