Film Review:The Last Frontier,
Anthony Mann, 1955

Jed: 'We never fished nor killed any more than we could eat. And we're not Blue Coats. Why are they taking it out on us?'
Gus: 'Civilization.'
Jed: 'Civilization?'
Gus: 'Civilization is creepin' up on us, lads. The Blue Coats aren't satisfied with gobblin' up all the lands east of the 'Sippi. No, they won't stop till they've pushed us over the Rockies and into the Pacific Ocean. It's a drownin' fate that awaits us all. These are calamitous times, Jed, calamitous times.'

The Last Frontier

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The Last Frontier, Anthony Mann, 1955

Victor Mature & his friends are trappers who can out Indian the Indians on occasions but not in the opening sequence where they are caught unexpectedly by 'Red Cloud' and relieved of their guns, horses and pelts. This is a surprise to the trappers because up till this point they have peacefully coexisted. But, as shown in the above dialogue, the Indians have been stirred up by the invading forces of the US Army.

The action takes place in Lakota country near the Black Hills. The cinematography is beautiful. The settings and issues are authentic. The film has great charm.

Robert Preston is the intransigent martinet commander, a very young Anne Bancroft, his wife, who has no time for him at all and who falls in love with Jed Cooper (Victor Mature). The commander, Colonel Frank Marston is sick in the head: he hates Indians and wants to kill them. He is determined to attack Red Cloud's camp. The problem with Victor Mature's acting is that he is camp. Too camp to be believable in his role as a seasoned trapper.

We know we are near the Indian camp because of the tom toms playing in the background. The history is confused because Mature tells us their tepees contain no women because they leave them at home when they go to war.True, but the War Party would not settle in one place long enough to bother with tepees but would sleep rough. It draws upon history: when the Colonel sees a small encampment as vulnerable, Mature points out to the Colonel that there are other camps in the vicinity. It was ignorance of this that led Custer into trouble and a hasty retreat at the Washita. It also led to his demise at the Little Big Horn.

The film is a strange mixture of the accuracy and the myth. The relationship between the trappers and their wilderness, has an accurate feel. Set against a typically beautiful backdrop by Mann, it is very atmospheric and believable. Yet the portrayal of the Indians is embarrassingly stereotypical and their amateur outfits look like they have been run up by mum in the manner of the tea cloth headwear worn by kids at the school nativity.

If these flaws did not grind too much one might see the film as recommended, but for me Mature and the Indians drag the film down to the level of watchable. However, I can readily see why others put this up there with Mann's other great films.

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Chris Smallbone February 2009
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