Thursday, September 11, 2014


By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea Water,… well, this doesn't quite follow the Longfellow poem. In fact, in doing a little research after watching this movie, I found that Longfellow's Hiawatha was not based on the historical Hiawatha at all. It also seems likely that the Hiawatha in this movie (played by Vince Edwards) isn't much like the real person either, which is par for Hollywood historical films. This begins with hunky Hiawatha leading a band of Ojibway hunters through the woods where they come upon a group of Dakota hunters who seem to be lost. Though the various tribes don't get along, Hiawatha approaches the men peacefully, but his hot-headed fellow hunter Pau PukKeewis (Keith Larsen) is of the "shoot first" school and a skirmish breaks out. This triggers a debate among the Ojibway, who have remained isolated for some time, as to whether they should try to make peaceful contact with the Dakota and the Illinois. The discussion gets heated, and Pau PukKeewis implies that Hiawatha is not of pure Ojibway blood (of course, this eventually leads to the revelation that, indeed, his father was a Dakota). On a mission of peace, Hiawatha winds up attacked by a bear and his life is saved by Lakku of the Dakota tribe. As he recovers, he and Lakku's daughter Minnehaha fall in love and he takes her back to his tribe as his wife, which doesn't sit well with Pau PukKeewis and the more warlike men. That fall, the harvest is poor and some blame Minnehaha; when an Ojibway man is killed by a Dakota arrow, war preparations begin, but Hiawatha suspects that the spiteful Pau PukKeewis is to blame.

If you're not a fan of Vince Edwards, there's probably no reason for you to watch this. It's colorful and looks like it was shot on location, or at least on an elaborate set—rare for a Monogram B-film—but to today's viewers, it will look like any average TV movie, something that might have run on The Wonderful World of Disney back in the 60s. Apparently the historical Hiawatha was known as a peacemaker, but little in the film rings true. The reviewer at DVD Talk reads the movie as commie propaganda—I guess because of its pacifist, "let's all get along" message and the attempt by the Ojibway to get the Dakota to share food over the winter—but that seems a bit far-fetched. I like Edwards, so despite his awful pig-tailed wig I stuck with the movie, but there's not much else to recommend it.  Keith Larsen is strictly average as the bad guy and Yvette Duguay is colorless as Minnehaha. [Warner Archive Instant]

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