Monday, October 17, 2016



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

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.


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.


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.


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!

Happy Trails,


All Original Contents Copyright October 2016 by Henry C. Parke – All Rights Reserved