Chief Crazy Horse
R2 - United Kingdom - Simply Media
Review written by and copyright: Matthew Crossman (3rd June 2016).
The Film

The films opens with the statement "This is a true story photographed in the black hills of the Dakotas where it actually happened. It is the story of an American, a leader of his people. One of the great generals of all time Chief Crazy Horse of the Lakota Tribe". The story is narrated by Major Twist (John Lund) as he reminisces about the stories told to him by Chief Crazy Horse. We first meet the titular character as a young boy. He, along with most of his tribe, are in the wigwam of Chief Conquering Bear. The Chief has been attacked, and mortally wounded, by some white settlers. Just before he dies The Chief tells those gathered that one day one of those that are present will rise up against the white man and strike revenge. As he says these words he points and his finger seems to linger on the young Crazy Horse. The Chief passes and the crowd disperses and Crazy Horse wanders off alone. Atop a hill Crazy Horse has a vision about a great, brave noble warrior and what will become of him. His Father finds him on the hill and he passes this vision, this prophecy on to his Father. Many years later and Crazy Horse (Victor Mature) is attacked by a rival tribe. Crazy Horse easily manages to best them and as he does his Brother, Spotted Tail (Robert Warwick), and his cousin Little Big Man (Ray Danton) arrive. Little Big Man is disparaging of Crazy Horse but mainly because they are both in love with the same woman, the Chief's Daughter Black Shawl (Suzan Ball). It is Black Shawl that comes across a white man, Major Twist, badly wounded with an arrow in his back and helps him, with the aide of Crazy Horse, back to their reservation. The arrow is removed and Black Shawl helps Twist in his recovery. The day in which a warrior will be chosen to marry Black Shawl comes and the intended warriors line up with their presents for the Chief in the hope that it will sway his decision. Initially Crazy Horse, much to the dismay of Black Shawl, is overlooked and dismissed as a possible Husband and the decision is made by the Chief that Black Shawl's mate will be Little Big Man. However, Major Twist arrives and adds some of his possessions to Crazy Horse's offering and the Chief changes his mind and declares that Crazy Horse will be married to Black Shawl. This infuriates Little Big Man who makes some scathing remarks about the couple. Crazy Horse and Little Big Man fight and Crazy Horse wins but spares the life of Little Big Man. The Chief decides that Little Big Man should leave the reservation and never come back. Twist then leaves for Laramie and feels Little Big Man watching him every step of the way. Little Big Man arrives at Laramie and trades some beaver pelts for a rifle. Back at the reservation is becomes clear that the white man is making incursions into Lakota territory, mainly because of the proliferation of gold on that land. Whilst most of the tribe seem willing to accept this Crazy Horse remembers Conquering Bear's words and his own vision and starts to fight back against the incursions. Things build up and come to ahead at Little Big Horn where Crazy Horse will come up against a certain General Custer and his cousin Little Big Man.

Told almost entirely from the perspective of the native Indians, although narrated, at times, by Major Twist, 'Chief Crazy Horse' is very nearly a Disney-esque view of the Indians. With the exception of the mention of scalpings the native Indians here are portrayed as a noble, but ultimately stupid, people. As the say goes 'History is written by the victors'. Whilst it's a nice change of pace to see the view point of the native Indians this view point is severely hampered by having white actors play them. Victor Mature struts around, chest puffed out and nostrils flaring with a grim look of determination upon his face at all times. He looks to be the victim of a bad spray tan and whilst this sort of imagery probably would not have raised many eyebrows when the film was originally released in 1955 today it looks rather ridiculous. Worse still is Suzan Ball who could not look less like a native Indian if she tried. Ray Danton, playing Little Big Man comes across slightly better but not by much. Much is made of the film being filmed in the Dakotas and certainly it gives the finished movie a nice outdoorsy feel but woefully little is done to highlight the spectacular vistas of that area. In fact, early on, the sweeping plains are presented as a matte painting instead and one feels this was a lost opportunity. The portrayal of Laramie is nicely done and looks reasonably authentic this my untrained, and uneducated in these matters, eye. There is a quasi religious tone permeating the film throughout based on the vision and prophecy that Crazy Horse received but one feels this is done simply to make the titular character more enigmatic and, to be frank, thanks to Victor Mature's performance, it's probably warranted. Anyone with even a basic grasp of history in America will know how the film finishes and I would have hoped that Director George Sherman would have tried to wring some suspense out of the rather dismal script but sadly we just plod along with the inevitable conclusion. Sadly poor casting, insipid direction and a lazy script scupper 'Chief Crazy Horse' before it's even twenty minutes old.

Video

The DVD from Simply Media presents the film in it's original Cinemascope ratio of 2.55:1. The disc is anamorphic but this still means quite large black bars. However, this is much preferable to having the film displayed in a zoomed mode. The picture quality itself is a mixed bag. The colours are fairly muted in places, especially long shots. Close up and medium range shots fair somewhat better in terms of colour and sharpness. It appears that there is some stock footage used in the film. I'm presuming at this stage as I have not seen the film before, but there are short scenes of this footage that fares much worse than the rest of the movie. Stock footage aside there are instances of stray hairs on the projected image along with the usual scratches and dirt. No restoration, as you can tell, has taken place of this title and whilst the above paints a pretty poor picture the image is not that bad just not very good.

Audio

The soundtrack to the film is presented in it's original stereo track. This fares somewhat better than the picture but it's still relatively basic but pretty much what would have been heard upon the film's original release in 1955. Dialogue is clear through and the music score, a pretty standard score for a western of this era, by Frank Skinner is sweeping but without any real depth. Perfectly acceptable. There are no subtitles of any kind available on this disc.

Extras

None.

Overall

What could have been an interesting film based on a fascinating character turns out to be rather staid and formulaic. Victor Mature is badly miscast and simply scowls his way through the film and the rest of the cast follow his lead. Much is made of the location of the film but in truth the Director does not make the most of it. Scenes set on the reservation could have just have easily been filmed in any grassy park land and this was quite disappointing. The film is not a complete disappointment with some scenes, most notably at Laramie looking quite authentic and these remain the most interesting parts of the movie. For lovers of the Western genre only I suspect.

The Film: C- Video: C+ Audio: B- Extras: F Overall: C-

 


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