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The film is a respectful telling of the 1877 campaign in Wyoming to
contain the Indians by persuading them to leave the plains, sign the
treaty of peace, and move to a new land in the south
Wagner who affirms to colonel John Lund in charge of Fort Laramie that he has no feeling about Indians, makes Indians friends, particularly with two young warriors Little Dog and American Horse...
Complications arise when Chief Broken Hand's daughter Appearing Day (Debra Paget) engaged to American Horse falls in love with Tanner (Wagner) and he with her Tanner's friendship with Little Dog grows slowly but surely It is one of the most enduring traits of the film, having just the right amount of momentum, frustration and humor...
Jeffrey Hunter steals the show with a great performance of the proud warrior Little Dog whose pen does not fit Cheyenne warriors' hand as well as the arrow Little Dog's blood ran hot at the council, gets angry and chooseswith his pal American Horse to meet the troops in battle
Eduard Franz is superb as the venerable Indian chief, Broken Hand, who called the council to tell them that on this day, they have agreed to take the offer of the white man and leave this country Hugh O'Brian is well chosen as Hunter's best friend, American Horse Noah Beery does one of his better work as the obedient cavalry lieutenant
Debra Paget reprises her role as the radiant Indian girl Appearing Day who would be happy in a white man's world We all remember her role as the delicate Indian healer girl Sonseeahray in Delmer Daves' memorable Western "Broken Arrow."
Robert D. Webb captures splendid panoramic shots that site expansive stretches of green fields and blue skies Webb does provide a handful of transcendent moments, the most spellbinding of which is Tanner's participation in honoring his brave friend
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
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.
White Feather is out of Panoramic Productions, it's directed by Robert
D. Webb and stars Robert Wagner, Debra Paget, John Lund, Eduard Franz &
Jeffrey Hunter. It's adapted from a John Prebble story by Delmer Daves
& Leo Townsend. It was filmed in Durango, Mexico, with Lucien Ballard
on cinematography duties (CinemaScope/Technicolor) and Hugo Friedhofer
provides the score. Plot centres around the peace mission from the US
cavalry to the Cheyenne Indians in Wyoming during the 1870s, but
problems arose because a few of the Cheyenne refused to leave their
One of the few 1950s Westerns to show sympathy towards the Indian plight, White Feather is a well intentioned and well executed movie. It suffers a little from familiarity with Broken Arrow (1950), where Delmer Daves had directed James Stewart and Debra Paget thru a similar script to the one that's now in front of Wagner and Paget; and lets face it-Wagner is no Jimmy Stewart- and Robert Webb is no Delmer Daves-but there's more than enough good here to lift it above many other liberal Westerns.
Away from the endearing and emotive story (and it is as the Cheyenne are forced out of Wyoming by the Federals), the film also boasts high points for the Western fan to gorge upon. It's gorgeously shot in CinemaScope by Ballard, a first class lens-man in the genre, and Friedhofer's score is pulsating, evocative and in tune with the tone of the tale. Also of note is that these Native Americans aren't caricatures or pantomime Indians. They may be being played by white actors (Hunter & Franz do especially good work), but they feel real and come out as the human beings they were. In fact the whole movie looks convincing.
There's some missteps along the way; such as Wagner over acting and having a voice that's sounds out of place in the Wild West, while the romantic angle (Paget is so beautiful here who could not fall in love with her?) does at times threaten to clog up the narrative. But these things don't hurt the film. On the flip side there's the smooth pacing of the piece, it's only when the tense and exciting climax has arrived that you realise how well the slow burn first half was handled. And Webb may well be a second unit director in all but name here, but his construction of the scenes with hundreds of extras is top notch work.
A fine and under seen Western that is based on actual events and doesn't over egg its pudding. 7/10
This is a truly epic Western - epic in the moral sense: It operates as
a great ceremony, a funeral ode for a great people, and the Homeric
nobility of their doomed warrior heroes. The whole film sweeps
majestically along with the native Americans to the bitter end of their
doomed civilisation, and all the distracting side-plots are merely
adumbrated at the margins of the action. The U.S. Cavalry, too, is
given its due meed of admiration for the honest professionalism of its
best soldiers, and the finest representatives of its military
tradition. In this, Webb's film is reminiscent of a John Ford Cavalry
Western. But it has something else: The awareness of a 'great game' -
almost in the sense this term was applied by the English to their
Imperial adventure being played out with mutual honour and respect,
even admiration and fondness, between the great rivals for possession
of an entire Continent.
This is a truly great film, unblemished by the jittery special pleading of Hollywood that bespeaks the unacknowledged guilt of the American White Man. This is a sincere film - not a film of gestures: It is, as I began by saying, a grand Ceremony. And in the Ceremony is the aching sense of the loss of a Great Game which conferred greatness upon all who were brave enough to participate on equal terms.
White Feather is a combination of the plots of both Broken Arrow and
Cheyenne Autumn. It's the story of a romance between Robert Wagner and
Indian princess Debra Paget set against the background of the surrender
of the Cheyenne nation to the white man.
Wagner is part of delegation sent to the Cheyenne chief Eduard Franz to negotiate a treaty with the Cheyenne. Although Franz's son Jeffrey Hunter is for no surrender at any price, he and Wagner become friends. Wagner becomes more than friends with Hunter's sister Paget, something that arouses the old jealous green eye in Hugh O'Brian, an Cheyenne warrior who figures Paget's his.
Paget's not going to find it easy in the white world in any case. The post sutler Emile Meyer's not liking Indians in any case and even though his daughter Virginia Leith becomes friends with Paget, she's got a thing for Wagner herself.
White Feather is a sympathetic portrayal of the Cheyenne in the last days of a proud warrior nation. Best in the cast is Jeffrey Hunter, the man who won't give in and most of all won't surrender his pride.
John Lund as the post commander and Milburn Stone the civilian treaty negotiator are in the cast as well. White Feather is a fine western that does not get near enough acclaim.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Fox's WHITE FEATHER (1955) is a pallid reworking of their seminal 1950
James Stewart western "Broken Arrow". Pallid indeed, thanks in no small
measure to the leaden performance of Robert Wagner in the leading role
and the wearisome screenplay by the ubiquitous and usually more
talented Delmer Daves who, by the way, had directed "Broken Arrow".
"Broken Arrow" expertly dealt with the plight of the Apache Indian and one man's efforts to make peace with them. The premise with "White Feather" is exactly the same except instead of the Apache this time it concerns the Cheyenne. Wagner's narration at the picture's opening informs us reassuringly, just like Jimmie Stewart did in the earlier film, that this is a true story and when the Indian speaks he will speak in our language etc. etc. Also Fox starlet Debra Paget, who played an Apache squaw in "Broken Arrow" (and was killed in that picture remember) turns up here as a Cheyenne squaw. She virtually plays the same role and, would you believe, is dressed in the same outfit. I guess she must have had a vision of a future studio call sheet and saved the costume! HUH? The only discernible difference in her role here is her name is not Sonseerahray but Appearing Day. Perhaps she should have been called Appearing EVERY Day!
Limply directed by the bland Robert Webb there is not one actor in this sorry affair (except maybe likable John Lund who isn't in it very much anyway) capable of lifting the thing above the banality bar. Webb has no idea of pacing and not once is the movie intruded upon with anything that resembles style. The Fox bland brigade - Robert Wagner, Jeffery Hunter, Debra Paget, Hugh O'Brian and Virginia Leith parade through this trite vehicle bemused and with a look of wonderment on their faces. Probably wondering when the day's shoot will be finished so they can go home. We, on the other hand, are home and also have a bemused look on our faces as we wonder what the hell we're doing watching this rubbish.
After all that however - I'll have to give this vacuous effort at least a two star rating for the gorgeous Cinemascope/Colour cinematography by Lucian Ballard and the excellent score by the great Hugo Friedhofer who incidentally also composed the music for "Broken Arrow" and here makes exceptional use of his love theme from the earlier picture as his Main Theme. But ultimately, I'm afraid, "White Feather" is a production straight from the bottom drawer and gets my vote as one of the most pedestrian westerns ever produced.
I really cannot understand Fox Home Entertainment putting out poor movies like "White feather", "The True Story Of Jesse James", "The Proud Ones", "Fort Courageous" etc. while left languishing in their vaults are fine westerns such as "Rio Conchos", "From Hell To Texas" and "Two Flags West". Go Figure!
Looked at this on TV as just another western but found myself admiring the camera-work, scenery and performances. Though the direction was at times unexciting, the story was well told and dignified by a good performance by Wagner, so very handsome that it is no wonder the young squaw wants her first kiss with him. Jeffery Hunter, so overlooked but always worth watching, looking incredibly fit (sad to think he died just 4 years later) gave a very strong performance as the head-strong son of the chief, (reminds me of Sal Mineo in Cheyenne Autumn (same story?)) who rides around with Hugh O Brian (Wyatt Earp as an native American!). at the end the scenes between Wagner and Hunter are poignant and stay with you. The sad face of the chief says it all. The film was just a bit overlong and drags in parts which meant I missed bits that I should not have done, but there are some magnificent scenery and cavalry and Indian charges.
I used to see most westerns in the fifties, but for some reason I was unable to see "White Feather". I kept reading reviews about it, though, and basically all of them said the film was good, nothing great, but good. I thought it would be a type of "Broken Arrow" with some variations, so did not go out of my way to see it. Finally I saw it and was enthusiastic about it. No film has shown the agony of Indians which have to move from their land in such a sensitive way. Jeffrey Hunter was a great actor and he proves it in his magnificent performance of Little Dog. The romance between Robert Wagner and Debra Paget makes most of the other films that show the same, pale. But the greatness of the film comes with the last part where Cinemascope has never been better used to show at the same time the army and the Indians and the unexpected final developments. This film did not have James Stewart as an actor, but Robert Wagner did just as well, neither was Anthony Mann or Delmer Daves (who co-wrote the script) the director, but Robert D. Webb did a great job. Don't miss this film, it is one of the all time great westerns.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"White Feather" was one of the first westerns to make good use of the
wide screen Cinemascope panorama. Director Robert D. Webb uses all of
the screen, filling it with bright vibrant color and plenty of action.
The story centers around the efforts of the US Army in 1877 to negotiate treaties with the Indian Tribes to relocate them following the Indian wars which included Little Big Horn a year earlier. All have agreed except for the Cheyenne.
Into all of this rides surveyor Josh Tanner (Robert Wagner) who is supposed to map out a site for a future town. There's gold in them thar hills, you see. Along the way, he finds the body of a miner. He reports to Colonel Lindsay (John Lund) and learns of the problems in getting the Cheyenne to agree to move. Tanner finds a room at Magruder's Store. He meets Ann Magruder (Virginia Leith) an an attraction forms. Tanner is told to stay away from her by her bigoted father (Emile Meyer).
When riding with Ann, Tanner meets two young Cheyenne warriors, Little Dog (Jeffrey Hunter) and American Horse (Hugh O'Brian). Tanner earns the Indian's respect and is invited to their camp. There Tanner meets Little Dog's sister, Appearing Day (Debra Paget) and a romance develops. American Dog's father the Grand Chief Broken Hand (Eduard Franz) returns to the village and announces that the Cheyenne will sign the treaty and move south with the other tribes.
Little Dog and American Horse defy the chief and decide to remain on their land and fight the Army alone. Meanwhile, Appearing Day, who had been promised to American Horse leaves the village and goes to be with Tanner. American Dog attacks Tanner but is subdued and jailed. Little Dog breaks him out killing two soldiers in the act. As the fort's entire compliment and the Cheyenne watch, Little Dog and American Horse launch their attack and.......................................
The acting is uniformly good. The boyish Wagner carries off the lead role well, although he never manages to conduct that survey. Hunter and O'Brian are excellent as the two renegade Cheyenne. Lund has little to do as the Cavalry Colonel. Franz makes an authoritative Chief who puts the welfare of his own people above all else, including that of his family.
Also in the cast are Noah Beery Jr. as Lt. Ferguson, Milburn Stone as the Indian Commissioner and Iron Eyes Cody as a Cheyenne Chief.
You have to see this one in the wide screen format.
The production company sure got its money's worth by filming in
Durango, Mexico. Those scenes of mass Indian migration, along with the
massed warriors and cavalry troop of the climax are impressive as heck.
I expect a lot of Mexican folks picked up a payday as a result. In
fact, where this western really succeeds is in providing spectacle. The
fort scenes plus the Indian encampments are both big and convincing.
The storyline may not be exactly freshsome Indians wanting to make peace while others don't, plus the standard romantic interestnonetheless, the individual stories are woven well into the larger conflict. Note too, how the screenplay (based on a true story) takes a generally sympathetic view of the Indians' plight that is, being forced to move by treaty from their traditional lands. This was during a period when Hollywood was beginning to recognize Indians as human beings instead of convenient targets for repeating rifles.
Of course, an A-production requires a guaranteed box-office, and who better to bring in young folks than a leading heartthrob of the day, Robert Wagner. His rail thin frame may not look like John Wayne, but he still manages to convey the needed authority despite his pretty boy appearance. Also, Hunter remains physically impressive as the conflicted Little Dog.
I guess my only gripe is that everyone, Indians included, looks like they just stepped out of a fashion magazine. I mean the costumes are so squeaky clean and perfectly fit that you'd never guess this is supposed to be the dusty frontier. Anyway, this TCF release remains an underrated cowboy-Indian flick, especially for all its impressive crowd scenes.
(In passinggood touch allowing ambient noises such as barking dogs, squawking birds, and crying kids, to color the treaty signing scene. Usually, Hollywood would remove these as distractions, but here they lend a noisy realistic touch.)
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