Tuesday, August 7

The Last of the Mohicans: Favorite Movie #31

1992 Historical Drama
From 20th Century Fox
Directed by Michael Mann

Daniel Day-Lewis
Madeleine Stowe
Russell Means
Wes Studi
Eric Schweig
Jodhi May
Steven Waddington

I remember betting myself even before seeing this film that it would wind up on my favorite films list. And I was right. It is another one that at one time was probably higher on my list but no matter the shifts and adjustments, it's still here. There were two primary reasons why I knew I would love the film. The first is James Fenimore Cooper's novel was standard fare in an American   literature class and I always see a film based on a book I've read (although they're rarely as good... this one was better than the book). And I was so crazy about this period of history and there have not been many films covering it. For years my favorite film from this period of American history was 1939's Drums Along the Mohawk.  Y'know, we jumped all over westerns in this country; I wish we had the same enthusiasm about easterns

This film is not so much based on Cooper's novel, however; it owes more to the screenplay of the 1936 film version starring Randolph Scott. There was another incarnation starring B movie actor Steve Forrest in 1977. I know there have been other films loosely based on the same story, so popular it has always been.

It is 1757 in upstate New York and Hawkeye is a white man who had been raised by the Mohicans. There is a war raging between the English and French, both of whom claim ownership of the colonies. Each side has Indian allies. One of those is Magua, who works for the English but sides with the French. Magua hates the English general and is ruled by that hatred.

Meanwhile, Hawkeye and his adopted father and brother are blazing the trails when they come across the English general's two daughters and a military escort who are engaged in a fight with the Indians. Hawkeye and family, swift, agile and capable, come to the aid of the English contingent, escorting them to an English fort.

Soon they are overtaken by the French and on a trip through the forest on their way out of the area, they are savagely attacked by Magua and his band of marauders in one of the film's most exciting and memorable scenes. The Mohican family manages to escape with an English officer and the general's daughters and a chase ensues that is bloody exciting.

Two technical credits usually mentioned when speaking of The Last of the Mohicans are the dramatically beautiful score of Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman and the sensational camerawork by Dante Spinotti. The camera owes a lot to the beautiful locations in North Carolina, which subbed for upstate New York.   The film has a look of authenticity from the clothing, weapons, language and more. The fighting scenes are simply thrilling.   Expertly felt was the danger lurking everywhere.

Much credit, of course, must go to one of the greatest living actors, Daniel Day-Lewis, nothing short of magnificent.  Perhaps I have come to expect that in his work but I respond to it like a newcomer every time I am taken in.  But I think at the time of the filming (and supported by a few after they saw it), some of his large fan club thought this property was beneath his talents. Oh I hope you folks have seen the error of your ways because the bloke is right bloody on as Hawkeye.

I was aware of Madeleine Stowe before Mohicans but this is the film where we bonded and I've caught most of her work ever since. Her Cora appears to be quite proper and lady-like but it is an illusion for she is of feisty pioneer stock. She comes off as a true partner. Her romantic scenes with Day-Lewis are lovingly filmed.

I think it is outrageous that Wes Studi was not nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar as Magua. He is right in there with the best damned movie villains ever. That face... that voice... that demeanor... that power. He was scary and disappeared into that part.

When I think about this film, I am reminded of its thrilling action sequences combined with a quiet, forestial beauty. When I read items about it during production, there was often something about director Mann needing to get a handle on the length of time it was taking before the cameras. I don't know what transpired between then and what we saw on the screen, but this film is a handsomely-mounted show piece.


NEXT POSTING:   Review of Ruby Sparks

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