CineFile – The Last of the Mochicans

by A. Jay Adler on January 15, 2012
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From my recent Geronimo post, we’ve had a brief discussion in the comments section about John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee at the time the Great Removal (in contemporary terminology, “ethnic cleansing), or Trail of Tears, and Andrew Jackson, and who should really be on the $20 bill. One of the actors in the segment of We Shall Remain that told the Cherokee story, it was noted, is Wes Studi. Studi actually is Cherokee, though he has played Indians of varied tribes, including in the fierce performance that made his reputation, the Huron Indian Magua in Michael Mann‘s The Last of the Mohicans.

Mohicans is one of Hollywood’s most finely accomplished adventure stories, a film of refined aesthetic vision coupled with invigorating popular appeal. It is one of the most kinetic films ever made. It achieves its energy not with the now standard quick cuts and explosions but with nearly non-stop movement. This last scene represents most of of what the film is – a depiction of almost ceaseless flight and pursuit. Along the way, the film very naturally, with no didactic intent, captures the historic reality: a continent warred over, during the French and Indian War, by foreign powers, the colonials already emerging as a distinct community and culture, and the native peoples ensnared in a contest for power in which they surely would be among the losers. The stunning landscape that forms the backdrop for all the action offers a vision of the magnificent continent at stake. Click on widescreen. Turn up the sound.

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Rob January 15, 2012 at 7:58 pm

That scene is one of my all-time favorites. Almost as good as the lead in to, and gunfight between, Alan Ladd and Jack Palance in Shane.

Interestingly enough, in Last of the Mohicans, they substituted North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains for New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Mind you, there’s a plethora of stunning landscapes left in the Adirondacks (where Fort William Henry was), but unfortunately, that locale, located in what is now Lake George Village, is the epitome of the American tourist trap.

Fort William Henry was reconstructed in the 1950′s where it currently defends Lake George Village from any semblance of good taste. The area is overrun by cheesy motels, all-you-can-eat breakfast places, a Hawaiian-themed resort, go-kart tracks, arcades, and more mini-golf courses than you can shake a long rifle at.

(Disclaimer: my family has been vacationing for about 35 years at a beautiful lake near Lake George. That’s why I’m so familiar)

Still, there are a few spots left where one can touch history. During the French-Indian War, Col. Ephraim Williams was killed during an ambush a few miles south of Lake George Village. I’ve been to the ambush spot where he died, and the one where he was buried, many times.

He was shot while standing on top of a boulder leading his troops and Indian alllies against the French and their Indian allies. He had Mohawks on his side, the French had Mohawks on their side (it would have been a massacre had the French Mohawks not fired some warning shots to warn their cousins on the English side of the ambush).

That boulder remains in a somewhat wooded area with an obelisk on top. The original gravesite is nearby. It consists of his fading initials — E.W. 1755 — crudely carved into the stone of a smaller boulder. And ironically enough, it’s located about 50 feet from the Northway, the major highway connecting Albany to Montreal.

I always think that if he could have seen what was to be done to the area for which he’d died, he’d have gotten on the first Greyhound back to Massachusetts.

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