Notes on “The Last of the Mohicans”

Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:

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This 1936 adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s frontier classic was directed by George B. Seitz, a veteran of the silent serials, and in its simplicity and rat-a-tat pacing it’s likely to appeal most to young boys and unapologetic philistines. Judged on its own terms — the terms of the B adventure film — the movie is quite successful. The characterizations are pithy and colorful, and the editorial sharpness and graphic intensity of the big action set-pieces redeem their basic modesty. (Here Seitz, or perhaps his technicians, seems to draw inspiration from the Soviets.) As Hawkeye, the rifle-bearing woodsman whose sympathies are more Indian than white, Randolph Scott projects a courtliness that shines through his rustic accoutrements; no one has ever looked so gallant with a dead raccoon on his head. Though in adapting the novel Seitz and screenwriter Philip Dunne emphasize its movement and incident over its romanticism, it’s clear that filmmaker Michael Mann’s 1992 take on the material — a romantic juggernaut — is based largely on their example; several of the later film’s best lines and moments are lifted directly from its ‘30s predecessor. Despite the movie’s pleasures, the love story is weak, and it’s more than a little disappointing that it ends with Hawkeye — that embodiment of American self-reliance — enlisting happily in the British Army. Seitz has the good sense to end the picture before he trades his buckskins for a redcoat.

About Fabrizio del Wrongo

Recovering liberal arts major. Unrepentant movie nut. Aspiring boozehound.
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6 Responses to Notes on “The Last of the Mohicans”

  1. Faze says:

    You’ll notice that the grappling pair in the upper left hand corner of the poster are copied directly from one of N.C. Wyeth’s masterful illustrations for “The Last of the Mohicans”.

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  2. peterike says:

    FYI, this film is on Amazon Prime, as is the 1920 silent version. Amazon is really good at having tons of old, forgotten films.

    I am a big fan of Cooper, and have read well beyond the Leatherstocking Tales. He is underrated, which is no surprise as the contemporary mindset is offended by just about everything about him, not the least of which are his frequent, narrative interrupting tirades against the politicos of his day, who seem just like ours. He was already predicting political doom for the American experiment back in the 1830s.

    As for the love story, he is always at his worst with females and romance. He was the original American white knight, putting all his women on pedestals. On the other hand, it’s refreshing to see heroines that are noble, virginal and ready to submit to a good man, so soon as he should prove worthy. Poor Miles Wallingford goes through two full novels waiting for the incomparable Lucy Hardinge, who despite being madly in love with him won’t have him until he accepts Jesus into his heart. Spoiler alert: he does.

    Despite the clunky romance and moralizing, the action is always robust, the historical aspects vivid, the observations often keen. And if you like this sort of thing, there are lots of novels to be had, most of them available free for Kindle. And their range of subjects is amazing. What’s difficult, if not impossible, is finding a printed volume of the obscure works with any kind of decent critical apparatus. But so it goes.

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    • Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

      Good to know they’re on Amazon. This version is notoriously pretty hard to see (or was), and I remember liking the Tourneur version quite a bit.

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      • peterike says:

        I watched it last night and it was decently entertaining, for sure. My biggest problem with films of that era is the picture quality is often poor, as it was with this. In these days of hyper-crisp television, it’s jarring to see something that’s fuzzy and has a hiss to the soundtrack. But oh well!

        And while I have no problem with the cheesy sets of the films of that era, I was annoyed by the fact that it was obviously filmed out west, likely in California. I’m very familiar with the mountains where those stories are set, and they look nothing like what’s in the film. But you can’t have everything.

        The two actresses playing the sisters are fine eye candy, and the final fight between Magua and Chingachgook is nicely done. Of course all the actors are white guys.

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  3. So Madeleine Stowe doesn’t appear in this version? Drat.

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