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  When the Legends Die Hold Your Horses
Year: 1972
Director: Stuart Millar
Stars: Richard Widmark, Frederic Forrest, Luana Anders, Vito Scotti, Herbert Nelson, John War Eagle, John Gruber, Gary Walberg, Jack Mullaney, Malcolm Curley, Roy Engel, Rex Holman, Mel Gallagher, Tillman Box, Sondra Pratt, Verne Muehlstedt, Evan Stevens
Genre: Western, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Some years ago, a young Ute Indian boy (Tillman Box) lost his parents but was determined to stay out in the wilds of the forests to live off the land with his best friend, the bear he called brother. But the world did not work like that anymore, and he was fetched by one of the tribal elders to be taken for schooling - at this point the boy could speak no English - much to his disgust. He was not even allowed to offer a place in his dormitory room to the bear, and soon when it became clear he would make no progress until the animal was returned to the wild, the boy was taken to a remote part of the forest and ordered to get rid of the beast. It was something he would never forget...

And then the little Indian boy grew up to be a white man in brown makeup by the name of Tom Black Bull, played by Frederic Forrest receiving an "introducing" credit. It was regrettable the producers did not put their faith in an actual native actor to essay the role, something akin to having Forrest black up to take the lead as Kunta Kinte in Roots of you thought about it, but for some reason it's more acceptable for a white actor to take on an American Indian character: Johnny Depp was at it as late as the remake of The Lone Ranger, though at least he claimed some ancestry as an excuse. Whatever, it did rather undercut the drama of this adaptation of Hal Borland's well-regarded novel.

If you could put that to the back of your mind, and though Forrest never became a megastar he did headline a fair few movies and was a recognisable face in supporting roles, then his performance was fine, nothing stellar but he didn't embarrass himself as a typically stoic idea of how an Indian should behave. However, the actor to watch was the man who played Red, Richard Widmark, who was seizing a late in life opportunity of a truly relishable role with both hands and making the most of it; Red is the ranch owner who sees Tom's potential as a rodeo rider and buys his permission to leave the reservation, effectively "owning" the young man until he is twenty-one years of age.

The thought of owning anyone in that way is something you'd like to think has fallen by the wayside, especially in light of the manner events play out here. Tom really is good at riding horses, something we must put down to his native blood or his ability to commune with nature or some hoary old cliché or other, but Red is the one making money off him, taking the boy around rodeos and fleecing gamblers who think he is merely a novice. When they cotton on as a former acquaintance with a grudge rumbles the duo, Tom wants to take stock of what is happening with his life, but Red simply wishes him to provide more cash for him to spend on drink, which the boy is trying to avoid. Weirdly, though he is even more of a victim than the gamblers, Tom sticks by his dubious mentor.

And that's down to the curious relationship which sees Red as basically the only friend the Indian has; separated from his own people, he would be utterly adrift without the older man who is both father figure and boss to him, but after a while Tom acknowledges this state of affairs cannot continue any longer, and things take a darker turn. Luana Anders showed up as a ray of light for him to follow in the latter stages, but in the meantime rodeos are the only events keeping him going, and he begins to get a reputation as a killer of the horses he rides due to having something to prove to himself, others, or simply some frustrations he must get out of his system (possibly another cliché of hotblooded natives, or indicative of some actual personality). Joining that club of modern day Westerns such as Coogan's Bluff or (more pertinently) Junior Bonner, Where the Legends Die was not the best of them, had its drawbacks, but had enough points of interest not to be dismissed though it did build to an anticlimax. Director Stuart Millar knew the value of scenery, which was a bonus. Music by Glenn Paxton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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