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The original plan for 1920 was to focus in on the unique and surprising cinema of Sweden, and write up something about Mauritz Stiller's slow-burning Erotikon. Alas, the DVD was delivered cracked. Oh well, that's the risk of receiving movies by mail. Though I'm kind of glad because The Last of the Mohicans inspired unexpected things to write about and I think I would have overlooked a visually imaginative movie otherwise.


Why? The most obvious (though by no means the only) answer has got to be: the cult of celebrity. Movie makers assume (and generally not wrongly) that audiences want to see familiar stars on the screen. There's a long tradition of white theatre actors making themselves up to play characters of other races, and indeed at one time it was practically required that an actor who wanted to demonstrate "range" do so. Whether or not such performances work in theatrical settings is a legitimate debate, but in cinema they're pretty much invariably a poor substitute for a non-white actor playing the part.


Interesting write-up. A guest writer discussed this film at length on our site in an essay called American Indians in Film


Brian - Thanks for adding your thoughts on the post. I agree. This film was a commercial venture and Tourneur and co. figured that its best chance of commercial success was to cast stars in the major Native American roles (though that still doesn't explain the extras). The result looks silly and ultimately blows our suspension of disbelief to the detriment of the viewing experience. As you write, actors portray all manner of different people because, well, they're actors I think they could have done a better job casting this flick. Incidentally, I find it almost impossible to think about Wallace Beery without also thinking about Barton Fink (1991).

Andrew - Thanks. I'll check out the article over at your site.


On a somewhat related note, I checked their reviews of Birth of a Nation (its original release and a 1920 revival), and there's no mention of the white actors in blackface. I wonder what it was about LOTM that made them single out the casting? Was it that Native American characters weren't as common in movies as black characters were, or that there was a longer tradition of whites in blackface than whites in, for lack of a better term, "redface", thus making it more acceptable to them?


I can't speak to the reviews of BOAN, but the Times review of Mohicans seems to be complaining that casting Beery and Roscoe in the leads marred an otherwise "extraordinary picture" because they didn't look like what the reviewer expected Hurons and Mohicans to look like and that ruined the authenticity of the presentation for him. I guess casting the actor best suited for the role might be the lesson there.


That screen capture of Hurons on the warpath is hilarious, even as it reflects a very sad appropriation of identity.


Have I complimented your writing skills lately, Michael? You write in one sentence ideas that I struggle through a whole paragraph to get across.


You struggle; we savor. Keep struggling!!

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