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  Man Called Horse, A Hanging Around With The Indians
Year: 1970
Director: Elliot Silverstein
Stars: Richard Harris, Judith Anderson, Jean Gascon, Manu Tupou, Corinna Tsopei, Dub Taylor, James Gammon, William Jordan, Eddie Little Sky, Michael Baseleon, Lina Marín, Tamara Garina, Terry Leonard, Iron Eyes Cody, Tom Tyon, Jackson Tail, Manuel Padilla Jr
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1825 and in North America, an English aristocrat by the name of John Morgan (Richard Harris) has been out hunting in the wilderness, wishing to get away from it all and the turmoil he has left back home, though as he admits to his assistant for the trip (Dub Taylor) he appears to have swapped shooting grouse for shooting prairie chickens, and maybe there's really not much difference. On return to their camp, the other two recruits to the excursion have been shooting objects at random out of boredom, encouraging Morgan to say enough is enough, it is time to return to civilisation. However, little does he know they are being watched by the natives, who have plans for them all...

Well, they actually have plans for Morgan since the other three are despatched with arrows pretty swiftly, leaving him as their captive who as he has just emerged from a lake after bathing finds himself in the unenviable and humiliating position of being hauled behind a horse while naked by the tribesmen as they drag him back to their camp. A Man Called Horse, the title of which refers to Morgan as he is treated like an animal initially, made quite an impact back in 1970, though it shared column inches with similar "what about the Indians?" Westerns as Little Big Man and Soldier Blue. As far as quality went, it was somewhere between the two, well-meaning but not as exploitative as the latter but entirely lacking the ironic humour of the Dustin Hoffman epic.

This was serious stuff, after all, and there was only one scene worth talking about according to the moviegoers of the day, and one inquiry arising from that: did Richard Harris actually go through with the Vow to the Sun initiation ceremony? The buzz going around was that he genuinely had been strung up by the flesh of his chest and spun around to give him a sublime experience of pain, all the better to get in touch with his spiritual side, as this was the era where actors tended to believe they were not staying true to their thespian duties unless they were actually suffering in the process of their job - see Steve McQueen in Papillon, or indeed Hoffman's sleep deprivation in Marathon Man. Was Harris so much of a method actor that he'd go through with this?

Of course not! They kept it fairly quiet in the publicity, but thanks to convincing makeup and a concealed harness, the illusion Morgan was being suspended by his nipples was complete, and the reason to seek out the movie, that sensational aspect that asked, are you strong enough to watch this without flinching, became part of the moviegoing experience for the more exploitation-angled cinema for decades afterwards - Soldier Blue had done the same, but wasn't nearly as well respected. Harris was definitely a big selling point as far as watching an actor brave enough to immerse himself in a role went - his nudity did not go unremarked upon - but there was another aspect to the experience which spoke to the nineteen-seventies' need to get back to nature in some form.

Whether that be getting involved with ecological pressure groups or simply swapping your cornflakes for muesli and decorating the front room in earth tones, this kind of self-actualisation via reaching out and touching the environment was reflected, and possibly guided, by movies such as this, yet the attempt to respect the Indians who had been the faceless bad guys for so long in Westerns may have been superficially respectful, in effect they were simply exchanging one stereotype for another. It was no coincidence Iron Eyes Cody fronted a Keep America Beautiful clean-up campaign on television commercials as well as taking the shaman role here, it was all part of the same message, though what you had at heart was still a white man brings civilisation to the savages tale as Morgan is a social climber in the tribe, assisted by his friendship with a half-mad captive (Jean Gascon), the elder who adopts him (Dame Judith Anderson) and the woman who falls in love with him (former Miss Greece Corinna Tsopei). I suppose it was a positive pro-integration message too. Music by Leonard Rosenman.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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