25 September 2007 | bkoganbing
A Sincere Project, Hampered By Lack of Interest
Johnny Tiger was a film that Robert Taylor hoped would help him transition to older more mature roles. He's a man of academia who's taken a position on a Seminole Indian reservation in Florida. While there, he encounters the charming and reckless title character played by Chad Everett.
Everett is the grandson of the old chief Sam Tiger played by Ford Rainey. The grandson and grandfather are estranged as Everett has been too long living in the white man's world and won't assume his rightful place in the tribal councils.
In a plot gambit obviously taken from The Corn Is Green, Taylor recognizes Everett as a most intelligent young man. Not quite Will Hunting type smart, nevertheless Everett has the potential for bigger and better things.
Taylor feels it's those backward Indian ways holding him back. Education and literacy are the answer and he develops a messianic fervor on the subject. Taylor would be described today as a secular humanist, but he does learn the wisdom of Hamlet's words to Horatio about there being more things on heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy.
If Johnny Tiger was made today, it would be a natural project for Lou Diamond Phillips with his partially Cherokee heritage no one would object to the casting. You could never get away with casting Ford Rainey and Marc Lawrence who plays the Seminole medicine man in Indian roles today. Still they are not bad in them and those players, Everett included, do not insult or demean the people they portray.
Probably this film should have made its debut on television. I remember it being released back in the day as the second half of a double bill with a Munster film. Not exactly an opportunity to showcase the players, including most importantly Robert Taylor.
Geraldine Brooks plays the government doctor on the reservation and she's a most fetching female who tries very hard to humanize Taylor and derail him from his mission which is essentially to destroy what little is left of the Seminole culture. Brenda Scott is Taylor's daughter who gets involved with Everett, further complicating things.
Johnny Tiger is not a bad film, it was never really given a chance to find its audience back in the day.
Though I do wonder about where Seminole Indians would have heard of tigers from the real India.