Tomahawk (1951)

Approved   |    |  History, Romance, Western

Tomahawk (1951) Poster

In 1866 Wyoming, a frontier scout tries to prevent a war between the Sioux and the U.S. when the Army builds a road and a fort on territory previously ceded to the Sioux by treaty.


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10 July 2012 | dougdoepke
Scenic and Gutsy
When the US breaks a treaty with the Sioux in order to access gold on Indian land, the specter of war looms.

Wow!—this may be the biggest big sky movie of all time. Those blue and white expanses almost swallow up the viewer in their awesome majesty. This is a really underrated Western that I expect got lost in Universal's crowd of Technicolor oaters of the time. But it's got a superior script that dares to put Indian rights on the same level as the settlers', plus outstanding photography and first-rate performances from Heflin and Foster. Then too, DeCarlo really looks good in Technicolor. Also, I detected only one exterior set—the Heflin- DeCarlo conflab in the forest. Pretty good for lower-budget Universal.

I'm especially glad they used real Indians in close-ups instead of the usual Hollywood types made-up to look evil. That way, the 'original Americans' are humanized, and we become more aware of the real costs involved in Winning the West. But notice, those good intentions don't extend to all the Sioux. Hollywood reverts to form by dressing up a comely white girl (Cabot) as the Indian maiden, instead of using a real Indian girl. At the same time, Monahseetah has few lines so a professional actress wasn't really needed. So draw your own conclusions.

The action is pretty much standard, except for the massed attack on the equipment wagons. There, the script makes clear that it's the white man's technology that triumphs and not his superior fighting skills. However, I wondered why the Sioux didn't attack in steady waves instead of in intervals that give the soldiers time to re-load. And catch that final scene in the fort. That's certainly no cliché.

I don't know how much of the story is based on fact, but however much, it at least makes you think. Anyway, this is a grandly scenic, gutsy Western, definitely underrated, and deserving of more than just a few scattered showings.

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