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This splicing of THE SEARCHERS is one of the weirdest films I've ever
filmed by a Briton in a strange, unfamiliar Mexico. It's often said that
the best films about America are made by foreigners, who can approach the
familiar with an outsider's eye. But this crackpot film is something
Though set ostensibly in post-Civil War America, this isn't an America
recognisable from myth, cinema, TV etc. The film has an air of timeless
fable about it, while dealing specifically with Western
Director Harvey uses the title horse as a focus for interconnecting stories, all dealing with the traditional Western clash of the primitive and civilisation. The former seems to have the upper hand. The vast scrub and desert of the film's landscape is unbroken, ripe for allegories of the mind. The only brief sites of civilisation are a stagecoach of missionaries and landowners, and their hacienda, from both of which derive behaviour that is anything but civilised.
The basic story intercuts three stories. In one, an aimless deserter, Pike, having lost his trading partner, steals a miraculous horse, Eagle's Wing, so-called because of its grace and speed. In the second, an Indian, White Bull, owner of this horse, waylays a stagecoach, and kidnaps one of its female occupants. In the third, the Spanish men sent to find her ignore this quest in favour of a murderous, plundering spree.
Although a revisionist Western, the treatment of the Indian is problematic. Unlike Pike, his character is never explained, forever inscrutable, denied a voice, except for an excruciating snatch of song. When he's not a strange Other, he's a symbol, whose role isn't entirely worked out - at one point a savage brute, at another he epitomises nature and freedom.
But Pike notes at the beginning that the film will attend to the period of primitivism before civilisation. In many ways the film resembles 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY, especially its opening sequence. Part of the film's power lies in the connections made between the three disparate characters, forcing us to view the mythic struggles and quests in a different light. Indian culture and Catholicism is linked by superstition, ritual, greed and murder. Both Pike and White Bull are musical and alcoholic. White Bull is demonised by both Pike and the abductee as a 'bastard', unwittingly revealing the tactic of illegitimacy used by colonising whites who infantilised the natives, becoming themselves 'necessary' fathers.
Unlike a traditional Western, concerned with making history, civilisation, and progress, this film is a double detective story, interrogating the past, tracks, remains.
What gives this film its remarkable uniqueness, I think, is, despite Maltin's racism, its Britishness. The climactic stand-off is more like an Arthurian joust. The film itself bravely eschews dialogue for the most part, creating the kind of visual and aural tapestry Malick missed in THE THIN RED LINE, and something few Hollywood directors would have dared. The existential doubling and quest motifs are more European myth than American (resembling another British Harvey Keitel movie, THE DUELLISTS).
Most astonishing is the use of nature. Most Westerns use landscape as an awe-inspiring backdrop: there is little sense of actually living in the West. In many ways, EAGLE'S WING is like a Powell and Pressberger film, with nature a powerful, pantheistic character in its own right - alive, dangerous, hostile, beautiful. There is a sublime scene reminiscent of A CANTERBURY TALE, when jewellery left as a trap by White Bull in the trees is suddenly blown in the wind: there is a haunting, tingling, magical, thrilling effect more reminiscent of the Arabian Nights than a horse opera. Heartstopping.
The other commenters have written interesting things, indeed. The start of the movie had a reference to it being set in 1830. That is not "post-Civil War". It is thirty years before it. The setting is even a decade and a half before the Mexican-American War, thus being prior to the U.S. conquering what is now the southwestern United States and seizing it from the Mexicans. Pike was not a "cowboy", but rather a fur trapper, and it was the Indians who stole their pack horses and gear who killed his partner, with an arrow. Pike did not murder his partner. The setting was all wrong. The primary fur sought by the trappers was beaver, used mainly for the fashionable top hats of the eastern United States and Europe. The Europeans had already exterminated the beaver in much of its range in Europe due to over-harvesting. Beavers do not live in a desert, nor do any other furbearing animals that were being sought.
There must have been some interesting conversations on the set of
Eagle's Wing, with Martin Sheen straight off Apocalypse Now co-starred
with the actor he replaced on Coppola's film, Harvey Keitel. A real
unloved child of a movie, dating back to the last major batch of
Westerns in 1979-80, it was much reviled at the time for being made by
a British studio and director (conveniently ignoring the fact that many
of the classic American westerns were directed by European émigrés),
which seems a bit of an over-reaction.
The plot is simplicity itself, as Martin Sheen's inexperienced trapper finds himself fighting with Sam Waterston's nonosyllabic Kiowa warrior over the possession of a beautiful white horse, the Eagle's Wing, across a harsh and primitive landscape in a time "before the legends began." Aside from Caroline Langrishe's captive Irish governess, the supporting cast have little to do (Stephane Audran never even gets to open her mouth) and it is a little slow, but Anthony Harvey's film does boast terrific Scope photography from Billy Williams and a good score from Marc Wilkinson.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
On first viewing this movie seems to be some kind of fairy tale about a beautiful and significantly white horse once seen never forgotten. However viewed strictly within the context of the story the implication is that to survive in the immediate post-Civil War America, one had to have a horse, and not any old horse but a truly great one. And Eagle's Wing is such a horse. But for a man to be worthy of such a horse is another matter. Who should own it? The Native American or the AWOL soldier? The story throughout pits primitivism against civilisation. As has been said by other commentators it is ironic that it took an English director to perceive this fact, and then develop this simple theme into a western like no other you're ever likely to see again. The film is basically about this beast and the savage harshness of the environment and the people who scrape a living from it. The photography and the soundtrack are exquisite. Martin Sheen's performance is a revelation. This film, released in the same year as Sheen's other great performance as Willard in 'Apocalypse Now', hints at his abilities which somehow were never given such a free rein again. More's the pity. A comparison of the two stories throws up the surprising similarities between them - not least that both films chart a man's journey into his soul in order to find redemption. Whereas Willard is redeemed I will leave it to the viewer to decide if Pike is eventually. The ending is fabulous in the true sense of the word, and very moving; be warned. Altogether this is an extraordinary film.
After a slow first half, which seems to have suffered from some heavy-handed
cutting, the second half of this striking Western is a fascinating struggle
between Indian and white man for the possession of a magnificent horse (the
"eagle's wing" of the title). The film's two main assets are Billy
Williams' magnificent cinematography and a beautiful music score by Marc
Watch out also for a moving and unexpected graveside poetry reading by Sheen. This was one of the last major films produced by England's Rank Organization.
The picture narrates the odyssey of a cowboy (Martin Sheen) that one
time murdered his partner , a white trapper ,(Harvey Keitel) by Indians
, steals a horse (called Eagle wing) to Comanches . Having stolen a
white mustang from a Kiowa Indian , he then pursues him to get his
horse back . As he's pursued by an Indian (Sam Waterston) who retrieves
it and vice versa , going on a relentless pursuit . Meanwhile , the
Indians attack a stagecoach with passengers (Stephane Audran and John
Castle as a priest whose role was offered to Trevor Howard) and abduct
an attractive girl . A Mexican posse (Enrique Lucero , Claudio Brook )
set out to track down the savage raiders .
Solid western with great loads of action and violence . From the initiation when horse robbing until the final , the fast-movement and action-packed western is continued . The pic is a crossover of various films , the white woman kidnapped by Indians just like ¨The searches¨ (by John Ford) , the battle against nature from ¨ Man in wilderness land ¨ (Richard C Sarafian) and ¨Jeremias Johnson¨ (Sidney Pollack) and obstinacy and stubbornness between two merciless enemies who fight with no rest such as ¨The duelists¨ (Ridley Scott) . The magnificent cast is formed by an excellent Martin Sheen (Apocalypse now) as tough and two-fisted rider obsessed to recover the slim and graceful horse . Sam Waterston (Killing Fields) in a rare role as Comanche is very fine . Supporting cast is featured by European actors, -this is a British production by Rank Organization- such as Stephane Audran (Claude Chabrol's muse) and John Castle (Lion in Winter) as the priest . Besides , Mexican actors (Jorge Luque , Claudio Brook, Enrique Lucero) because being set in Mexican frontier . Splendid cinematography by Billy Williams , it is wonderfully shown on spectacular landscapes . Lively and jolly musical score by by Mark Wilkinson . The motion picture was well directed by Anthony Harvey (Lion in Winter). However , the picture was a flop and barely obtained money and failed at box office .
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An unusual, revisionist western, well worth watching. Despite a slow
start, the film builds with scarcely any dialogue and no subtitles
an increasingly involving and intense, almost existential portrait of
life in the harsh environment of the Western desert. The growth of the
lead characters is worth waiting for, and the strong central cast bring
a real sense of desperation to the struggle for ownership of the
all-important horse. How interesting that this was made by a British
director. I hope he's smiling now: I get the impression the film was
largely ignored by contemporaries; but time works its usual alchemy,
and hidden gold shines out as it inevitably must. One note jarred for
me: the revisionism is only carried so far. Sam Waterston as an Indian?
- granted he plays his part with real emotion and intensity, but
really, couldn't one American Indian actor be found to do the job? But
his scenes with Caroline Langrishe have an intimacy which contrasts
nicely with the immense landscape around them.
Forget big, bankrupt Hollywood versions of the past, men with big chins and swirling music; this one is all about a primeval struggle between protagonists who, stripped of all the trappings of 'ordinary' life, come to understand what is worth fighting for. Impressive.
8+ points for a take on a fresh and probably-kinda-maybe-perhaps-was look into back 'then'. American Indians quite probably stole more than killed (I doubt they were unusually bloodthirsty)...who really knows. Nice slower and somewhat uncommon pursuit... and the way things develop are not patterned which means it has a unique and lovely pace. I found this film to be most interesting. Thankfully not another mindless shoot em up. I thought this film would suck at first, but *wow* I wound up getting wrapped up and being entertained, this is why we have cinema... nice treasure... good job! I have hopes nobody dissects this film. When the entire movie unfolds I experienced many unique twists, impossible to determine what will be next. The characters are entirely human and have either honor or not... passion or not... forgiveness or not. Wound up loving the White Horse, the Indian, Sheen... even the damned desert was great. All good.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's not likely you'll catch a Western like this again, good guys and
bad guys have little meaning here. Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston are
pitted against each other as an ex-foot soldier versus a Kiowa warrior,
and the mismatch is palpable throughout. There's a great innovative
scene where White Bull (Waterston) emerges from a waterhole to ambush
Pike (Sheen), in the tradition of your best horror film surprises.
That's one of the highlights in a story that ofttimes meanders back and
forth with little action. At one point, Waterston is featured in a
great Iron Eyes Cody profile that attests to his regal bearing, which
director Anthony Harvey uses to tease a possible romantic involvement
between the Indian and his captive blonde beauty (Caroline Langrish).
That story line goes nowhere, but draws on more than a single exchange
of amorous glances between the two.
Martin Sheen gets to inject some humor into the cat and mouse game with some of the few lines of dialog the film actually uses; for his part, White Bull remains entirely silent throughout. It complements his mysterious nature, and the ruse with the tricked out dagger that takes out the thieving Mexican was a nice touch. Sheen does a remarkable job convulsing from that arrow to the leg from White Bull, so much so that you feel his pain.
In the set up for the horseback duel finale, one expects a decisive outcome without knowing who'll win, but again, your standard Western conventions don't bear out. White Bull acknowledges Pike's temerity and allows him to live, and his thundering dust cloud ride into the sunset sets both men free. The ending though, managed to elicit an unintended chuckle just like Vincent Price does in the closing sequence of "The Fly", when Judith and Pike separately plead their case to the heavens - "Please, help me".
"Eagle's Wing" is a pleasant surprise of a movie, & keeps the viewer
interested. I didn't know anything about it being made by the British
until I read the other viewer comments. I can understand why it won an
award for cinematography, for it was brilliantly presented & must have
looked magnificent on a vast theatre screen.
It seemed to be a lot more realistic than most westerns, in portraying how the West was more truly won. As well as the complexities of the characters it presents. The Indian-Sam Waterson character is particularly intriguing. He seems to be brutal in the savage environment he is conditioned to, but displays remarkable respect for the frailties he witnesses in the white men & women he encounters. He is not friendly or sensitive to these intruders in his lands, but he has a limit to his sense of vengeance, even a compassion when he is in a position of power & observing the wilting white man bent on revenge, as well as the girl he kidnaps after capturing a stagecoach. As such, his character seems complex but congruous to the harsh lands he lived in & which were threatened by these intruders he is not heartless in his dealings with.
The magnificent horse he rides is a critical link & it is interesting to note how this Indian handles it, compared with the Martin Sheen-character who has it in his possession & power for a time. "Eagle's Wing" is an unusual Western, a genre I am not drawn to, but I really appreciated this excellent offering, which I would rate second only to "A Man Called Horse".
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