"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Seminole (UA, 1953)

No worse than many early 50s oaters and in some ways a bit better

In some ways this early 50s movie had class. It was directed by Budd Boetticher, for one thing, his third Western for Universal, and bits of the writing weren’t too bad (Charles K Peck Jr.). It was in glorious Technicolor and set in the Everglades. It had Lee Marvin as a hard-bitten army sergeant and Anthony Quinn as a Seminole chief. And Rock Hudson was by no means bad as a Westerner. He often wasn’t given the parts he deserved but he generally did a good job.
However, all in all it’s a bit of a clunker. Barbara Hale is pretty hopeless as Miss Muldoon, the trader in a low-cut blouse. She paddles her own canoe across a sound stage interior, and documentary stock footage of exotic alligators and colorful birds is unconvincingly intercut with these scenes. The mad major (Richard Carlson) leads his men deeper into the swamp and this part goes on too long. The picture bogs down as much as he does. It’s the 1830s although of course they have 1870s pistols.
Not very convincing
The rather hokey story has Rock, Sergeant Rutledge-like, at his court martial telling the judges what happened in one giant flashback lasting nearly all the movie. It’s a tale of the sage, noble Chief Osceola, really a white American, according to the movie, John Powell, (Quinn) lover of Barbara and rival of Rock. Hudson is a good guy who speaks Seminole and understands them. His boss is an incompetent and dishonorable swine who wants to wipe them out.
Colorful Quinn
In fact the Seminoles, who moved to Florida to escape the Europeans, had an even worse deal than many other Native American peoples as the government decided to move them to what became Oklahoma. Osceola was the Seminole leader and was also known as William (not John) Powell. He actually died in captivity at Fort Moultrie in South Carolina. But as usual, history has little to do with it in Western movies. That’s OK. History is not what they are for. Osceola was, however, in reality, treacherously captured under a flag of truce, as in the film.
Sgt. Lee
The ending is impossibly last-minute and unlikely.

It’s on a par with an earlier Florida/ Seminole picture Distant Drums (Warner Bros, 1951) or the later B-picture Seminole Uprising (Columbia, 1953), though this one is more pro-Seminole than the others. Worse Westerns were made, no doubt about that, but this is not really worth a DVD purchase, pards. Just watch it on a wet Saturday afternoon if it comes on TV. Interestingly, there was a 1906 silent, The Indian’s Revenge, or, Osceola, the Last of the Seminoles. I'd like to see that.


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