George is Hawkeye
George Montgomery was quite fond of these coonskin-hat-and-musket pictures. The same year as The Iroquois Trail he did Davy Crockett, Indian Scout (though that was a cheat, really, being set later and being more Western); in 1952 he returned to Fenimore Cooper (well, vaguely) in The Pathfinder, a Robert E Kent production released by Columbia; and in ’53 he saved the day in Fort Ti. Pawnee (aka Pale Arrow) in 1957 was quite an early one too, this time with George as the Indian.
The Iroquois Trail is just the nth reworking of The Last of the Mohicans, though with even more liberties taken than usual. At the typewriter for the adaptation was Richard Schayer, who was actually quite handy at cobbling up Western screenplays. The picture was a production of Edward and Bernard Small, and I must say, it is done with energy.
The 1750s. George is Nat Cutler, known by the name the Delawares have given him as Hawkeye. He and his blood brother Sagame (good old Monte Blue) come back to see Nat’s ma (Esther Somers). Her other son, Nat’s brother Tom (Don Garner), is a young soldier down in Albany ordered to carry vital dispatches to Fort William. General Montcalm (Marcel Gourmet, in his only ever film) up in Montreal is launching an attack down the St Lawrence and Hudson Valleys and Fort William must be warned. But two-timing skunk Sam Girty (John Doucette, making a brave stab at an English accent) and his henchman the Huron Chief Ogane (Sheldon Leonard) murder Tom en route and steal the dispatch, which of course falls into French hands.
Well, you know the story. Hawkeye and Sagame (no Chingachgook or Uncas), along with the perfidious Ogane (no Magua here either) take the daughter of the colonel commanding Fort William – this time it’s Col. Thorne (Paul Cavanagh), and there’s only one daughter, Marion (Brenda Marshall) – with a rather pompous English captain (in this version Capt. Jonathan West, played by Glenn Langan, Denver-born but again doing quite well with the accent) through perilous forest to the fort. It was a highly improbable plot device even in 1826 when it was written, and it hasn’t improved with Hollywood.
Thanks to Hawkeye and his Delaware brother they make it but Montcalm launches an attack on the fort. The Brits are beset by treachery at every turn and run dangerously low on powder. Luckily Montcalm has a sense of British fair play. Phew.
The talented Henry Freulich was DP and he made the most of the low budget to give us some nice shots of San Bernadino National Forest locations, though of course a lot was done in the studio. Still, it doesn’t look cheap.
The Indians all talk Ug-speak. Considering this was 1950, the same year as Broken Arrow, you might have hoped for a slightly more enlightened portrayal of Native Americans, but nope.
There’s a traitor in the fort (my lips are sealed as to whom), a caddish officer in the pay of the French, who is giving evil Ogane his orders. Hawkeye will unmask him, though, never fear.
It all climaxes, as such pictures often did, with a gripping canoe chase (the prototype for Bullitt), a hand-to-hand combat between Ogane and Hawkeye (guess who wins) and burgeoning amour between the posh English gal and the rough backwoodsman (the captain is frightfully decent about it) and they all lived HEA.
Well, well, nothing special, honestly, but it’s a brisk George Montgomery Western (or Westernish) and it has its moments. All in all, though, I think the Randolph Scott 1936 one was better.