The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976)

PG | 129 mins | Western | 1976

Director:

Irvin Kershner

Writer:

Jack DeWitt

Producer:

Terry Morse, Jr.

Cinematographer:

Owen Roizman

Editor:

Michael Kahn

Production Designer:

Stewart Campbell
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HISTORY

The film opens with the written prologue, “In 1821, English aristocrat Lord John Morgan, while on a hunting expedition in the Dakota Territory of the American Wilderness, was captured and enslaved by the Yellow Hands, a branch of the Sioux Nation. He was given the name, Shunkawakan, which means ‘Horse.’ He showed such bravery in battle that he was freed and adopted as a member of the tribe. For five years, the man called Horse lived as a Yellow Hand and found fulfillment in their tribal and spiritual life. The Yellow Hand village in the Dakota Territory, three years after Lord Morgan returned to England…”
       The film concludes with the written epilogue, “John Morgan remained a member of the Yellow Hand tribe until his death in 1854. The story of a Man Called Horse is woven into the tapestry of Sioux legend and he continues to be honored as a noble enemy by the Blackfoot, Crow and Shoshone.” As stated in the end credits: “Buffalo sequences filmed at Custer State Park, South Dakota.”
       A news item in the 27 Sep 1975 DV reported that executive producer Sandy Howard, who was scheduled to begin filming The Return of a Man Called Horse, hoped to include veteran actress Luise Rainer in the cast. While a 14 Oct 1975 DV news item stated that principal photography was set to begin 20 Oct 1975 in SD, the 20 Oct 1975 HR announced that filming was underway in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and on the Islas Marias (“Tres Marias”), off the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. On 27 Oct 1975, ... More Less

The film opens with the written prologue, “In 1821, English aristocrat Lord John Morgan, while on a hunting expedition in the Dakota Territory of the American Wilderness, was captured and enslaved by the Yellow Hands, a branch of the Sioux Nation. He was given the name, Shunkawakan, which means ‘Horse.’ He showed such bravery in battle that he was freed and adopted as a member of the tribe. For five years, the man called Horse lived as a Yellow Hand and found fulfillment in their tribal and spiritual life. The Yellow Hand village in the Dakota Territory, three years after Lord Morgan returned to England…”
       The film concludes with the written epilogue, “John Morgan remained a member of the Yellow Hand tribe until his death in 1854. The story of a Man Called Horse is woven into the tapestry of Sioux legend and he continues to be honored as a noble enemy by the Blackfoot, Crow and Shoshone.” As stated in the end credits: “Buffalo sequences filmed at Custer State Park, South Dakota.”
       A news item in the 27 Sep 1975 DV reported that executive producer Sandy Howard, who was scheduled to begin filming The Return of a Man Called Horse, hoped to include veteran actress Luise Rainer in the cast. While a 14 Oct 1975 DV news item stated that principal photography was set to begin 20 Oct 1975 in SD, the 20 Oct 1975 HR announced that filming was underway in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and on the Islas Marias (“Tres Marias”), off the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. On 27 Oct 1975, Box stated that the film was currently being shot in Tucson, AZ, and would later move to Nogales, Mexico. The 10 Nov 1975 Box announced the production’s move to Mexico City, Mexico, for a “second phase of location filming,” and noted that principal photography indeed began in SD. The 1 Aug 1976 LAT review included England as a location. In an 18 Jan 1976 LAT article, Howard explained that the Mexican terrain resembles that of South Dakota, but has a more temperate climate. He also preferred using Mexican actors in the Sioux and Rickaree roles, as he believed, “they give more emotion on the screen than American Indians do.” The article estimated the film’s budget at $4 million.
       Reviews for The Return of a Man Called Horse were mixed. While the film received various positive notices, all mentioned the reprise of the “Sun Vow” ritual from A Man Called Horse (1970, see entry), which involved suspending the participants from their pierced pectorals. The 28 Jul 1976 DV and HR reviews considered it to be excessive and gory, as did the negative reviews. An article in the 5 Jan 1977 Var further criticized the film for its scarcity of Native American actors in the cast, and for portraying a Sioux tribe that requires the assistance of a white man to defend itself, despite the many brilliant Native American military strategists in the historical record.
       According to the 27 Oct 1975 LAT, The Return of a Man Called Horse gave actress Gale Sondergaard “her first major film role” after she was blacklisted for refusing to testify before the U.S. House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1951. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
27 Oct 1975.
---
Box Office
10 Nov 1975.
---
Cue
7 Aug 1976.
---
Daily Variety
27 Sep 1975.
---
Daily Variety
14 Oct 1975.
---
Daily Variety
28 Jul 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Oct 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jul 1976
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
27 Oct 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Jan 1976
Calendar, p. 1, 26-28, 30.
Los Angeles Times
1 Aug 1976
p. 38.
New Times
3 Sep 1976.
---
New York
23 Aug 1976.
---
New York Times
29 Jun 1976
p. 19.
New Yorker
16 Aug 1976.
---
Saturday Review
18 Sep 1976.
---
Time
13 Sep 1976.
---
Variety
28 Jul 1976
p. 18.
Variety
5 Jan 1977.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXTS
A Sandy Howard/Richard Harris production
An Irvin Kershner film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Unit prod mgr
Unit prod mgr
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Exec prod
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Addl cine/Cam op
Addl cine
1st cam asst
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Film ed
Asst ed
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
Prop master
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost des
Ward supv
SOUND
Sd mixer
Rerec mixer
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Titles and opticals
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Spec makeup
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Prod co-ord
Scr supv
Unit pub
Loc mgr
Cinemobile tech
Loc by
STAND INS
Stunt co-ord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based upon a character from A Man Called Horse by Dorothy M. Johnson.
DETAILS
Release Date:
1976
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 4 August 1976
Production Date:
began late October 1975
Copyright Claimant:
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc.
Copyright Date:
26 July 1976
Copyright Number:
LP46641
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Color by DeLuxe
Widescreen/ratio
Filmed in Panavision
Duration(in mins):
129
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1820s Dakota Territory, the Yellow Hand Sioux are attacked by the Rickaree tribe, led by white fur trapper Tom Gryce. Most of the Yellow Hand warriors are killed, along with several women and children. The surviving horses and young women are taken to a white settlement, led by Zenas Moore, who now claims ownership of all Yellow Hand lands by right of discovery. Using whiskey as payment, Zenas buys the Yellow Hand women and hires the Rickaree to protect the settlement from all invaders, including Canada’s Hudson Bay Company. The remaining Yellow Hands, consisting mostly of the very young and the very old, take refuge in the caves of the Badlands. In England, Lord John Morgan is unable to tolerate the staid life of the British aristocracy. He leaves behind his fiancée and his manor house to spend a year among the Yellow Hands, his adopted tribe. Upon reaching his destination, John calls to the Yellow Hands in their language, but gets no response. He finds the abandoned Yellow Hand burial grounds and notices a newly constructed fort in the distance. John assumes the persona of a naïve aristocrat and enters the fort to the jeers of fur trappers. Gryce appears with Moon Star, his Yellow Hand mistress, and attempts to burn her with a branding iron. John strikes him down with an umbrella, then identifies himself as McCrory, Seventh Duke of Kildare, commissioned by King William IV to survey the lands west of the Missouri River. As he leaves the fort, John sees Gryce shoot Moon Star in the back, but feigns indifference. Zenas suspects ... +


In 1820s Dakota Territory, the Yellow Hand Sioux are attacked by the Rickaree tribe, led by white fur trapper Tom Gryce. Most of the Yellow Hand warriors are killed, along with several women and children. The surviving horses and young women are taken to a white settlement, led by Zenas Moore, who now claims ownership of all Yellow Hand lands by right of discovery. Using whiskey as payment, Zenas buys the Yellow Hand women and hires the Rickaree to protect the settlement from all invaders, including Canada’s Hudson Bay Company. The remaining Yellow Hands, consisting mostly of the very young and the very old, take refuge in the caves of the Badlands. In England, Lord John Morgan is unable to tolerate the staid life of the British aristocracy. He leaves behind his fiancée and his manor house to spend a year among the Yellow Hands, his adopted tribe. Upon reaching his destination, John calls to the Yellow Hands in their language, but gets no response. He finds the abandoned Yellow Hand burial grounds and notices a newly constructed fort in the distance. John assumes the persona of a naïve aristocrat and enters the fort to the jeers of fur trappers. Gryce appears with Moon Star, his Yellow Hand mistress, and attempts to burn her with a branding iron. John strikes him down with an umbrella, then identifies himself as McCrory, Seventh Duke of Kildare, commissioned by King William IV to survey the lands west of the Missouri River. As he leaves the fort, John sees Gryce shoot Moon Star in the back, but feigns indifference. Zenas suspects John of being a spy for the Hudson Bay Company and orders Gryce to follow him. Aware that he is being followed, John traps Gryce and threatens to burn the trapper alive unless he divulges the fate of the Yellow Hands. After Gryce complies, John releases him, then admits that he knew Moon Star several years earlier when he lived among her tribe. Gryce assures John that he will not live to see the Yellow Hands again, before John kills him in an exchange of gunfire. As he approaches the Badlands, John encounters Elk Woman, an elderly Yellow Hand, who announces his return to her compatriots. John brings them gifts, including clothing, food and guns. Raven, the shaman, is happy to see John as well, but advises the Englishman that his doomed tribe has nothing left to offer. On Raven’s command, the gifts are gathered and carried to the top of a hill, where he prays over them. That night, Elk Woman explains that her tribe’s only hope is to wait for the Evil Spirit to depart. Early the next morning, when John finds the gifts missing, Raven claims that they have been taken by the Evil Spirit and ignores John’s demands to know where they are hidden. John appeals to the Yellow Hands, particularly Elk Woman, to locate the guns, because the tribe’s survival depends on them. When he begs her to help him reinvigorate her people, Elk Woman advises John to undergo four days of purification and suffering, which will bring about his rebirth. John begins the ritual in a sweat lodge, where he envisions himself as an elderly man, showing his younger self the center of the universe on a snow-covered Dakota plain. John then undergoes the Sun Vow ritual wherein his pectorals are pierced with bones, then tethered to a pole. He is joined by a young boy named Thin Dog, along with several other youths. The ritual continues into the night but is interrupted by a thunderstorm. While many of the tribe run for cover, John and Thin Dog continue until their tethers break, completing the ritual. On a hilltop overlooking the camp, John sees Raven gouging out his own eyes and runs to his aid, telling the shaman that the tribe has suffered enough. Later, a small band of Rickaree watch from a distance as John and the Yellow Hands embark on a buffalo hunt. The Rickaree surround a group of women as they butcher a dead animal, but Thin Dog and John come to the women’s defense. Now armed with guns, the Yellow Hands quickly defeat the Rickaree and capture Running Bull, the lone survivor. The Yellow Hands feast on buffalo meat while Running Bull, who is tied to a stake, is taunted by the children. Elk Woman declares her readiness to win back her tribe’s sacred lands, but John believes the tribe has too few warriors to be effective. John and Yellow Hand Chief Lame Wolf meet with Rickaree Chief Red Cloud to form an alliance against the white trappers. When Red Cloud calls the white men “brothers,” John warns them that the trappers intend to strip the land and claim it as property. Unable to grasp the concept of land ownership, Red Cloud dismisses John’s warning and facetiously suggests that the Yellow Hands recruit their women as warriors. Upon his return to the Badlands, John releases Running Bull, who later returns with a raiding party of Rickaree. Anticipating the attack, John acts as a decoy and leads the raiders into an ambush. The victorious Yellow Hands gather the Rickaree guns and prepare for an assault on the fort. Using gunpowder acquired with the help of Gray Thorn, Zenas’s Yellow Hand mistress, John fashions bombs from hollowed logs filled with pebbles. Shortly before the Yellow Hands descend on the fort, Gray Thorn seduces Zenas, then stabs him in the shoulder. He kills her with his sword, but the attack is already underway, and the fort is quickly overrun with Yellow Hands of both genders, who are armed with guns, explosives and bolas. Zenas is ultimately trapped in the watchtower above the munitions shack, where he shouts to John, “You don’t fool me, you want it all for yourself!” John fires a single shot into the shack and Zenas is killed in the resulting explosion. As the Yellow Hands celebrate their victory, Lame Wolf is murdered by Running Bull, who is in turn killed by Thin Dog. Lame Wolf’s son, Standing Bear, becomes the chief, and John remains with the Yellow Hands until his death in 1854. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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