The story of the peace mission from the US cavalry to the Cheyenne Indians in Wyoming during the 1870s. The mission is threatened when a civilian surveyor befriends the chief's son and ... See full summary »
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Robert D. Webb
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The story of the peace mission from the US cavalry to the Cheyenne Indians in Wyoming during the 1870s. The mission is threatened when a civilian surveyor befriends the chief's son and falls for the chief's daughter. Written by
Col Needham <firstname.lastname@example.org>
First American movie filmed (in 1954) in Durango City, Mexico, because art director Jack Martin Smith liked the soundstages in the city and found the surrounding landscapes to be just what he was looking for. See more »
The first time Little Dog (Jeffrey Hunter) and his party encounters Tanner (Robert Wagner), they are armed with repeating carbines. On all later occasions, they have bows until the very end when the rifles appear again. See more »
This flawed Western nevertheless deserves credit for its sympathetic and largely non-violent portrayal of the Native American experience.
This is a precedent setting Western which suffers from an average script, poor casting and botched editing. There are many similarities between this film and "Broken Arrow". These similarities begin with the sympathetic portrayal of Native Americans. Debra Paget is also on hand to once more play her role as an Indian woman in love with a White man. The main problem here is that Robert Wagner is not Jimmy Stewart. Delmer Daves had a role in both films, but unfortunately he was limited in "White Feather" to co-writing the script. Robert Webb directed this film.
This film seems to be the victim of poor editing. The Ann character played by Virginia Leith is potentially one of the most interesting in the film. There is more than a hint at the beginning that she has a dark secret. "Did my father tell you about me", she asks Josh Tanner (Wagner). Her father (played by Emile Meyer) later elaborates that "she is unfit merchandise". Unfortunately, this aspect of the plot is not developed. Jeffrey Hunter steals the show with his sympathetic and sensitive portrayal of Little Dog, a Cheyenne leader. He and Tanner become friends, and their friendship is one of the memorable elements in this film. Little Dog is proud to be a Cheyenne. He is torn between loyalty to his father, Chief Broken Hand (played by Eduard Franz), and his warrior code. In the end it becomes a choice between giving up his heritage to walk the White Man's road and dying well. The choice isn't as obvious as it seems. Little Dog's friend American Horse (played by Hugh O'Brian) has the opportunity to make the same choice and blows it.
This film's portrayal of the Native American tragedy is both sympathetic and different. Tanner tells the Colonel (played by John Lund) at the beginning that he has no feeling about Indians. He is indifferent. Ann makes her sympathies clear at the start. "I feel sorry for them," she says and she and Tanner watch the tribes as they prepare to sign a treaty giving up their lands. Ultimately, Tanner's friendship with Little Dog gives him a new perspective. Unlike "Devil's Doorway", another film which works hard to present the Native American view of the winning of the West, this film's ending is more upbeat. I still haven't been able to force myself to watch all of "Devil's Doorway".
Although marriages between Whites and Indians were not unusual in the real West, they had a difficult time surviving in the morality of films of the 40's and 50's. This film is one of the first in which a White character marries an Indian girl. Most Westerns of the time did not permit such relationships to become permanent. Paget's character in "Broken Arrow" is tragically killed. Similar violent endings terminate relationships in "Drum Beat", "Rock Island Line" and "Across the Wide Missouri". In "The Far Horizons" the Native American character ends the relationship by returning to her people so that one of the lead characters can marry a White woman. Dewey Martin's character in "The Big Sky" marries an Indian woman, but he has to make a choice. Will he return to the settlements where there is no place for her or will he live with the Blackfeet? Ultimately, he chooses Indian life. If the film's script had included part two of Guthrie's novel, we would see that this relationship was ultimately the victim of tragedy as well. Tanner's decision in this film to marry the Indian woman and live in the White world is truly unusual for films of the time.
It is the friendship between Tanner and Little Dog which makes the film worth watching. Wagner plays his relationship with Hunter's Little Dog with a lot more feeling and credibility than he does his romantic interest in Paget's character. Hunter's performance is a gem. Unlike Native American roles in so many other Westerns Hunter doesn't offer us the inane dialogue and dopey hand movements which we see too often in such roles. Although Tanner and Little Dog come from different worlds, their shared humanity is refreshingly realistic. It is ironic that their friendship becomes the catalyst for peace. Little Dog as a warrior is opposed to peace. "The treaty pen does not fit my hand", he jokes to Tanner.
Despite its flaws, this film is worth watching for its creative story and its sympathetic and credible portrayal of the Native American experience. The emphasis on story over action is unusual for such a Western and with a little better script it would have worked. Even so, it works well enough for me. I have watched it many times and will continue to do so.
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