As Alice and Cora Munro attempt to find their father, a British officer in the French and Indian War, they are set upon by French soldiers and their cohorts, Huron tribesmen led by the evil... See full summary »
As Alice and Cora Munro attempt to find their father, a British officer in the French and Indian War, they are set upon by French soldiers and their cohorts, Huron tribesmen led by the evil Magua. Fighting to rescue the women are Chingachgook and his son Uncas, the last of the Mohican tribe, and their white ally, the frontiersman Natty Bumppo, known as Hawkeye. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Film stays ahead of its time by remaining faithful to source
I just saw "Last of the Mohicans." I didn't expect much. I had seen other adaptations: the 1936 George B. Seitz movie and the Michael Mann remake of 1992. To me they all seem to lack the spirit of what is admittedly a rambling novel whose provocative subject matter is only partially realized. Cooper's problem was execution; he didn't understand how severely his story was compromised by unnecessary characters, needless plot devices, and ceaseless talk. Latter day film-makers steered around Cooper's problem by ignoring him and creating a story of their own, but in doing so they lost what was fine in his work.
Director Maurice Tourneur does not ignore Cooper, although he does cut through the crap. In a non-talking film the characters can't yap on the way they do in Cooper's fiction. Hawkeye's role is reduced. He has few scenes and is not the romantic lead Randolph Scott and Daniel Day Lewis would be in later adaptations. He is the homely, awkward, asexual woodsman Cooper describes. Tourneur chooses, rather, to focus directly on the tragic romance at the novel's core, between British colonial Cora Munro and Mohican hunk Uncas. He thereby rescues the film from becoming another "Birth of a Nation" with Wallace Beery's Magua standing in for Griffith's black-faced white men who try to rape white women.
Tourneur's technique is impressive. Camera perspective, lighting, and editing are well in advance of what was being done in 1920. The action on the Eastman print I saw seems a little fast. I'm not sure if it runs at the correct projection speed. Tourneur obviously under-cranked his camera during action sequences to give actors and extras the appearance of furious motion. These are only small criticisms, however.
As in all his films Tourneur reined in the actors' exaggerated facial expressions and theatrical gestures, which is perhaps why there are so many title cards explaining the actors' motivations. Barbara Bedford is restrained and natural as Cora, some might argue too restrained to be the passionate, dark-haired heroine of Cooper's novel. But Tourneur lets Bedford's quiet beauty act as a veneer masking a volatile nature. Her defiance of social and feminine conventions showing attraction for a Native warrior, and impulsively sacrificing herself to protect her sister in the Indian town affects us all the more because of her stillness. In Garbo such stillness was praised as mystique. So perhaps it is no coincidence that Tourneur's protégé Clarence Brown, who finished this film when Tourneur was injured, guided Garbo's early career beginning with "Flesh and the Devil" in 1926.
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