Tippecanoe and this Bullsh*t Too. Sony Picture's Choice Collection line of hard-to-find cult and library titles has released Brave Warrior, the 1952 "Mid-Western" from Columbia's B-unit, produced by legendary schlockmeister Sam Katzman, and starring Jon Hall, Christine Larsen, Jay Silverheels, Michael Ansara, Harry Cording, James Seay, and Rory Mallinson. Forget that Brave Warrior turns history ass over end and portrays famed Indian leader resistance Tecumseh as pro-White, this minor B's biggest sin is one that no exploiter should commit: it's dreary. No extras for this decent fullscreen transfer.
America. The lead-up to the War of 1812. The Indiana Territory. According to Hollywood screenwriter Robert E. Kent, charismatic Native American leader Tecumseh (Jay Silverheels) was actually an avid admirer of White civilization. Having grown up in the Indiana Territory with Indian agent Steve Ruddell (Jon Hall) and pretty settler Laura MacGregor (Christine Larson), this cinematic Tecumseh understands that White civilization, with its orderly roads, farms, schools, and churches, is ultimately the way to go for his people...even if he also fully well knows that White civilization will in no way allow him to marry beloved Laura. Threats to Tecumseh's assimilation efforts comes from first the Canadian-based British, who are hiring rogue elements to scotch land pay-offs between the Americans and the Shawnee (causing the Shawnee to think the Americans are welshing on their debts), and second from his crazy brother, The Prophet (Michael Ansara), who preaches hatred and violence against the encroaching settlers. In Vincennes, Governor William Henry Harrison (James Seay) tells Tecumseh that the U.S. government only wants peace with the Shawnee, but behind his back, he sends agent Steve Ruddell out to see if the Indians are parlaying with the war-mongering British. Reunited with his childhood friends, Tecumseh dreams of building a civilized city, Tippecanoe, that will show his people that Whites and Indians can live peacefully together--a feat that will impress everyone into accepting his marriage to Laura. However, Laura's father, Shayne MacGregor (Harry Cording), is working with British spy General Proctor (Leslie Denison) to tip-off The Prophet, who waits silently to destroy Tippecanoe.
Anyone who has read a few of my reviews knows that I don't give a hoot in hell if a Hollywood biopic or historical picture deviates from the facts at hand--a wavery benchmark, anyway, since historical "facts," through on-going, dedicated
juggling research, are always subject to new interpretations (see: "Benghazi"). Despite critics and writers who wail about historical movie inaccuracies and how they're going to misinform gullible ticket buyers, most American moviegoers are smart enough to take movies for exactly what they are--entertainment and that's it--while simultaneously being completely uninterested, by and large, in the subject of our nation's history (if you history lovers balk at that statement, go out on the street and ask the first 100 people you meet to tell you about The War of 1812...and then send me all the responses on a 3 x 5 postcard--don't worry: you'll have room). Having grown up in a small Midwestern town that actually hosted a significant battle of that particular war, I and my classmates early-on were thoroughly schooled in the various intricacies of that lesser-known U.S. engagement (today, thanks to Common Core, little Johnny gets an "A" for "The War of 1813" as long as he explains his "thought process"). So when Brave Warrior tries to flip history ass over tea kettle and say that not only did Tecumseh fight on the side of the American government against the British, but that he revered White culture, it doesn't faze me a bit: that's what Hollywood did back then--especially when it wanted to reframe then-current race relations in America in a ridiculously positive light--while most viewers couldn't have cared less about the historical facts, anyway.
I'm not expecting a history lecture from Brave Warrior, just a lively little B with frequent action to cover up the thin spots. Unfortunately, despite a dependable crew in front of and behind the cameras, Brave Warrior doesn't deliver: way too much cliched talk only serves to shove the movie's inaccuracies in our faces, while the action is paltry and unpersuasive. Katzman company screenwriter Robert E. Kent (Rock Around the Clock, Don't Knock the Rock, Twist Around the Clock, Don't Knock the Twist) bogs down the movie's midsection with a ridiculous, fabricated love triangle that even famed "King of the Serials" director Spencer Gordon Bennet can't make heads or tails out of (when Tecumseh first hints that he loves Laura, Bennet directs Christine Larson to both encourage and reject his advances, to our confusion). Bennet (his other movies in 1952 were King of the Congo, Blackhawk: Fearless Champion of Freedom, Son of Geronimo: Apache Avenger, and Voodoo Tiger), a dependable hack who could crank out actioners like Brave Warrior in his sleep, has a moment or two here that fools you into thinking you're watching a vigorous meat-and-potatoes exploiter (Silverheels' and Ansara's knife fight), before you're back to more silly yakking that explains and explains and overexplains conventional melodramatic situations in which the average moviegoer is already exhaustedly versed. That cast should be game, I suppose...but they come off highly mismatched (once-beautiful Hall looks seedy; Larson simpers rather than acts; and Silverheels equates "heroic" with "potted plant"), while the allowably skimpy production isn't exactly a great help, either (Katzman just lifts a major action scene from The Man From Colorado for the climax here). So...necessarily setting the history aside, Brave Warrior misses on action and acting, scripting and scenery (boy does Indiana have a lot of desert-y mountain ranges!). What, then, is left for a B-actioner? Not much.
The fullscreen, 1.37:1 transfer for Brave Warrior doesn't come close to rendering the saturation levels of its original Technicolor glory...but it's not a bad approximation considering the insignificance of this cheapjack title. Color is muddy, at times, with registration shimmer here and there, while the image is sharpish. Scratches and other anomalies are present but not too distracting.
The Dolby Digital English split mono audio is re-recorded on the low side, with moderate hiss. No subtitles or closed-captions.
No extras for Brave Warrior.
Kiddie "Mid-Western" that fails to deliver the goods. Yes, having a cinematic Tecumseh that celebrates and promotes White civilization is pretty silly. But honestly, 9 out of 10 viewers won't be able to give you even the players of The War of 1812, and this is just a movie, so...so what? Read a history book if you want the facts. Where Brave Warrior screws up is not in its fabricated story, but in its surprisingly inept rendering of cinch B-movie conventions: no action and boring talk equals a "pass" for any B. Skip Brave Warrior.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.