If I’m honest I had no reason before now to really return to Rio Conchos (1964). It was inspiration for an early piece of work that I’ve made. The unfinished mansion of the confederates who had fled after the surrender at the end of the civil war. I could see the potential in the building, even looking at how it was first framed, from behind the pillars on the porch we have no idea what state the new home is in. The focus of the work has been put into the entrance, emphasising the need to display the power they had once lost back over the border. A need to assert power and stature in a foreign country was clearly essential for Col. Theron Pardee (Edmond O’Brien). This time around I wasn’t so much drawn to the mansion, that drive has been fulfilled, allowing me to focus on what was just a chance to return to a curio of a Western that had faded in the memory.
The memory had become so fragmented that the mansion was really all I remembered. Leaving me to truly rediscover what is really another chance to explore the influence of The Searchers (1956). From the opening scenes I could see clear comparisons between them. We see a number of Apache’s being gunned down just as they are about to pay their respect to the dead they have brought out to cremate. We find James Lassiter (Richard Boone) hiding from view. He enjoys the killing, showing no respect for these Native Americans wanting to say good-bye. If there were more Apache’s he would surely have carried on until he had no more rounds of ammunition. Much like Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) whose stopped by Reverend Clayton (Ward Bond) who can see that this same emotion is all-consuming in the man on a mission of search and destroy.
The very next seen we found Lassiter sleeping in the burnt out homestead when he’s found by Union Captain Haven (Stuart Whitman) and his men. Not so much for killing the Apache’s, more so the gun he used. This could easily have been an alternate version of The Searchers – Edwards, a Confederate solider who we learn wasn’t present at the surrender. Also he could have been so grief-stricken that he stayed in the also burned out homestead and avoided the 7 year search, which would mean no film. It’s a version of events that’s taken up in Conchos instead, who without a supporting community and family a search was never carried out. Lassiter does however know who killed his family, not that we learn this until the final act of the film.
Brought into face justice at a military outposts that doubles as refuge for families making their way West. Everyone is living in a world if fear, something that Lassiter has experience first-hand, changing his outlook on life. A selfish shell of a man who resents the union for winning the civil war and the Apaches for killing his wife and child. Left to rot with his old friend and partner Rodriguez (Anthony Franciosa) who I saw as another Mexican stereotype whose allowed to be a little more than the sidekick at times.
Now for the subplot, the rife used by Lassister had previously stolen, before being sold on. Captain Haven want’s to track down these stolen weapons, hoping to use a gunpowder as bait to bring them to the guns. Something he feels he can achieve if he enlist the help of his newest prisoner. An unorthodox method that sees them cross the border. The prisoner sees this as an opportunity to test his luck, bribing them to also release Rodriguez, a ruthless man who will do anything as long as he gets his own way. Waging his own war against the victors of war as he carries out one last campaign.
Made during the early days of the civil rights movement we have Jim Brown’s Sgt. Ben Franklyn a rare Black soldier, depicting progress in the Union army, a victory for the freed slaves and taking note also of Sergeant Rutledge (1960) which had an all black unit of men. Here they’re mixed, reflecting the hope for better integration within the contemporary U.S. army. Here Franklyn, named after one of America’s founding fathers plays a fairly decent sized role for a traditionally white-centric film and role. He’s able to freely express himself to his superior, no fear of reprisal, carrying out orders and most importantly he gains the respect of Lassiter who a few years before fought for his continued life as a slave.
Moving the focus back to Lassiter whose not afraid to make personal sacrifices, he’s on a mission, one that even he doesn’t really know about. We finally begin to see a more human side of him when they’re surrounded by a band of Apaches who surround another burned out house. A house that only holds reminders of a past that he has yet to resolve. When we see him turn from killer to protector. He becomes the other in order to help them get away. Even their captor, a Squaw – Sally (Wende Wagner) who he begins to see more as a woman and human being to protect. She loses the image of Mexican Apache to become someone to be protect. She’s the Debbie of the film, whilst Boones – Ethan Edwards has begun his long journey to redemption and hopes of moving on. He faces one last challenge, to fight his Confederate past when he’s brought to Rio Conchos, the new base for Pardee’s men south of the border. Becoming Confedardo’s. Hoping to rebuild and return for another chance of glory that has rejected them.
The final act is full of emotional and physical pain for everyone left alive. Visually it’s a little hard to make out at times what is going on, shot in day-for-night conditions for the finale as they tied up men who by this point has been dragged by Apache horses. A form of torture ordered by Blondebeard (sounds more like a pirate than a Native American name) Kevin Hagen who we learn killed Lassiter’s wife and child. The Scar of the film is finally revealed and is just as mean as his white opposite who came for him. It’s a dramatic fiery mess that draws to a close what has been not so much boiling over but simmering for a while. Boone plays the sneaky under-hand kind of man, layered with grief and anger, not quite a hero or anti-hero, he just wants what is justice in his eyes and that’s all that matters.
This is one remake I have been avoiding for sometime, I’m not sure anyone who attempts to remake a John Ford western is going to succeed. There was news a few months ago that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is being remade and set in the 198o’s, that’s an interesting twist. There have been many films compared to The Searchers, (1956) however they are not remakes as we find with Stagecoach (1966) which was released 27 years after the original that changed the face of cinema. Thought to not only influence Citizen Kane (1941), it revitalised the genre and lastly launched the career of John Wayne who’d been stuck in a rut of b-movies for the best part of the 1930’s, he even made a few after its release – contractually.
You can’t apply the same effect to the genre or the medium of film to the remake which admittedly does expand on the film. Much like remakes of 3:10 to Yuma (2007) and True Grit (2010), I’m waiting to see how The Magnificent Seven compares now. I must confess it has been a few years since I’ve seen the original 1939 Stagecoach which was as much about making the genre more appealing to an adult audience. Bringing together social misfits or outsiders into a confined space, a vehicle on a dangerous route in the open untamed West. It was ultimately the perfect showcase for John Wayne, still baby-faced he personified a young independent America standing up for itself, playing Ringo Kid a role that was given to him by Ford – “Pappy” who had been waiting to give him the right part at the right time. He was redeemed from years of working the circuit of formulaic westerns that had no room for either story or character development. They were the training ground that saw him grow and form the character he would then play until 1976, a 50 year career.
I can’t feel the same effect in the remake with Alex Cord who fills the role in terms of stature at least, there are times where he’s definitely trying to break free of the Dukes even taller shadow. In terms of the walk and tone of his delivery. His entrance into the film is not the event that we found in 1939, the cockiness of the gun play, as he stands in the road is replaced by sitting at the side of the road for the stagecoach to reach him, not that he’s waiting for them, they are both opportunist in that respect.
What makes this interpretation stand apart is the longer running time, at nearly 2 hours allowing for more development with all of the characters, making for a richer film in that respect. I say allowing I feel its a missed chance with some characters, they do have more screen time, however its given more to Dallas (Ann-Margret) who has more of a back story. Rumoured to be the cause of few brawls in the town, not just a typical prostitute that Claire Trevor played and pushed out by the Law and Order League, its more about cleaning up the town to keep the general crime rate. She feels cursed by the legacy of death. Another characters whose drawn well is the doctor, this time played by Bing Crosby taking over Thomas Mitchell‘s role who you can’t forget, so full of life. Both actors of the same generation we meet an older doctor in Crosby, unshaven atypical drunk in appearance, however he plays a drunk doesn’t try to give up the drink. Mitchells knows he has a demon, he delivers a baby sober and celebrates that. Crosby’s is looking for the next drink all the time.
Of course you can’t have a straight copy, or it wouldn’t be a film in its own right. Making the conscious decision to not film in Monument Valley which is John Ford country, to shoot there would be a bold move. Instead sticking to more traditional landscape, which makes for a more traditional western. What we do have which is practically a like for like swap is the stagecoach driver Buck, originally Andy Devine took the reins, a loud and large figure who was regular for Ford, with Slim Pickens we have another loud character actor who made an impression on his films.
What makes this film stand apart is the larger screen time of the Apache’s lead by Geronimo are more than just rumour, we see them at the beginning of the film attacking the U.S. cavalry. There is no rolling prologue to set-up the film. Geronimo is not really mentioned and they are still the faceless, nameless enemy of the genre. I’m not critiquing that here though, more a comment in terms of the films comparison. The gunfight’s are well choreographed make for a more fearsome other who attacks the white for no reason more than they are Apache. Which oddly makes up for the lack of Monument Valley and Ford. I do however wish they hadn’t re-staged Ringo jumping through the horses. It wasn’t as grand a set-piece, used more as a means to get the stagecoach through.
The problem is that for me Stagecoach is an iconic film, to remake it’s going to be a sensitive thing to do. Getting it right, this is a star-filled piece, well semi star-filled anyway. It’s longer, darker in some respect but overall a looser film that is conscious of the shadow that is hanging over this modern piece of Wild West folklore that he it hopes to meet at some point. I am actually now considering seeking out the Johnny Cash version, made 20 years later, just to see how the story translates and transforms over time. It does still confine outcasts into the one small and dangerous vehicle, but the chemistry has not been replicated successfully.
I didn’t think I’d even be watching White Feather (1955) thinking it would be a piece of fluff. I was partially right but what had me sitting up right with interest was the prologue, much the same as we find in Broken Arrow (1950) which stated that this stories based on fact, the only difference being that the “Indians” speak in English so we can understand. I could go over old ground and explain that this was to make the film easier for the majority White audience to understand. However it seems that this is not just a line used to make it easier but also allows the film to be white-washed. Sorry for being so negative, the more I read about the Indian Wars the more cynical I become. I recently had a conversation in the studio about a written language for a Native American nation, which is nonsense as it would not have ever been written down. Like the stories of that and other nations it would’ve been passed down verbally. I surmised that the language would have been recorded by a White man in order to better understand them, in hopes of eventually forcing them to relocate. My view has really changed over the past year or so.
Moving on from my cynical introduction I move into the film itself, is indeed loosely based on fact. As talks were going on with Crow and Arapaho who as we see over the course of the Western have agreed to leave the plains in order for gold to be dug for and eventually developed by settlers. Sounds pretty standard on the face of it, there is a historical context to place a white Indian sympathiser within. In 1950 we have Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) now we have Josh Tanner (Robert Wagner) who I am trying to place historically with the actual events. He could just be a culmination of people at the time or a vehicle for these events to be told. This is a character that owes a lot to its predecessor, if anything this rare film wouldn’t have been made without Delmer Daves who directed the previous film, now writing for this one which shows more depth.
A little bit of research later show the event of the relocation took place is the only truth of the entire film. That has left a bitter taste in my mouth, maybe I was taken in by the characters who appear to dramatise a history that never took place beyond the prologue. It is a chance to see Native American’s even with broken English. We see relationships between father and children, and white and Cheyenne, more importantly on the whole these are positive relationships in a time of great upheaval and change for a those nations. They aren’t simply savages who kill and scalp, which if anything both sides took part in the brutal act. Some Nations even frowned upon scalping, so much for the myth of conquest when you read the facts behind the pulp that blurs it.
I can even start to forgive that the two braves Little Dog and American Horse (Jeffrey Hunter and Hugh O’Brian) are creations of Daves who was plucking from history and writing his own page of the myth for the silver screen. White Feather is if anything more sympathetic (for the 1950’s) than Broken Arrow which had a white man leading the eventual surrender of the Apache’s. In both films the Apache and Cheyenne make the ultimate decision that sees them relocate. There is however more power to the later film as we see whole nations moving on horseback and buckboard. It precedes the later Cheyenne Autumn (1964) that catches up with them on the reservation. The treaty signed by Broken-Hand (Eduard Franz) is broken on a barren land that forces them to return to their home – Monument Valley in John Ford‘s West. But that’s a different part of their history.
As much as there is a sense of respect for the Cheyenne you can see where compromises have been made. The love interests in Appearing Day (Debra Paget) who is actually willing to relinquish her culture to live with white Americans. Placing love above her heritage, her culture can easily be swapped which is scary, but reflects the desires of the government for the Native American to be assimilated into the growing white majority. Lastly there is a respectful attempt at a battle between the U.S. Army and the Cheyenne, the treaty has just been signed the ink is barely even dry when Little Dog and American Horse invite the army to fight them both. A bald move indeed.
The last ten minutes of this skewed history and beautifully filmed are really something, it’s not all guns blazing, there’s a mass gathering of two sides, each now having put those difference aside. Its quite cinematic to see so much choreography for mid-budget Western to pull off such a feat with respect for the other. Only a few shots are in-fact fired, as if this is cautiousness as if they are trying their best to ensure peace. Reflecting an earlier cold war state of not being the first to fire the first shot, it all has to be legal even in the era of the Indian wars when in reality it’s mostly kill on sight.
These Westerns are really re-shaping my opinion of American history, Westerns are helping me to explore that more so, they work hand in hand as I unpick the myth and it’s power. Part of my wider practice, these films are just watched for the thrill, they are an education making them a richer experience.
I think this was one of my first James Stewart Westerns as I began to explore the genre, part of me thought it was another collaboration with Anthony Mann when in fact it was Delmer Daves who directed this rare pro-Native American film – Broken Arrow (1950). Of course this is all told from the perspective of the little known Apache sympathiser Tom Jeffords (Stewart) who I remember reading about in connection to Cochise. A prospector turned Indian Scout for the army, he was became a close friend of the Apache chief who became the reservation agent at his own request.
Of course you don’t get any of that in the 1950s it is too messy and complicated, a watered down version of the truth is more acceptable for and audience who in the same year’s being treated to some stimulating films, the audience is maturing but not enough to her the whole truth. It’s another page in the myth-making of the Wild West that’s tamed. Placing Stewart in the lead role was a clever move, one of a few actors who could be a mediator between the “savage” Apache who I have learned were more violent historically, so sadly receiving of their blurred on-screen personae. Here we don’t see Cochise and his nation picking up arms all the time. There are given screen-time and not in broken English. As Jeffords tells us –
“This is the story of a land, of the people who lived on it in the year 1870, and of a man whose name was Cochise. He was an Indian – leader of the Chiricahua Apache tribe. I was involved in the story and what I have to tell happened exactly as you’ll see it – the only change will be that when the Apaches speak, they will speak in our language. What took place is part of the history of Arizona and it began for me here where you see me riding.”
He’s presenting the story of the eventual downfall for a white audience in a white language, English so we can understand what is going on. We haven’t reached the sophistication of Dunbar (Kevin Costner). Of course for audiences attention the foreign language is eventually lost to allow us to fully engage with the characters, breaking down the language barrier. We also have another white actor playing a Native American, whose covered in make-up. Another selling point for the film having Jeff Chandler in the role, a familiar face. I could go into the racial depiction of the native American, but I’ve done that before, part of the fabric of the genre at the time to have non-natives playing leading roles. Is this however a question more of box-office more than anything else. Of course today this would never happen (unless your Johnny Depp) as this would cause offense.
Moving on from the casting of Cochise we see a condensed version of events that would ultimately lead to the land the Apache live on Chiricahua Mountains as their reservation. There is not actually any mention of that, but you can feel it in the background, another film dealing with the “Indian problem”. Jefford’s allows us to understand this watered down version as he wins the trust of Cochise and hopefully other Apache Nations who’re touched upon. Building up the presence of Geronimo who played a major role in the Apache wars. Depicted as defecting from the peaceful ways that Cochise is promoting, breaking away to fight the white man until his ultimate surrender.
Jeffords time with the Apache’s takes up most of the film, allowing us more of an insight into the “Others” culture that is typically war-paint, dances and bad medicine etc, all the cliché’s really. He’s not on his army mission, instead he is passing through their territory when he comes across a young man trying to survive on his own, a right of passage he must completed to become a man. He’s badly injured so receives medical treatment, the first gesture of goodwill from Jeffords. The white-washing begins here. Yet there is a need in him to learn about the culture, from an Apache who has lived among the civilised white men. His wanting to learn shows his wanting for peace, even if it earns him the name of “Indian Lover” back home.
My second viewing builds on a tame Western that is brought alive with Jame Stewart, our way into this foreign world of the other who usually treated as the other. Never again will they be treated so respectfully. You can see they want peace even in this still simplified world, we can see a culture that is clearly different but ultimately wanting peace. Otherwise we see the Nation as a dangerous savage in the background, who only engages to attack and kill before retreating or being killed. I found the relationship between Jeffords and Sonseeahray (Debra Paget) as just flimsy, however I admit she’s a reason for him to stay and make the peace work for her and himself who in the film wants to live as one of them. In reality he stays very much white and sympathetic to the Apache plights which mirrors so many others during that period of history. The relationship also acts as a draw of the female audience into this very loose and educational biopic.
A much-needed re-watch which has come a year after reading into The Stalking Moon (1968) compared to The Searchers (1956) (again) which I had to watch once more to see all the readings into the films depiction of the Native American for myself. It comes across as another possible narrative strand of The Searchers which really ends where Moon picks up. After a group of Apache are rounded up by the army, possibly having escaped a reservation or going to. Either way their freedom is over and future is determined. We discover a single white and blonde female captive Sarah Carver (Eva Marie Saint) who has been assimilated into their culture, she has assumed their language, dress and thinking.
For all intent and purposes she is a Native American, that is in the eyes of Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) who would more than likely left he to die or killed her himself. Not the army scout/Indian tracker Sam Varner (Gregory Peck) who readily accepts her as white or even just human and a woman (be that in 19th century terms). She is a free woman to do as she pleases, bringing her son with her, also that of Salvaje (Nathaniel Narcisco) which is Spanish for savage. If you know your Spanish you are already being given a pre-loaded conception of who this mostly un-seen figure is. Not unlike Scar (Henry Brandon) who we see a few times and interact with in the earlier film. The Spanish translation is cicatriz as the Mexican in the cantina tells Edwards.
I can’t really compare Varner and Edwards both are very different characters and that’s not the point of this re-exmination of the film. For me it’s about how the later film has been influenced, taking the same iconography and the depiction of the Native American. You could say they are one and the same film in some respects. A woman’s rescued from a life with the “Indians” which is either looked down on, mocked or pitied. In the genre you are better of dead than alive being a squaw. In reality women and children were only taken as prisoners, used as leverage with the army to stay on their land. Most of not all were later released, you can see where the myth begins though which has allowed the on-screen image to become bigger and more exotic. Being captured and living as one of a number of squaws with a one of the warriors or even chief, having a number of children, usually after being raped. Not a pretty picture but one that both dime novels and Hollywood and built up and reinforced.
So with this image built up on paper and on-screen, the Native American all but quieted on reservations the myth of conquest’s being formed and reinforced by clichés which we see in both The Searchers and The Stalking Moon, they are always seen through the eyes of the white man, usually the tracker who has a vast knowledge of them, which the audience dripped fed. Edwards is delivered with hate and disgust, whereas Varner’s more about the survival skills which he uses against them in order to stay alive. There is no real hatred behind his eyes, he is even close friends with his younger partner in the army a mixed race Nick Tana (Robert Forster) who looks up to him as a father figure. We can see that the fight between his two heritage was won by his white side, which in turn makes is easier for us to engage with him.
Going back to the depiction of the key Native American, both come from over-used nations – Apache and Comanche- the very names are more exotic on the ear, and sound more frightening than others. Scar the Comanche chief has lines and shares screen-time with Edwards, neither like each other and you can really feel it as they have a fruitless trading session. Whereas Salvaje is not even seen until the finale which is more about tension. He’s treated as an animal who has to be stopped in his tracks. There’s no eye to eye scene until it’s too late to do anything about, Salvaje is very one-dimensional and his only one goal to rescue his son from the white people, more able to accept his mixed heritage but not his circumstances. For the majority of the film he is only seen in the form of the aftermath of the victims he leaves as he comes in search of his son. He is the Apache Ethan Edwards going all the way to find his son, except it’s not over the course of seven years, more like a week if that.
The cost of the deaths could’ve been avoided as its pointed out to Sarah who is eager to get moving back home, knowing she needs to keep moving to survive with her son. She’s taken into the care of Varner who takes it on himself to escort her so far before getting to her destination of Silverton, her home town. She and her son (Noland Clay) who’re treated as second class citizens, with restricted travel and casual racism.
I must touch on the ranches that feature in both films, The Edwards ranch where we begin in The Searchers and with the Jorgensens as Debbie (Natalie Wood) is safely returned by to white safety and civilization, restoring her you could say. That restoration happens far earlier for Sarah, discovered at the beginning The Stalking Moon and is later invited to stay, possibly live at Varner’s ranch where we see inside far longer than the establishing scenes of Ford’s film. We only see the beginning of the Comanche raid, we don’t see anyone, nature discovers them first. The ranch is barricaded, cutting to Scar who has already found a young Debbie in the family graveyard, which is where her white life ends and “Indian” life begins. Back to New Mexico where Varner’s ranch and battle ground for the finale of the later film takes place. The danger is brought back to the homestead which eventually end with Salvajes death restoring order. Sarah’s able to adjust to White mans life along with her son, much like Debbie Edwards before her.
As I have found they share a lot of the same themes and imagery, just reordering them within the same basic landscape of the American West. It’s the last real conventional Western retelling of the same plot before we enter the modern world where Native American’s are replaced with criminals and other low-life that replace the previous obstacle. We have lost the racist in Edwards for a more well adjusted figure in Varner who can easily live among others. I guess the only true comparison would and will always be Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) whose an urban outsider, to dangerous for mainstream society. I think I know which film I’ll be watching again soon.
It’s been a few years since I caught Nevada Smith (1966), then a few months ago we it was on as background, I had completely forgotten what the Western was actually about. Meaning it was time for a revisit. I’m doing quite a few in recent months, parts because I want to understand the films more, and there’s little to watch, this was a little of both really. I originally found the film to be about a mixed race half white/Kia whose out for revenge for the death of his parents at the hands of gold thieves meeting people along the way as he tracks down the three men responsible for the deaths. Which essentially the film is.
What else is this take on the other in the Wild West? Again the other’s played by a popular White actor Steve McQueen who is able to play the naive young man (white, Kiowa or mixed race) and draw in the audience which it clearly does. However as time has proven the draw if money takes away a decent representation of the Native American on film. Usually employing them in films more as extra’s, if on-screen they are not their for more than a few seconds, or pushed to the background to allowing the box-office draws or foreign English speaking actors caked in make-up to the fore. Its not practiced today in Hollywood (one lesson they have learned from except for Johnny Depp).
Nevada Smith begins being reminiscent of The Searchers (1956) (yes I know I keep returning to that film) but only briefly, where I wonder about the direction of the rest of the film. Instead of the white man being attacked the mixed race are attacked, leaving the often forgotten Native to fend for himself. Here we follow him after returning to the family home, complete with inset shot of the massacre in low light. Where we were once kept away believing the image would be too much for the audience to take in. We are still not given much information, even ten years later. We we are given a bleak description of how his parents were killed later on. Ford doesn’t like to linger with the images, the horrors of the Comanche are too much to accept. When it’s a white man inflicting the violence we can take more.
Moving away from that striking connection to the older film which it doesn’t try to replicate, instead it moves on making its own narrative. Instead of burying himself in hate for the killers of his family. Can this illiterate young man who can’t eve defend himself be a match for this killers who have not just skill but the edge of life experience on their side, whilst Smith has to learn all of this from scratch or die in the process.
In that process he is ready and pretty much willing to ignore his mixed heritage, adopting or assuming the ways of the White gunslinger. The preferred image of the Western. I don’t thin it would be the same film if he went around the film wearing his Native dress, the film would not have the same appeal, and would probably not one McQueen’s better films. It would lean more towards Burt Lancaster‘s role in Apache (1954) which is laughable (as straight as he may play the part) today.
Smith learns to draw and fire a gun, does his mixed heritage work to his advantage. However he also has to learn to read in order to pass himself as a white man, live in a white mans world that demands to be civilised not living as a savage Indian that may not understand, held back by these differences. If Smith accepted his Kiowa this would be a very different film, becoming in the eyes of a white audience a savage, played by a white man, he could be a more dangerous man to watch and fear also.
Moving away from the Native American themes (that dominate my own thinking at the moment) I can see a decent revenge film with the added texture. Looking at it today, it’s innocent but that doesn’t take away from the journey that Smith goes on to track his families killers, one by one he finds them and kills them as justice allows him. The deaths slowly reach Tom Fitch (Karl Malden) who begins to fear him. It takes the rest of the film for us to catch up with him, building him up to a dangerous man. Along the way Smith allows himself to be humiliated by others if it allows him to get to the next man. He does however use his skills and Kiowa knowledge to stay ahead of everyone (most of the time), right up to the end. helped with the christian intervention of Father Zaccardi (Raf Vallone) who introduces him to the bible. Allowing him to leave his Kiowa heritage for the white christian that was apparently waiting to come out. Or is it a combination of the two spiritual sides coming out and together, giving him a perspective on life that leads to the final showdown where violence is no substitute for forgiveness.
My thinking on the film has greatly improved or even deepened you might say, not the strongest of films exploring the Native American. The standard white cast and lead who we are supposed to accept as the other (without as much make as Lancaster). It was Hollywood of its day so what are we to know. We do have a decent revenge film which is entertaining which what you want at the end of the day, which I had the first time round, now its a richer experience.
I originally saw Hombre (1967) with a cynical view of the western, the overuse of the Apache nation in the genre, showing that it wasn’t fresh, becoming tired.That thought was blown away when I began to read more about the film and what it was trying to say. I was trying to understand the genre without really reading about it. Meaning a revisit was in order.
Even with a hangover I still could concentrate and pick up and pull a part the ideas that are explored in the revisionist western that sees a John Russell a white man who was brought up by the Apache’s on a reservation, developing a very different outlook on the white society that he should be part of. He cares little for the white man’s way of life, seeing only bigotry, racism and violence towards his adoptive people who have brought him up with a different set of values.
Reluctantly see he shaves off his black Apache hair to reveal the classic Paul Newman look as he returns to the home where he was once rescued as a boy. Now left in his name he has to confront his white past. In a town of people who all have problems of their own. A young married couple Doris and Billy Dee (Margaret Blye and Peter Lazer) who have long since left the honeymoon period of the marriage to see the reality of living together. It’s not what they were expecting. Jessie (Diane Cilento), a woman who is world weary of the men she has loved and lost, developing a perspective on life that shocks other women around her. Whilst an eastern couple Favor and Audra Favor (Fredric March and Barbara Rush) as civilised as they appear , their view of the Native Americans is the strongest.
All these people are placed into a clever reworking of John Ford‘s Stagecoach (1939) moving us from not just the journey and the stops in between to throw in another kind of danger. Not just from Grimes (Richard Boone) who creates the situation. We have a clash of moralities’ between white and white Apache’s. It’s no coincidence that this was made during the civil rights movement, loosing the African American struggle for the right for equality in America for the social injustice of the 1800’s that saw an entire race brought to it’s knees, rounded up and penned into reservations. A way of life that has/was all but disappeared. These band of characters who are thrown together have to work together in terrible conditions against men with guns.
However these guns are really the least of their worries, a war of ideals is being waged between two sides of the same race. The barrier is not their language but their perception when Favor’s money is stolen the passengers true colours begin to emerge. Especially between Favor and Hombre who both used to live on the same Apache reservation. The image of eating a dog is mentioned a few times, a very strong image that is hard to forget. For westerners to see such an act can be seen as barbaric. Yet to a hungry person the dog becomes the only way to survive. The values and ideas we place on each other can prevent us from coexisting in peace. A very human trait which still exists today. How we view one another determines how we interact with them, the culture and our own history.
Hombre is in fact a very strong social commentary made during the civil rights movement. A second viewing was what the doctor ordered to really understand this film. With steely-eyed Newman able to drive home the injustice with a few words and gestures. It doesn’t matter where you come from, its how you get on with others that matters. Another stand-out performance comes from Diane Cilento who acts almost as Hombre’s unwanted conscience, trying to communicate with him. All this goes on in the open landscape, a group of passengers joined together by their own short-comings and inability to accept the other.
- Hombre (1967) (buddiesinthesaddle.blogspot.co.uk)
- 1,001 Films: “Hombre” (1967) (cinesthesiac.blogspot.co.uk)
- HOMBRE/1967/PAUL NEWMAN (theuraniumcafe.blogspot.co.uk)
- Hombre (livius1.wordpress.com)
- Hombre (1967) (1001afilmodyssey.blogspot.co.uk)
- Movie Tally 2012: Hombre (1967) (neverenoughfilms.wordpress.com)
- Hombre (1967): 4 out of 5 stars: starring Paul Newman, Fredric March, Richard Boone, & Barbara Rush; directed by Martin Ritt (voiceofcinema.wordpress.com)
I remember very little of my first encounter with Dances with Wolves (1990) whilst in my last year at art school, catching it. It played out very differently in my head, still that’s what memory can do to you when you cram in full of films, all those images, quotes and music running through you’re mind. It was time for a rematch, one that reminded me of what I have long missed. After watching Little Big Man (1970) this falls well into place in the genre. The main theme of a white man living with a Native American tribe, for Jack Crabbe (Dustin Hoffman) it was the synonymously violent Comanches, for Lt John Dunbar/Dances with Wolves (Kevin Costner) with the Sioux who are the very opposite until pushed to go to war with the Pawnee the exotic violent tribe of the film. Wolves goes into far more detail in terms of time that a white man spends being absorbed into the culture of the usual western other. The other which is seen as a savage obstacle to be overcome in the myth of conquest. We usually spend little time with Natives, earlier films such as Broken Arrow (1950) which moved back and forth between whites and the other (Apaches).
Wolves really delves into an overlooked part in it’s countries history, guided in front and behind the camera by Costner with sensitivity and grace. On screen it’s in the form of Lt John Dunbar a possible coward during the civil war, who becomes a war hero who falls for the life of the sioux on the open plains of the untouched frontier. Theres already a sense of loss in the air, the inevitable in coming, the Sioux and other nations submitting to life on reservations. If not wiped/rubbed out in the years before. Our lead character is more open than any other in the history of the west, it’s not just a sympathy for his misunderstood neighbour, it’s a real understanding that takes the first half of the film to allow him to leave his own culture and past to start a fresh life. As if he has met someone, married and moved in, cutting off his family in the process.
The idea that the Sioux are a dangerous nation is soon brushed aside with the Pawnee who are the classic enemy of the film, killing in the opening act, suggesting that they will be back for more. Their depiction is far from reality, probably a studio compromise to still have an Indian enemy only to the Sioux however. We never truly leave the stereotype, instead just touch on it when needed for conflict.
The journey is long, long enough to be swept away into a world and culture that is usually overlooked in film (as I’ve already mentioned) allowing us to make up for all of that. Costner’s Dunbar is our gateway into that culture, an open minded figure, disillusioned by his past life in the uniform of a solider who started the film on an operating table, where he could have easily have died. Comes alive on the fort where he has been posted, empty of other soldiers he keeps account of his time in a journal that acts as narration for the audience to understand his state of mind as he leaves one life in favour of another. Theres no question of becoming a “Human Being” as in Little Big Man he simply is accepted as a Sioux after a period of acceptance, breaking down the barrier of language and culture to discover understanding, something that is usually seen as another bunch of savages who won’t conform to the western way of life that is spreading across the land.
The landscape is another character in this revisionist western that looks at the open prairie as land that has all but been claimed for the white man. The buffalo we can see are slowly being wiped out, you don’t need to see a buffalo hunter riding off, the aftermath of the skinned beasts is enough to get you. Everything about this film is to make you understand their plight, not just of the Sioux but every other nation that has surrendered to white Americans who tamed the country.
There is indeed a flip side to all the great images of gunfighters, gold rushes, cattle drives and the rail-road, there had to be a price for all that. Not just on their side, we see what would have happened to Debbie Edwards (Natalie Wood) of The Searchers (1956) if she remained with her captors, not a fate worse than death, as we discover for Stands with a Fist (Mary McDonnell) a victim of a Pawnee raid that was found by the Sioux, and raised as their own. Very much the same as Jack Crabbe who too came to not just sympathise but stand with his natural enemy as one the other who he was taught to hate and kill on sight. All that fades away when you look beyond the myths and stories that are constructed to create fear in a culture on and off film that has become part of the fabric.
Dances with Wolves stands alone able to not just entertain but make us think about our pasts, not just America but other nations who have altered the future of other nations, who as primitive as they may seem were moved without consent. I know thats a generalising of far more complex issues of history. Wolves is an attempt to re-write the myth of conquest to say this too might have happened, even a white solider may have left his own culture to join another nation that lived there hundreds of years before the 1600’s. We know what will happen, its inevitable as I have said numerous times, history tells us that. If only for a few hours we see into a now lost world brought to life with respect, grace and heart for all who want peace.
- DANCES WITH WOLVES: Film Review (www.nativeamerican.co.uk)
- Best Picture Profile: Dances With Wolves (mylastoscar.wordpress.com)
- I’M AN INDIAN TOO (A SIOUX): “DANCES WITH WOLVES” (1990) (scottross79.wordpress.com)
- Dances with Wolves (1990) (theacademywaswrong.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Best Picture Countdown #63: Dances with Wolves (1990) (flickchickcanada.blogspot.co.uk)
- The Oscar Project #63: Dances with Wolves (1990) (hashtagworld.blogspot.co.uk)
Being lead to safety Comanche on the run from the law wouldn’t be the first idea when your wagon train has been massacred by Apaches. For the survivors of The Last Wagon (1956) they have little choice. Starting out as a divided group of young people who grow up over the course of their journey together and the film.
When Comanche Todd (Richard Widmark) is finally caught after what appears to be a murdering rampage of four brothers he is finally caught by the one with a badge on his chest, who treats his far less than any other man in his custody. They bump into a wagon train making its way to Tuscon. Before they even get there, the white Comanche whose treatment by Sheriff Bill Harper (George Mathews) who would even spit in the face of his prisoner who he ties to a wheel, starving him. Even turning on the people in the train who want to do the Christian thing by him.
Things turn from bad to worse when an Apache raid leaves the camp devastated. Thank fully Comanche Todd is there to meet the kids who ran off for a dangerous dip in the water. He could leave them to fend for themselves but decides to travel with them in a lone wagon to the safety beyond the next canyon. Moving through a rich landscape in Sedona, Arizona. Danger is on the increase for the group as the make it for safety. Including two quarrelling half sisters, both of the same father, for Jolie Normand (Susan Kohner) a white girl she cannot understand the thinking of her half Navajo sister Valinda Normand (Stephanie Griffin), its takes a snake bit to shaker some sense into her when another native American puts his life at risk for her.
When they finally reach the Army the growing presence of Apache’s has grown more so overnight who are ready to pounce on them and the whites in the neighbouring town who have angered them all. Without the intervention of Comanche Todd the six travellers would never have made it to safety, and sadly he would never be put on trial which produces a quick and cliché ending that sees everyone live happily ever after.
A decent western, even if he didn’t have the brown make-up, just a buck-skin outfit to do the job. Doing his best to see these kids to safety, showing that there is more a stranger than meets the eye. That the enemy, the Native American goes through the same problems as white people, having different ways of dealing with injustice, which we all want really.
It’s not everyday I see a film where an image that just doesn’t seem to shift, which means just one thing, inspiration has struck once more. I am usually inspired by more well-known films, which is not a rule just coincidence. Taking place in the mystical Monument Valley, with the robbery of Army rifles a group of soldiers and prisoners go on a mission to retrieve them. Sadly the landscape is not so well filmed as John Ford had repeatedly captured it. At times you never know you are there, having only the skyline to remind you. Rio Conchos (1964) is a not just a mission but a journey of self discovery for one lonely man Maj, James Lassiter (Richard Boone) who has been filled with hatred by the Apaches that massacred his family years before.
After army capture he has a chance to get out along with another prisoner Juan Luis Rodriguez (Anthony Franciosa) who was destined for the noose is given another chance to change things. They leave alongside a captain and sergeant. Hoping to catch up with the Confederate colonel that has not conceded defeat after the end of the civil war, going on to sell artillery to the Apaches, a dangerous move that no one wants to really allow.
With hints of The Searchers (1956) Ethan Edwards who has to terms with another family massacre, is repeated here with at first more effect. Yet as the film progresses a different resolution is made, as he meets an Apache girl who would easily commit more murders. Also a visit to another home forces him to see what he thankfully was saved from, leaving only a baby alive.
It’s not very clear that who we are looking for are in fact Confederates until we meet them in them in a surreal camp where stands a mansion house still under construction, which makes the job of the set builders very easy. The idea of the whites world intruding in such a grand form is a sight to see. Whilst at the same time violates this sacred ground if we remove ourselves from the film for a moment or two. There is also intent to progress in an undeveloped part of the world on an aggressive scale. The structure looks very out of place in such an environment that will never really be touched by man. It’s an invasion with intent to make routes like no other. Also an image of the past that the confederates are not willing to give up easy. The big house, away from the plantation that was worked by the slaves. Here they wish to set up a new America with no interference, hoping to control the natives by outfitting them with artillery they control.
A brutal end that brings the film to an abrupt end with no real confusion, full of action that is warranted yet not reacted to in terms of dialogue, no one rides off, they are all left to deal with the consequences of the explosions. Will the Confederates admit defeat, will the captain and sergeant return to the fort. Has Lassister really come to terms with the loss of his family. There was already a rich film before we reached the inclusion of renegade soldiers why did they carry on adding extra weight to the film? It does add another layer and create a what if scenario, seeing them not give into defeat as seen in Hangmans Knot (1952) but slowly admit defeat, whilst later on we see in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) a rampage of murder is began for personal reasons. The South didn’t give up easy, no loser does that unless they know they are truly wrong.