Classic: The 1936 ‘The Last of the Mohicans’

The Last of the Mohicans (Hen’s Tooth), the 1936 version of James Fenimore Cooper’s adventure, stars Randolph Scott stars as trapper and frontiersman Hawkeye. As in the novel, the Caucasian Hawkeye travels with Chingahook, the last chief of the Mohican tribe, and Uncas, Chingahook’s son, and refuses to join the war against the French but becomes involved when he rescues a British officer and two British women from an ambush.

Philip Dunne’s screenplay takes some defining liberties with the novel that were picked up in subsequent versions, notably a romance between Hawkeye and Alice (Binnie Barnes), daughter of a British colonel fighting on the frontier, to take focus from romance between Uncas and Cora, Alice’s younger sister, in Cooper’s story (preserved in the 1920 silent version). But it is an exciting and involving effective screen version, with Scott as a strong-willed but civilized Hawkeye and Henry Wilcoxon playing a British officer with humility and honor, and some impressive outdoor footage amidst stage-bound scenes in studio forests. It also looks forward to John Ford’s “Drums Along the Mohawk” in its portrait of the French-Indian War and the various tribes aligning with one European side or another, and Michael Mann credits this script as a source for his 1992 adaptation with Daniel Day-Lewis. This is clearly a product of its era, with white actors playing the Native Americans under make-up, but it presents the tribes with a sense of dignity and, for all the nation-building patriotism of the ending, offers an interesting take on the real birth of the nation.

While this is not a restored print, it is mastered from a 35mm print and looks just fine, with some wear and print damage, and it is superior to previous DVD releases. No supplements.

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Michael Mann’s Last of the Mohicans on TCM

Michael Mann’s 1992 film of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans plays on Turner Classic Movies this month. I wrote about it for the TCM website.

Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye

James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel, The Last of the Mohicans, a frontier adventure set in the Adirondacks in 1757, was one of the most popular books of its day. A century later, it remained a popular tale with Hollywood, first turned into a film in 1911 and remade in numerous incarnations for both the big screen and the small screen. Michael Mann’s 1992 film version is as much based on the 1936 version scripted by Philip Dunne and starring Randolph Scott as Hawkeye, the white man adopted and raised by a Mohican father, as it is on Cooper’s original novel, but it’s also reflective of its director and its time. Daniel Day Lewis plays a different kind of Hawkeye: rugged and wild with long flowing hair, a proto-counter culture son of mother nature in buckskin, living off the land with his father Chingachgook (Russell Means) and brother Uncas (Eric Schweig). They live in harmony with the white settlers of the wilderness, men and families who have left the transplanted European society of the cities to carve out lives of independence. But while they have distanced themselves from the European struggles for power and control, the war comes to them as the French and the British both lay claim to the lands of the New World.

Read the complete feature here. The Last of the Mohicans plays on TCM on Tuesday, May 11, and is available on DVD. A Blu-ray edition has been announced for later in 2010.