2 May 2007 | silverscreen888
A Fine TV Movie Achievement; Very Well Acted; an Unusually Memorable Tale
Only a handful of films made for television, by my standards, can be ranked among the most important, artistic and influential of films. "The Last of the Mohicans", 1977, directed by James L. Conway from a Stephen Lord screenplay of James Fenimore Cooper's novel I assert is one of these. It is among the best-acted of all TV films, and was filmed entirely on location using cinematography from Henning Schellerup. The familiar background is a period when those loyal to England and those to France were recruiting Amerind all,ies to battle for possession of the North American continent. Already British settlers were overrunning Indian-claimed territory; and at the time of the tale, the French had persuaded the Hurons to help them make war upon the British colonists everywhere. Regular troops were finding it difficult in the impenetrable North American forests to do battle with wily opponents who knew the territory and its ways; but in this situation, there were men who had taken to the forests, woods rangers, who helped the settlers and made their life as frontier experts, scouts, and warriors--forerunners of the woods-wise colonists who later defeated the unacclimatized British regulars in the War for Independence. With authentic and occasionally inspired Art Direction by Charles C. Bennet and Bob Summers' unobtrusive and helpful score, the film takes on aspects of the best of two genres--an almost documentary feel about events that seem realistic and convincing at all points, I suggest, and still the adventurous pace of a well-made and sometimes exciting physical contest of prowesses. The dialogue is literate and occasionally brillint, I judgeas a writer. The portion of the plot that matters is easily explained. The daughters of a British officer need to be escorted to a Fort; a young Major takes these two sisters and a choirmaster onto the trail, led by an Indian guide, even as an attack is expected. They are rescued when their guide, Magua, betrays them, by Hawkeye "Longrifle", and his blood brother Chingachgook. The duel between the pair and Magua and his Huron helpers goes on for days. The pair are joined by Chingachgook's warrior son, Uncas, and eventually by another chieftain and his tribe who confront the Hurons in a final battle. Complicating the affair is the choirmaster who bursts into religious song whenever frightened, Magua's obsession with the elder daughter, she falling in love with Uncas, the young Major's lack of understanding of the situation plus the overwhelming number of the opponents. As Hawkeye, Steve Forrest explains the Indian's positions memorably. Ned Romero gives an award caliber performance as Chingachgook, while Michele Marsh as the elder daughter, Don Shanks as Uncas, Andrew Prine as the Major, Whit Bissell as the General, Robert Tessier as Magua, Jane Actman as the younger daughter and Dehl Berti as the Chief are all far-above average in their achievements. Robert Easton steals several scenes as the memorable choirmaster. And the wise addition of a narrator, in the form of a settler saved by the hero and his partner, allows us to see the tragic history of Chingachgook as it once happened, which gives the film immense authenticity and flashes of power. This is a serious adult production, unlike the many puerile and thin-spirited versions also available. I find it to be memorable, influential in its use of authentic locations, and very-well done indeed.