Last Mohican of 1936

DATELINE: Shut In Special 

Hawkeye & Faithful Companions!

Sometimes you need to go back to an early version of a classic to see it done properly with all due reverence. So it is with the James Fennimore Cooper story of survival in wilderness.

Randolph Scott is the stalwart Hawkeye, and he is the epitome of an American frontiersman who has taken up with a few natives outside the parameters of primitive New York society. Tune in to Prime to watch Last of the Mohicans.

If you are an English major purist, the movie plays weird games with the novel: reversing the names of the Munro sisters: one blonde and angelic, the other darker and more passionate. In an effort to make the interracial angle heightened (savages attracted to the epitome of pale white women), Alice is now Cora. The blonde is now Cora, not Alice, and clearly the two competing native Americans are interested.

The bad Indian is Magua, a Huron pretending to be a Mohawk of peaceful nature. He is a warlike spy in the midst of the stupid British. It is interesting that the British military heroes are not exactly favored by Hawkeye, the early Americans, or the hostile natives. Of course, that was Cooper’s view too.

Magua is played by a white man from King Kong. Yes, Bruce Cabot strips down and shaves his head in a performance to play a blue-eyed Magua. He is sinister, and he is a great foil to Randolph Scott.

A couple of unknown actors play the noble friends of Hawkwye, the young and handsome Uncas, a man of honor and his father Chingachgook who will end up with the title role.

It’s hard to realize the film is almost 90 years old now and has with it a sense of black and white historical flavor. It is entertaining in its chase scenes and amusing in its racial miscastings. That aside, you still have a well-intended classic of a high order.

When you are shut in and in social distance mode, these old chestnuts are worth savoring.

 

 

 

 

Early Mohican Epic: The Last Shall Be First

DATELINE:  Bad Indians

Bruce Cabot   Bruce Cabot

Fenimore Cooper’s Romantic epic of the West takes place in upstate New York, of course, in 1757. It’s where and when the wild west begins in The Last of the Mohicans.

The 1936 version of the classic is extremely well-done, but has what you might expect from a studio version in the black & white age. The American Indians (before becoming Native Americans) are played by actors with fair skin and blue eyes. This is particularly noticeable for the most noble of all American Savages, Chingachgook.

The last of the bad Indians, Magua, is played terrifically by underrated Bruce Cabot, fresh off fighting as a stalwart hero against King Kong. This time he is barely recognizable with his Mohawk haircut and bare midriff. He is sullen, dangerous, and quite impressive.

The King Kong hangover continues for him. The musical score for the film is a rip-off of the overwrought music for the giant ape. In several sequences, Cabot seems to be re-enacting his other role on Skull Island in native garb.

His foil is Randolph Scott as the first true rifleman, Hawkeye. And, no one could be better in the role, as the actor shows early on his subtle humor in the part.

One of the truly odd changes is the reversal of Alice and Cora, the two daughters of the regiment. In the original story, Cora is dark-haired and tempestuous. She is called Alice here, and her blonde sister becomes Magua’s obsession. In Cooper’s book he appreciates her dark looks, not her blonde locks.

The story is further muddled by putting the key scenes with the last Mohican somewhere earlier in the plot—and ending with some kind of court-martial of Hawkeye. It doesn’t matter too much, as this turns out to be a pleasing version overall, hitting on the key moments of the story and casting truly fine actors.