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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tomahawk (1951)

A terrific jewel of a western. In 1866 Wyoming, gold is discovered and the U.S. government once again breaks a treaty, this time with the Sioux nation, and builds a fort on ceded Sioux lands. An Indian scout (Van Heflin) acts as an intermediary between the Sioux and the U.S. Cavalry in an attempt to prevent an Indian war. What's near remarkable about TOMAHAWK is how, for its era, it doesn't even attempt to disguise its pro-Indian sympathies. This was long before films like DANCES WITH WOLVES and LITTLE BIG MAN which came much later. Sure there was BROKEN ARROW the year before, but no other film (at least that I've seen) made up to that time documents the systematic betrayal of the Indian nations by the U.S. government. With one exception (Susan Cabot as an Indian maiden), the Sioux are played by real Native Americans rather than Caucasians which lends an authenticity to the film. The Indians are shown to be better fighters than the white man and ultimately defeated by technology, not superiority. The film ends on an ironic note. A pyrrhic victory for the Indians because we know it's temporary and the genocide will continue. The film manages, for the most part, to avoid cliches. Yvonne De Carlo (who must confront her own racism) is the leading lady and one waits for a romance between her and Heflin that never comes to fruition. With Rock Hudson, Preston Foster, Alex Nicol, Jack Oakie, Tom Tully and Ann Doran. A must for western fans!

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