Yet another go-round of the Mohicans yarn
Made as Last of the Redskins but finally released as the marginally more PC Last of the Redmen, this picture was a classic Sam Katzman production for Columbia, yet another version of the Fenimore Cooper novel but with enough plot changes to warrant a Mohican-less title. It starred Jon Hall, on loan-out from Samuel Goldwyn.
Actually, Katzman would stick with the Redskins title, and with Jon Hall, fours years on, to make another 1750s yarn, When the Redskins Rode. But that’s another story (you can see our review here if you want).
In fact in 1947 Hall was transitioning from sarongs to buckskins, having made a series of exotic South Seas type adventure/romances with Dorothy Lamour and Maria Montez (Hall’s mother was said to be a Tahitian princess) but wanting to get into Westerns. He’d been Kit Carson in a big Small production of 1940 and rather liked the idea. The same year as Last of the Redskins/Redmen, over at Universal he’d been the Michigan Kid (February) and a marshal investigating murders in The Vigilantes’ Return (June).
Curiously, though, they didn’t cast him as Hawkeye in this one and he didn’t get to wear the buckskins. He was given the part of straight-laced Brit Major Heyward (though billed on-screen as Heywood) while the heroic Hawkeye part was played not as a tall, dark and handsome hero but as a colorful character role by Michael O’Shea, with an Irish accent.
Mr O’Shea, then Mr Virginia Mayo, was a real character who’d done a bit of everything in the Depression years, vaudeville, emcee at a speakeasy, dance band leader (it is even said that he became a CIA agent after retiring from show business in the 1960s), and did quite a lot of acting, becoming a 1955 Emmy nominee as Most Outstanding New Personality, wow. But this was his only Western, poor soul.
If it is a Western, that is. It isn’t really. These musket and tricorn-hat sagas are frontier stories alright but hardly Westerns. It’s just that in those days the frontier was in Upper New York State.
Having said that, Katzman’s version had quite a lot of classic cowboys-and-Indians about it, shot as it was very obviously in California and containing horse chases (in true Mohicans tales they go everywhere on foot or canoe). They also never bother to reload their flintlocks, seeming to have acquired repeater versions. They even circle the wagons for the final battle, and the (British) cavalry arrives at the last minute. So it is in fact all quite Western.
They cast beefy Buster Crabbe as Magua. At one point he has a swimming race with Hall. Given that Buster won gold at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles for the 400 meters freestyle, I’m not sure that Hall had much of a chance, and indeed, Magua gets to shore first. His Magua is a typical Ug-type bad guy. Noble Uncas, the last of those Mohicans, was Rick Vallin, whose “prominent cheekbones and swarthy look” as the IMDb bio puts it often cast him in such roles. He dies heroically after killing Magua in single combat but being mortally wounded in the fray. There’s no Chingachgook in this one.
Of course, Fenimore Cooper’s plot was fantastically complicated, and the novel unbelievably long and boring, so no film version could or would attempt to put it on screen, thank goodness. Still, Katzman and his writers, Herbert Dalmas and George Plympton, didn’t half take some liberties. Dalmas knew Buster because he’d scripted Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars and I reckon similar standards of verisimilitude were applied to this film. Plympton too had helped Flash Gordon Conquer the Universe but he’d been writing silent Westerns since 1917 and talkie Bs, especially Buck Jones oaters, since 1929. Dalmas and Plympton got on with it and did the job, you can say that.
Cherubic producer Katzman got George Sherman to direct. We’ve discussed George already, how he began his career in the movie business in the mail room at Warner Brothers before working his way up to assistant director, then helming Bs at Republic, including many an oater. From 1945 – 48 he was at Columbia, churning out second features. He would work four times with Sam, though not on Westerns.
The picture was a low-budgeter but not a total cheapo. It was made in Cinecolor (which has got rather dark on the TV print these days) and had a runtime of 79 minutes. There was a fair bit of location shooting, Corriganville and Iverson, yes, but also Mt Wilson and Santa Susana Mountains, Cal. So, you know, not a Z-movie.
Another big change in the plot was to include a small boy. In this one, Alice and Cora have a younger brother, Davy, played by Robert ‘Buzz’ Henry. It’s funny to think of the bounty hunter in The Wild Bunch as a little kid (he was fifteen but looked younger), in the role of a lad usually termed ‘plucky’. It was always good to have a young boy in these films because well more than 50% of the audience would have identified with him. He is bold and brave and helps save the day, in the way that plucky lads have done ever since Jim Hawkins, and I especially liked the way he tripped up the bad-guy Indians in the climactic fight, enabling the grown-ups to finish them off.
It’s Alice (Evelyn Ankers) who dies, not Cora (Julie Bishop). This is good because Cora is gutsy and almost as plucky as Davy, while Alice is a snob and a total pain. There’s no romance anywhere, though. Major Heyward doesn’t fall for Alice or anything. Good thing. We don’t want a soppy love story getting in the way of the action. We definitely approve when Alice expires. I must say, the girls had very 1940s hairdos and make-up for 1757.
Apart from all the horses (and horse chases, naturally) jarring a bit, there’s also a dance in which everyone waltzes, oddly to the tune of a minuet, and even more oddly considering that “the shameless, indecent whirling-dance of the Germans” became the rage in Vienna in the 1780s. However, I don’t want to be picky.
Though I will.
I thought the canoes had a nice jazzy paint job.
This picture borders on the ridiculous and is most certainly not George Sherman’s best, but is quite amusing in it way.