Sunday, December 4, 2016
I’ve decided to try something different this wintertime, and make some gift-giving suggestions for the Western fan. Most of my recommendations are actually gifts I’ve received, that I was particularly taken with -- and I’m told I’m a difficult guy to shop for. If you have any suggestions for gifts, please leave them as a comment! And of course, while more American people celebrate Christmas at this time of year than the holidays of other religions, if you’re looking for gifts for Chanukah, Ramadan, Kwanza, or any other religious or secular occasion, these suggestions are for you as well.
GENE AUTRY – A MELODY RANCH CHRISTMAS
Gene’s weekly Melody Ranch radio show ran from 1940 through 1956, a delightful blend of music, stories and humor. Christmastime was always special on the show that starred the man who brought us Rudolph The Red-nosed Reindeer, Here Comes Santa Claus, and so many others. The fine folks at Gene Autry Entertainment have cherry-picked from years of Christmas episodes to bring you the ultimate Gene Autry Christmas program. Gene is joined by his frequent band in his movies and TV shows, The Cass County Boys, as well as Carl Cotner’s Orchestra, The Pinafores, Gene Autry’s Blue Jeans, Rosemary Clooney, and of course, sidekick Pat Buttram. Pat sings All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth, and gives his own answer to Did You Ever Have to Sleep at the Foot of the Bed?
Included among the twenty-four cuts are carols like Joy to the World, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and Silent Night, traditional songs such as White Christmas, Jingle Bells, and Winter Wonderland. The included booklet tells the history of Gene’s Christmas shows, pointing out songs that were taken from The Sgt. Gene Autry Show, the show’s wartime title when Gene was serving in the Army Air Corps.
Here’s a sample of the show, Gene singing a medley of Rudolph and Here Comes Santa Claus.
The album is from Varese Sarabande, and available direct from the Gene Autry Museum HERE,
as well as on iTunes and Amazon. And Gene Autry now has an official Facebook page – check it out HERE.
SHOTGUN: THE BLEEDING GROUND
By C. Courtney Joyner
Adventurous Westerners and Steampunks alike will enjoy this second adventure in the kick-ass series of paperback originals about the surgeon who lost his right hand and replaced it with a shotgun! This time Dr. John ‘Shotgun’ Bishop and his Cheyenne sidekick White Fox are on the trail of the good doctor’s despised brother Dev, and going to work for John Chisum. In recent years, the paperback original Western market has taken a serious beating, but the SHOTGUN series has pumped much-needed blood – literally and figuratively – into the genre, and the folks at Kensington Books have committed to several more volumes. You can buy both SHOTGUN volumes, and the prolific Mr. Joyner’s other books, at Amazon, HERE.
SILENT VIDEO – LIFE IN HOLLYWOOD
On one disc are seven short documentaries made less than a year before the coming of sound would turn the movie industry inside out. Sort of like ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT only not insipid, L.I.H. released a one-reeler every week, featuring tours of many long-ago vanished studios, views of Hollywood from the air, many on-set visits, animals brought from Africa to make jungle films, the opening of a Hollywood hangout – the celebrated Yamashiro’s – and much more. Along with many forgotten faces, many of the top stars of the day – Tom Mix, Buck Jones and Hoot Gibson, Buster Keaton, Colleen Moore and Lupino Lane – are on hand. German film titan Max Reinhardt visits the set of LOVES OF CARMEN, visiting with director Raoul Walsh, and stars Victor McLaglen and Dolores Del Rio. It’s wonderful fun, and if the image quality is spotty, it’s remarkable that this footage still exists. It’s one of many fascinating videos available from Alpha Home Video HERE.
JAMES A. FITZPATRICK’S TRAVELTALKS
If you’ve enjoyed the dazzling Technicolor travelogues TCM shows between features, you can now own them! From the early 1930s through 1954, Fitzpatrick’s short films were America’s window on the world. Now the Warner Archive has released three sets of these films, with sixty short films in each set – 66 in the final collection! Beyond the sheer beauty of these wonderfully restored films, they freeze moments in time and place that are now gone. Some of the pre-war visits to our soon-to-be Axis enemies are, by turns, poignant and ironic. And because many shorts focus within our borders, the American West of the ‘30s and ‘40s is handsomely preserved. They provide a first-hand introduction to 20th century history that you can find nowhere else. You can order them HERE.
ROD SERLING’S ‘THE LONER’
It’s amazing to think that Rod Serling didn’t believe that his TWILIGHT ZONE would last more than one season! Not wanting to take any chances, and seeing the success of Westerns, he started planning his own Western series in 1960. He put it on the shelf when TWILIGHT ZONE proved a hit, but in 1964, when TZ finally folded after five season and 156 episodes, Serling dusted off that Western script again, hired Lloyd Bridges, not exactly wet behind the ears after SEA HUNT, and produced one of the finest of one-season Western series.
While Western stories are generally post-Civil War, THE LONER is specifically six months after Lee’s surrender, the country is still seething in bitterness, and Bridges plays William Colton, an ex-Union officer roaming the West, trying to get his bearings. In today’s parlance he’d be diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Bridges was always an underrated actor, and in THE LONER half-hours he does some of the best work of his career. There were only 26 episodes produced, and Serling wrote more than half of them himself.
Among the guest stars were James Whitmore, Anne Baxter, Jack Lord, Sheree North, Burgess Meredith, Brock Peters, Dan Duryea, and Katherine Ross. The whole series, plus two informative documentaries, is produced by Shout! Factory, and sold exclusively at WalMart. You can order it HERE.
CANADIAN PACIFIC – STARRING RANDOLPH SCOTT
This very enjoyable 1949 Western from 20th Century Fox was unavailable for years, except in black and white, because it was shot in an obsolete color process, Cinecolor. Now it’s been restored to its previous, heavily green but very attractive glory. Scott is the railroad builder, Jane Wyatt is the ‘Lady Doctor’ who despises him (at first), and Victor Jory is, as usual, the guy who will stop at nothing to block Scott. It ain’t CITIZEN KANE, but it’s a lot of fun. And among the special features is the Castle Films 8mm home movie version! You can order it HERE.
AND HERE’S A PERFECT WESTERN CHRISTMAS VIDEO!
The Carolyn Sells Combo does a brilliant mash-up of Christmas and the West with their song, Ghost Reindeer in the Sky! Enjoy!
ONE MORE THING…
Earlier this week, I was teaching a 4th grade, and I heard something wonderful that I rarely hear from young kids. A boy saw that I was reading the William Dale Jennings novel THE COWBOYS, on which the John Wayne movie is based. The kid lit up with excitement. “I love THE COWBOYS!” he said, the words spilling out in a torrent. “I love Westerns! I’ve seen TRUE GRIT and THE MAGNIFICENT 7 – ‘1’ and ‘2’. And I really liked ‘1’ much better. With Yul Brynner. And I’ve seen UNFORGIVEN – that is, I’ve seen the appropriate parts…” I was thrilled; thrilled that his parents are obviously exposing him to Westerns, and being careful of how much of the darker elements he’s exposed to. But I couldn’t help thinking what a pity it is that, as we are having a rebirth of Westerns, so few of them are appropriate for kids. Most of the theatrical ones, many of them fine films, are far too brutal and sexual for young kids. I loved HELL ON WHEELS, love WEST WORLD, and looking forward to season two of UNDERGROUND, but the last TV Western series I remember that I’d show to a kid was PARADISE, which went off the air in 1991. We need a ‘gateway’ Western to safely bring kids into the genre.
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
A week ago today I was invited to see the premiere screening of a new Western, GONE ARE THE DAYS, starring Lance Henriksen, Tom Berenger and Steve Railsback. I had a friendly chat with Lance – don’t believe the picture! We got along fine! Anyhow, more about GONE OUR THE DAYS, and Lance, coming soon to the Round-up!
All Original Contents Copyright December 2016 by Henry C. Parke - All Rights Reserved
Sunday, November 13, 2016
IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE – A FILM REVIEW
After watching Ethan Hawke gamely slog through the bloated and rambling MAGNIFICENT 7 reboot, it’s a pleasure to see him given a real chance to act again, in the small but ambitious new Western, IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE, now in theatres and available on Amazon, iTunes and Vudu. It’s written and directed by the aptly named Ti West, better known for horror films – V/H/S/, HOUSE OF THE DEVIL – than oaters, but he makes a strong impression in his first stab at the genre.
Hawke plays Paul, a troubled drifter headed to Mexico with his horse and dog, whose stop for provisions in a small town turns into a nightmare. Gilly (James Ransome), the town bully with delusions of grandeur, tries to draw Paul into a fight, which leads to a hateful act I’ll not reveal, and Paul’s subsequent quest for revenge. Here Paul comes into conflict with the town’s Marshal (John Travolta), who was urban the last time he was a cowboy. He's sympathetic to Paul, but he’s also Gilly’s father.
A couple of young ladies, sisters running the hotel, feature prominently: beautiful red-headed Ellen (Karen Gillan of DR. WHO and SELFIE) is Gilly’s girlfriend, who sees his shortcomings, but considers him the only man in town with a future. Her younger sister Mary-Anne (Taissa Farmiga) is less self-absorbed, and attracted to Paul as a man, and as a way to get out of the town.
Hawke with Taissa Farmiga
The action is exciting, the plotting sensible, the performances uniformly strong – West knows very well how to create characters and structure dramatic scenes, adding humor without getting cute. There’s a particularly nice extended conversation between Paul and Mary-Anne, where both excel – especially the quirkily frantic but endearing Farmiga.
It’s a good film, although not notably original. The bully son of the prominent townsman wasn’t exactly new in ’55 when Anthony Mann used it so well against Jimmy Stewart in THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, and it became an annoying familiar cliché on episodic TV. You can argue whether the opening, feature a fine turn by Burn Gorman as a man of the cloth, is an homage or a steal from the opening of THE SHOOTIST. But what is inarguable is that the scene takes twice as long here as it does in the Wayne film: virtually every sequence in this film is a bit too long, a few much too long. West is his own editor: he needs to turn the scissors over to someone a bit more ruthless.
Also, the town is too underpopulated. At one point, one of the sisters comments that she’s not a whore, and if that’s what you want, you can find it at the saloon. But we never see a whore, or saloon girl, or any female other than the sisters in the entire film. Similarly, Travolta’s Marshal worries about his position in the town if he should let anything bad happen to his son. But the town appears to consist of less people than you can count on your fingers. It would work if it were said humorously, or if he was a madman presiding over a ghost town, but clearly there just wasn’t the budget for extras.
The music score by West’s frequent collaborator Jeff Grace is at times Morricone-derivative but effective. The cinematography by Eric Robbins is handsome, and his exteriors evoke Andrew Wyeth paintings. Particularly striking are the costumes by Malgosia Turzanska, who did the same chores on the excellent HELL OR HIGH WATER. The Blumhouse Film is expected to go to disk on December 27th.
AUTRY’S INDIAN MARKETPLACE DRAWS HUGE CROWDS
This Saturday and Sunday tremendous crowds once again descended on The Autry for the annual American Indian Arts Marketplace, where two-hundred artists from over forty tribes presented their work under an immense tent. Painting, sculpture, jewelry, textiles – every medium and every form imaginable were included. Among my personal favorites were a marble bison carved by Robert Dale Tsosie, traditional Hopi carved figures by Bendrew Atokuku, and the first prize for sculpture, an irornwork by Jason Reed Brown.
Outside of the tent, in addition to art and craft demonstrations and fry bread, there were kiosks with informative representatives for different concerns. Kenneth Van Wey of the U.S. Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board (I.A.C.B.) was eager to discuss the problem of fraudulent ‘Indian art’, and the Indian Arts and Crafts Act passed in 1990, which forbids passing off as ‘Indian Made’ any art from a different source. The problem is widespread. Pendleton Woolen Mills recently reached a settlement for misleading labeling of blankets as “Indian Product.” Part of the settlement includes Pendleton donating over forty-thousand dollars to the Red Cloud Indian School’s Heritage Center in South Dakota. Also, coordinated searches and seizures were made in New Mexico, California, and the Philippines, leading to the arrest of three New Mexicans for trying to sell Filipino jewelry as Indian-made. Learn more at www.doi.gov/iacb
Kenneth Van Wey
At the next tent, Jim Davis of TLC, the nonprofit The Language Conservancy, reminded me that starting in 1879, it was official U.S. policy to try to erase Native American language, a policy that lasted in some cases into the 1990s. As a result, 90% of Native American speakers are over 65; the languages are disappearing. TLC’s mission is to save the many Native American languages by teaching them to the children of the various tribes at their reservation schools, as well as beyond the reservation. To this end, they’ve produced dictionaries and teaching programs in Crow, Lakota, Dakota, Hidatsa, and other languages. They’ve dubbed Berenstein Bears videos into Cherokee! They’re active in the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Minnesota and elsewhere. You can learn more at their website, http://www.languageconservancy.org/
The next booth belonged to our local independent station, KCET, who are marking Native American Heritage Month with a new short documentary series, TENDING THE WILD, which they are producing in collaboration with The Autry. It’s available both digitally and on TV, and can be seen at The Autry as part of the California Continued exhibit. Subjects include GATHERING MEDICINE, CULTURAL BURNING to prevent wildfires, and KEEPING THE RIVER, about the importance of salmon for Indians of the Klamath River. Other related documentaries include HEALING THE WARRIOR’S HEART which examines the important role of military service in Native life, and tradition and ceremonies’ roles in reintegrating soldiers into civilian life. You can learn more, and watch several of the shows, here: https://www.kcet.org/category/native-american-heritage-month
You never know who you’ll run in to at these events, and I was delighted to meet Saginaw Grant, who plays Chief Big Bear in the recent LONE RANGER movie, and Screaming Eagle in THE RIDICULOUS 6. And he has seven more projects in pre- or post-production. As I was leaving, who was coming in but LONGMIRE star Zahn McClarnon, who was also in last year’s BONE TOMAHAWK, and has a lead role in the upcoming AMC Western series THE SON, starring with Pierce Brosnan.
Zahn and me
A WORD ON WESTERNS TUESDAY AT THE AUTRY!
This Tuesday, November 15th, producer and Western historian Rob Word hosts his next A Word on Westerns event at the Wells Fargo Theater. This time the topic is MAKING WESTERNS – STORIES BEHIND THE SCENES. Rob will be looking at what skills and qualities makes for a convincing Western actor – the ability to ride and shoot and wear a ten-gallon hat without looking like a half-pint? Those sharing their opinions and experiences will be Oscar-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., whose Westerns include THE SKIN GAME, BLACK BART, BONANZA, and ROOTS; actress Rosemary Forsyth, whose starred in SHENANDOAH, TEXAS ACROSS THE RIVER, and the series KUNG FU; and Norman Powell, who produced LAZARUS MAN and GUNSMOKE movies, and was production manager on WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE, THE BIG VALLEY, and Sam Peckinpah’s THE WESTERNER. Doors open at 10:30! And head across the way for lunch and more conversation after!
OKLAHOMA! SATURDAY NOV. 19TH AT THE AUTRY!
As part of their continuing ‘What is a Western?’ series, the Autry presents OKLAHOMA!, the 1956 film version of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein Musical that revolutionized the Musical form in the way it told its story directly through song. Starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Rod Steiger and Gloria Grahame, it’s directed by that master of the Western, Fred Zinnemann, whose HIGH NOON will be shown in December. OKLAHOMA! will be introduced by Josh Garrett-Davis, Gamble Assistant Curator of Western History, Popular Culture and Firearms. The 35mm print will be screened at 1:30 pm in the Wells Fargo Theater.
‘CALAMITY JANE’ ANIMATED FEATURE IN THE WORKS
Calamity Jane thinking of Lucky Luke
French animators Henri Megalon and Remi Chaye, whose current animated feature, LONG WAY NORTH concerns a Russian aristocratic girl searching for her grandfather, will next tackle the extremely American story, CALAMITY JANE: A CHILDHOOD OF MARTHA JANE CANNARY, according to Deadline: Hollywood. The film will focus on Jane as a little girl who was orphaned at ten. As Chaye explained to DEADLINE:HOLLYWOOD’s Anita Busch, lone women and girls in the western frontier had few options for employment beyond laundry and prostitution, and some brave souls decided to try and pass as men.
Calamity Jane thinking of Wild Bill, at his grave.
While the feminist angle is certainly a hook, Calamity Jane is not a major pop-culture figure in the U.S., despite the Doris Day musical, and the popular character in DEADWOOD, played by Robin Weigert. But she’s a much bigger character in Europe, because of the long-time popularity of the Franco-Belgian comic strip LUCKY LUKE, which has been running since 1946, in which she was a major character. Says Chaye, “We knew her as kids. She is part of the childhood of every French person.”
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
Soon I’ll be writing about my visit to the set of ABILENE, a new Western about Wild Bill Hickok, starring WESTWORLD’s Luke Hemsworth and Kris Kristoffereson, and my days at the American Film Market, tracking down new Westerns. I just found out that the RED NATION FILM FESTIVAL is going on right now in Pasadena, and will continue through November 21st. You can find out more at their official website: http://www.rednationff.com/
LATE BREAKING NEWS – Just learned that lovely Lupita Tovar, one of the very last stars of early talkies, has died at 106. Among her several Westerns she co-starred with Gene Autry in SOUTH OF THE BORDER, and was the female lead in Universal’s Spanish-language version of DRACULA.
Lupita and Gene
All Original Content Copyright November 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
FIRST FULL ‘BEN HALL’ TRAILER!
Here is the first full trailer for THE LEGEND OF BEN HALL, Matthew Holmes’ terrific Western about the Bushranger who was Australian equivalent of America’s Jesse James. The parallels between the frontier periods of both countries are fascinating. Interestingly, this is actually the second trailer. As you can read in my True West article HERE, a Kickstarter campaign raised the money to make the first trailer, which was used as a ‘proof-of-concept’ to raise the money for the feature itself!
MOMENTUM ACQUIRES ‘BRIMSTONE’ FOR MARCH RELEASE
Writer/director Martin Koolhoven’s dark Dutch Western BRIMSTONE, starring Dakota Fanning and Guy Pearce, will hit U.S. theatres and VOD in March 2017. Pearce plays a vengeful preacher and Fanning an innocent woman who goes on the run when framed for a crime. The sagebrush psychological thriller was shot in Germany, Hungary, Tyrol Austria, and the Motherland of Spaghetti Westerns, Almeria Spain. British-born Pearce is no stranger to the genre, having cut his teeth on the Aussie SNOWY RIVER: THE MCGREGGOR SAGA series, and made an indelible impression in the Aussie Western feature THE PROPOSITION. Also in the cast are GAME OF THRONE stars Kit Harington and Carice van Houten.
GET-TV ADDS ‘THE OUTCASTS’ TO WEEKEND WESTERN LINE-UP!
Get-TV is adding the 1968 Western series THE OUTCASTS, starring Don Murray and Otis Young, to their Saturday Western line-up. The one-season hour-long drama features Murray as a former Confederate officer turned bounty hunter, and Young as an ex-slave and Union soldier who partners with him. Don Murray first made a splash as Beau in BUS STOP (1957), followed by HATFUL OF RAIN (1958), and his Westerns include THESE THOUSAND HILLS (1958), FROM HELL TO TEXAS (1959), and his portrayal of Buffalo Bill in the 1966 remake of THE PLAINSMAN. Otis Young, a fine actor who rarely got the quality of roles he deserved, soared when he was cast opposite Jack Nicholson and Randy Quaid in THE LAST DETAIL (1973).
Don Murray & Otis Young
Get-TV has consistently shown high quality short-run Western series that have rarely been seen since their initial release – see my Round-up interview with Programming Veep Jeff Meier HERE.
OUTCASTS is being added to their current playlist, which includes Audie Murphy in WHISPERING SMITH, CIMARRON CITY, TOMBSTONE TERRITORY, THE RESTLESS GUN, and LAREDO.
Keep your eye for the OUTCASTS episode TAKE YOUR LOVER IN THE RING: it won a ‘Best Edited Television Program’ Eddie for Norman Colbert; Anthony Lawrence’s script was nominated for a WGA Award; and Hugo Montenegro’s score was nominated for an Emmy.
AMERICAN INDIAN ARTS MARKETPLACE NOV. 12 & 13 AT THE AUTRY
If you care about Indian art, this is an annual not-to-be-missed event! Two-hundred artists from over forty tribes will be presenting their work in an immense tent. Painting, sculpture, jewelry, textiles – every medium and every form imaginable. And it’s included with the price of museum admission.
AND THAT’S A WRAP!
I’ll have plenty more to tell you about in the next Round-up – the next Word of Westerns, an upcoming animated Western, video reviews and more.
But I wanted to acknowledge the birthdays of a pair of great silent film child stars. October 29th was the 98 birthday of Baby Peggy, now called Diana Serra Cary, the still wonderfully vital last of the silent stars, and author of THE HOLLYWOOD POSSE and WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY PEGGY?
Coogan with Charlie Chaplin
in The Kid
And the 26th would have been the 102nd birthday of Jackie Coogan, who died in 1984. The movies’ first great child star was the son of vaudevillians. Both stars sadly share the tragedy that they were robbed blind by their parents, leaving them broke when childhood stardom ended. ‘The Coogan Law’ was written to protect kid actors. Jackie had a long career, four kids, four wives – and one of them was Betty Grable! He became a star again in the ‘60s playing Uncle Fester on THE ADDAMS FAMILY, but is best remembered by Western fans as Stoney Crockett on COWBOY G-MEN. My mentor in the film business, Saul David, was in the Army with Coogan during World War II, and told me this story. Coogan was still frequently recognized, and once, when they and several other soldiers were showering, a soldier asked him, “Aren’t you Jackie Coogan?”
“Yes,” he replied, and with a chuckle added, “Take a good look, kid. That’s the one that was in Betty
Grable.” The soldier was so shocked at Coogan’s disrespect towards his own dreamgirl (and Coogan’s ex-wife) that he threw a punch that knocked Coogan out cold!
All Original Contents Copyright November 1, 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved
Monday, October 17, 2016
PIERCE BROSNAN RIDES INTO ‘THE SON’! PLUS ‘BEFORE THE WHITE MAN’ DVD, ‘SHADOW OF THE HAWK’ NOVEL REVIEWED!
PIERCE BROSNAN RETURNS TO WEST WITH AMC’S ‘THE SON’!
AMC, whose consistently high standards in Western productions have brought us the brilliant Robert Duvall miniseries BROKEN TRAIL (2006) and the already much-missed HELL ON WHEELS will present a new Western series in 2017. Entitled THE SON, shot near Austin, it’s based on the acclaimed bestselling novel of the same name by Philipp Meyer, detailing the multigenerational rise and fall of a Texas oil family.
Former Remington Steele and James Bond portrayer Pierce Brosnan rode the range once before, opposite fellow Irishman Liam Neeson a decade ago in the entertaining but decidedly grim SERAPHIM FALLS. His character here is family patriarch Eli McCullough, a role he shares with Jacob Lofland, who plays the character as lad. Though just 20, Lofland is an accomplished film and TV actor, debuting opposite Matthew McConaughey as Neckbone in the excellent MUD (2012), playing Kendall Crowe in the series JUSTIFIED (2014), Colby Pitt in the miniseries TEXAS RISING (2015), and is opposite McConaughey again in this year’s FREE STATE OF JONES.
Jacob Lofland (right) with Matthew McConaughey
in FREE STATE OF JONES
The character Bronsnan and Lofland share, born on the day Texas achieved statehood, thus known as ‘the first son of Texas’, who as a child was kidnapped and raised by Comanche. He maintains their brutal worldview when he becomes a businessman. Also in the cast are Henry Garrett, Paola Nunez, Sydney Lucas, and Zahn McClarnon, who plays Toshaway, the Comanche war chief who captures Eli and raises him as a son.
I’ll have much more information soon. Below is the very brief clip I’m allowed to show you. This LINK will bring you to a very interesting BBC interview with THE SON author Meyer discussing his novel.
BEFORE THE WHITE MAN CAME - DVD Review
New from Alpha Video is the remarkable silent BEFORE THE WHITE MAN CAME (1920). This is the first film I can recall seeing, set in the now-American West, where white men figure not at all, because the story takes place before they arrived. Filmed during 1918 and 1919, director John E. Maple had previously co-directed a documentary, 1918’s INDIAN LIFE, and both films received special permission from the U.S. Department of the Interior to film on Crow and Cheyenne reservations in Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.
The cast is made up entirely of Crow and Cheyenne Indians. In the story, Lone Eagle loves Singing Bird, and the two Crow plan to marry. But the Sioux chief Great Wolf desires Singing Bird as well, and when he can’t win her fairly, he kidnaps her, and all Hell breaks loose. Written by the prolific William E. Wing, whose 134 silent-movie credits include fifty-nine, mostly Westerns, for legendary producer Col. William Selig, it’s a complex story, and in addition to the expected and exciting Western action, there are unexpected story elements such as feigned insanity. One particularly ‘modern’ surprise is that Singing Bird, rather than waiting to be rescued, rescues herself in a series of audacious moves. There are also striking scenes shot in the snow. Much of the film has a documentary feel, which is enhanced by the obvious authenticity of the Indians’ clothing and rituals, and the stunning locations.
Of course, not everything is authentic: if the white man hasn’t come yet, where did the Indians get their horses? But this was produced, after all, as an entertainment, not a documentary, and it succeeds as that, and as a fascinating time capsule. The print the DVD is made from is very contrasty, but it is definitely watchable, and it’s presumably the best copy that exists. In the 1930s the film was reissued with a music track and narration by Jac Hoffman. The narration can be intrusive and wrong – early on it describes braves going through a deadly ‘purification by fire’ ritual which is clearly just a sweat lodge. But I wouldn’t advise watching the film without the audio track, since any inter-titles explaining the plot have been removed.
from REDMAN'S VIEW
Also included from eleven years earlier – more than a century ago – is the D.W. Griffith Biograph short THE REDMAN’S VIEW. Shot convincingly in Mt. Beacon, New York, it tells the story of peaceful Indians driven from their land by gun-toting white settlers. The settlers keep one Indian girl captive as insurance against attack, and her betrothed brave is caught between rescuing her, and the urgent need to care for his ailing father in a deadly ‘Trail of Tears’ situation. Starring Alfred Paget and Lottie Pickford – Mary’s sister and former stand-in – the moving story garnered praise from Indian organizations at the time and, remarkably, is currently scheduled to be remade as a feature. The print quality is excellent. BEFORE THE WHITE MAN CAME is available from Alpha Video HERE.
SHADOW OF THE HAWK – by Ron Honthaner – a Book Review
SHADOW OF THE HAWK is a handsomely written Western novel whose classical style disguises its unusual structure. A farmboy is callously murdered. An aging mountain man recalls, in his youth, being sold by his father as an indentured servant. A disparate group of individuals share a stagecoach heading west. Each piece of the story is beautifully told, and the sequence may at first seem random, but it is hardly that. What emerges is the story of three lifelong friends, the mountain man, a lawman, and a freedman who was once a runaway slave, on a collision course with bad men, and a stagecoach full of men who will become a posse.
Two of the friends must reluctantly go against the third, and the blood will spill. And rather than being the generic, faceless pack that posses are usually portrayed as, here each member is a flesh-and-blood individual with personal reasons to take part. It should come as no surprise that Ron Honthaner should know how to tell a good story: he wrote a couple of episodes of GUNSMOKE, and soon became Associate Producer on the final five seasons of that classic series. In fact, I can’t help thinking that the lives of the characters might have gone a lot better if Matt Dillon had been around. But it wouldn’t have been nearly as good a story if he had been. You can buy SHADOW OF THE HAWK, in Kindle or real book editions, from Amazon HERE.
THAT’S A WRAP!
I apologize for being over a month behind in my Round-up postings. I’m happy to say the reason is that True West has been keeping me so busy, assigning me more stories. I’ll try to not fall so far behind in the future!
All Original Contents Copyright October 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved