Today’s movie is A Man Called Horse (1970). I thought this was a basketball movie. This movie is one of the earlier attempts to portray Native Americans as more than one-dimensional characters that shoot at cowboys from behind rocks. I put it in the same class as Little Big Man (1970) and as paving the way for movies such as Windwalker (1980) and Dances with Wolves (1990). About 80% of the language in the film was in an older Sioux dialogue.
This movie can out at the peak of the counter-culture movements when pre-contact Indian life was presented as a kind of Eden or paradise. The is very similar to the way the maniac Mel Gibson presented the natives in Apocalypto (2006). A Man Called Horse (1970) showed a more realistic view of hate, jealousy, adultery, elder care issue, and suicide.
This movie spawned a couple of sequels; The Return of the Man Called Horse (1976) and Triumphs of a Man Called Horse (1983). I loves me some Michael Beck.
Dub Taylor played Joe, one of the hunting guides that was killed off early on. Taylor was first covered in Episode 15 – The Undefeated (1969).
Iron Eyes Cody played the role of the Medicine Man. Cody was first mentioned in Episode 89 – Ace in the Hole (1951).
Dame Judith Anderson played Buffalo Cow Head. This is a major departure from the other roles I have seen her in. Anderson was first covered in Episode 91 – Laura (1944).
Richard Harris played Sir John Morgan, a bored English dandy looking for excitement in the western part of North America. Harris was born in 1930 in Limerick, Ireland. Sounds like a fun place. He originally planned on being a rugby player but a bout with TB ended these dreams. Harris became interested in theater and eventually studied at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. It was only a few years before he was in his debut film, Shake Hands with the Devil (1959). One very interesting early role of his was as a frustrated allied pilot that probably would have been shot for his outburst in The Guns of Navarone (1961). His first big break was the English film This Sporting Life (1963), for which he received an Oscar nomination. However, I am more familiar with other films like Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), The Heroes of Telemark (1965) where he played a commando, Major Dundee (1965) the Sam Peckinpah disaster where he played a Confederate, Camelot (1967) where he barely croaked out the songs, Irish themed The Molly Maguires (1970), with Sean Connery, against type in Cromwell (1970), and of course, A Man Called Horse (1970).
The 1970s were not good film years for Harris but he did appear in Robin and Marian (1976), Gulliver’s Travels (1977), Orca (1977), and the mercenary film The Wild Geese (1978) with Roger Moore and Richard Burton. I haven’t seen it in decades but I remember it as being great. The 1980s were worst and the only standout film is Tarzan the Ape Man (1981) with Bo Derek.
He rebounded in the 1990s with The Field (1990) and being one of the few actually Irish people in Patriot Games (1992) with Harrison Ford. He had an important role as the duck of death in Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven (1992). Other films include Wrestling Ernest Hemingway (1993), Cry, the Beloved Country (1995), The Great Kandinsky (1995), and This Is the Sea (1997). He played an aging emperor in Gladiator (2000) with Russel Crowe. At the instance of his granddaughter, he played Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). His final film was Caesar (2002). He died in 2002 from Hodgkin’s Disease.
Jean Gascon played the French-Canadian captive Batise. Gascon was born in Canada in 1920. He was a very accomplished actor in theater and this was one of about five feature films he was in. He did a great job in this odd role. Gascon died in 1988.
Corinna Tsopei played Running Deer. Tsopei was born in Greece in 1944. In 1964, she was crowned Miss. Greece and later Miss. Universe. She parlayed this fame into a few film roles that include The Sweet Ride (1968), A Man Called Horse (1970), and Psyhi kai sarka (1974).
James Gammon played Ed, one of Sir John Morgan’s tour guides. Gammon was born in Illinois in 1940. Gammon was a cameraman until he was 27. They then realized that his gruff voice and craggy face would be good on the other side of the camera. If you are not sure who this guy is, he the one from Silverado (1985) that said – I think there is only a couple of guys up there and this asshole one of them.
He was a great character actor and his roles include Cool Hand Luke (1967), The Thousand Plane Raid (1969), A Man Called Horse (1970), Macon County Line (1974), Any Which Way You Can (1980) one of those ape movies, Urban Cowboy (1980) as the mechanical bull operator, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (1982), Silver Bullet (1985) a werewolf tale, Silverado (1985), Vision Quest (1985), The Milagro Beanfield War (1988), Major League (1989) as a coach, Coupe de Ville (1990), Cabin Boy (1994), Major League II (1994), Natural Born Killers (1994), Wyatt Earp (1994), The Apostle (1997), Point Blank (1998), The Country Bears (2002) as a voice actor, Cold Mountain (2003), and Appaloosa (2008). Gammon died in 2010.
Eddie Little Sky played Black Eagle and one of the few actual Native Americans with a speaking role in this movie. Little Sky was born in Pine Ridge, South Dakota in 1926. He did plenty of work as a background Indian in numerous westerns. His best-known films are 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), A Man Called Horse (1970), and The Car (1977). He died in 1997.
Lina Marín played Thorn Rose. She was born around 1952 in Oaxaca Mexico. She was of Zapotec Indian descent. Her best-known English film was A Man Called Horse (1970). She has over 30 Spanish language credits. Marín died in 1989 of breast cancer.
The movie begins with a headdress-wearing Indian asking the Sun that he be worthy. A large band of warriors are moving quickly when they hear a musket shot. The time is around 1825 and the place is the Dakota wilderness.
The shot was fired by a real English dandy, Lord John Morgan (Richard Harris) who is hunting grouse. He has a frontier guide Joe (Dub Taylor). Morgan comments that his so rich he is bored with life and in England, there are not many he is subservient too.
The Indians watch from the bushes. Back at the base camp, Morgan’s two other guides Ed (James Gammon) and Bent (William Jordan) are drunk and goofing off.
Morgan and Joe head back to camp as the Sioux Indians still watch. Morgan orders the trip ended. The Sioux see the impressive collection of horses back at the base camp. Morgan goes swimming in a stream just as the attack comes. The three guides are quickly killed and it seems these are the first Anglos that the Indians have encountered. The Sioux lose one man during the attack.
Morgan is sitting on a rock sunning and the Sioux capture him. For the love of god, don’t show Richard Harris naked. The Sioux leader Yellow Hand (Manu Tupou) orders him taken alive. They name Morgan, horse, and make him carry pack gear. Morgan is run and dragged until he reaches Yellow Hand’s village. The Indians get distracted for a minute and the naked Morgan runs away. He is quickly run down and herded back. For God sake man, put some clothes on. Yellow Hand marks Morgan with a painted yellow handprint to show his ownership of the “horse.”
Black Eagle (Eddie Little Sky) runs into the village as a herald for the arriving war band. While most of the village is happy, the old mother of the killed warrior cries out. She chops one of her fingers off in grief.
Yellow Hand gives Morgan to his mother Buffalo Cow Head (Judith Anderson). She is not really happy, preferring to have a piece of cloth. Morgan is tied outside with the dogs. Two young women come out of the teepee and get into a fight about the gifts Yellow Hand presented.
That night the village has a big fire and sing-sing. Morgan is part of the fun as he led around by a rope, feed hay, and ridden by the kids. Buffalo Cow Woman grabs her property and ties Morgan back with the dogs. She does give him a buffalo blanket for the night. The party and dancing descend into flashbacks for Morgan.
In the morning, Morgan wakes and nothing in the village is moving except the dogs. He tries to steal a horse but is ratted out by a local cur. He then sees that village has guards all around. He eventually gets a horse but is brought down in the cemetery. The tribe refuses to enter the area. Yellow Hand throws Morgan a lance and then walks up until the point is at his chest. The chief then turns his back to show his people that the “horse” is no problem. Morgan breaks down into a screaming session and even uses a few Sioux words. Buffalo Cow Head throws horse dung on his face and gets him to come back. Morgan ties his leash back on, while in the background, a blue man watches.
The blue-eyed man is Batise (Jean Gascon) a half Indian half French Canadian trapper that was captured by the Sioux many years before. Batise giggles and mocks everything. Morgan asks Batise about escape and then Batise tells that his leg muscle was cut for trying to escape. Batise also tells that there are other tribes to contend with even if he escapes. Finally, Buffalo Cow Head drives Batise away.
Running Deer (Corinna Tsopei) Yellow Hand’s sister and the best-looking woman in village brings him some rancid meat to eat and suave for his wounds. Suddenly, the entire village runs to one teepee.
The old woman with the dead son is giving away all of her possessions. Finally, the women, most of them gleefully, cut up the hides of her teepee. When Buffalo Cow Head returns, she makes Morgan go to work collecting firewood. She beats him with a large stick to speed him up and she selects every piece of wood. She is very proud of her power.
Black Eagle comes to buy Running Deer, sister of Yellow Hand. He offers some gifts but is refused. Batise explains the process to Morgan.
The old lady with the dead son will die now that she is homeless. Morgan and Batise discuss that they will need a small army to fight his way out after the escape. Morgan forces Batise to teach him the tribe’s ways.
The seasons change as time passes. Morgan works, Buffalo Cow Head keeps after him, and he watches Running Deer because he is crushed.
During the heart of the winter, Morgan is still living outside. He sees the sonless old woman die in the cold. He feels sorry for her but takes her blanket anyway. He then enters the teepee of Yellow Hand who is making love with his wife, Thorn Rose (Lina Marín) under a blanket. Running Deer and Buffalo Cow Head are in the teepee as well.
Spring slowly comes and the ice and snow retreat. In the spring, Morgan, who now dresses like an Indian, is out picking berries with all the women from the tribe. It’s good work if you can get it. He picks a couple of flowers and gives them to Running Deer for Buffalo Cow Head and she feels very proud. The joke is that if you give someone a flower you want to sleep with them. Morgan signals to Running Deer that he meant her. Running Deer shows her moccasins and Batise has to explain that it means she has no holes in her shoes, she is a virgin, and can marry anyone she wants. So why would she marry someone without anything? When Buffalo Cow Head catches the pair together, she throws the flowers and some rocks at Morgan.
A young boy (Manuel Padilla Jr.) is out hunting rabbits and he sees a band of Shoshone sneaking up on the village. He shoots one in the leg before running for help. The women all run towards the village as the boys watch the attackers. The men must be away hunting. Morgan sees his chance to gain prestige and quickly kills an unwounded Shoshone. The boys count coup and scalp the man before attacking the other. Morgan kills him as well. He then takes the scalp as the men from the tribe arrive to watch.
Morgan rides into the village with his two horses. Running Deer raises her hands to the sky in joy and Buffalo Cow Head Woman screams at the thought of a “horse” for a son in law. But that’s half of how most son-in-law’s are described anyway.
Black Eagle is not happy as Morgan goes straight to Yellow Hand and asks to marry Running Deer. Yellow Hand gives Morgan a feather and brings Running Deer forward. Morgan offers the two horses. Running Deer makes the Sun sign. Yellow Hand refuses and shows the scars on his chest. Batise explains that Morgan must make a vow to the Sun.
Batise narrates as Morgan goes through the Sun ceremony. First, he has to stand for 24-hours. Then he goes to the council house while Running Deer gets naked in a sweat bath. In the council house, all the warriors are there and they go through the speeches. Morgan insults the crowd through his translator Batise. Morgan then cleans it up with good words. The Medicine Man (Iron Eyes Cody) thinks he is weak because he is white and will not pass the challenge. Ha! At least Harris can cry out of both eyes.
Morgan is given sage to hold on to. Yellow hand gives him a medicine bag. The Medicine Man cuts four slits in his chest by jabbing an eagle claw through the skin. He puts bones through the cuts and ropes are dropped from a roof opening. Morgan is lifted off the ground by his pectoral skin.
The pain causes him to have a vision of a white buffalo and Yellow Hand and his old self. The wind then blows his European clothes away and he runs towards Running Deer. In the vision, he tells Running Deer that he will leave if he gets the chance. Finally, he is cut down.
Buffalo Cow Head calls Running Deer outside and gives her the news. Morgan rests while he talks to Batise as the other celebrate. Black Eagle, who is not happy about the marriage, makes eyes at Yellow Hand’s wife, Thorn Rose. The bride is delivered to the tent as Black Eagle and Thorn Rose skulk off. Yellow Hand sees them together.
After seeing the pair together Yellow Hand takes a vow of bravery and becomes a contrary warrior and will soon die in battle. Buffalo Cow Head knows that with no son she will be turned out and die as well.
Morgan and Running Deer are enjoying their life while Yellow Hand becomes a more pitiful character. Running Deer announces she is pregnant. Morgan vows to take her with him when he escapes.
Those dang old Shoshone come sneaking up again trying to steal horses. Yellow Hand sees his ex, Thorn Rose, with Black Eagle again and is sad. The Shoshone raid is very large. Batise hears that village is being moved west.
The Shoshone kill the guards and fall on the village from all sides. They stampede the stolen horse through the village scattering the defenders. Yellow Hand and Morgan put up a good fight but Yellow Hand is finally killed. Morgan kills the raiding Chief, not one of the three chiefs watching on a hill, but the one that fights. Morgan sees another line of attackers outside the village and forms a defensive line of bowmen. It’s Agincourt all over. The French knights are unhorsed….I mean the Shoshone raiders are shot with arrows.
Buffalo Cow Head and Running Deer run back from their hiding place towards the now dead Yellow Hand. Batise celebrates that he will be free, just as he takes a lance to the back. One of the big chiefs on the hill sees Running Deer and he scoops her up on his horse. Morgan rides towards the chief and the chief drops the pregnant Running Deer to the ground. The two men fight it out and Morgan kills him with a knife.
Morgan makes it to Running Deer, but she is dying. Her mother Buffalo Cow Head chops off a finger. The village is devastated following the attack. Later that night Running Deer dies and Morgan is ready to leave.
In the following days, everyone mourns and buries their dead. Morgan slices his chest in mourning as the others have done. The Medicine Man now respects him. Morgan knows that if you look upon the face of a widow you must care for them for life. He then looks the old Buffalo Cow Head in the face as a vow to protect her and be her son.
Morgan stays with the tribe until Buffalo Cow Head dies a natural death from old age and grief. As the village moves to a new location, Morgan and about 20 warriors head for St. Louis and eventual England. But his heart is with the Sioux so there will be one or two sequels.
World-Famous Short Summary – When you have found it, don’t leave it or local Tarzan does a bad job
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Beware the moors