Apart from In the Land of the War Canoes (1914), and the closing scenes of Dead Man (1970), I could find no Hollywood movies with scenes of life among the Indians of today’s Oregon and Washington State. See Indigenous Canada, for the 1914 film, and Revisionist Westerns for the one from 1970.
The two films below, set along the California coast, deserve a passing mention in this section.
Island of the Blue Dolphins (1964)
Based on the 1960 young people’s novel by Scott O’Dell, this is the real-life story of “The Lone Woman of San Nicolas Island,” who was marooned on an island off the coast of California. She lives with her Shamish clan on the island until Russian seal hunters come and cause trouble. When it becomes necessary for the clan to evacuate the island, Karana leaps from the boat to save her younger brother, who has been left behind. They are marooned. Later the boy dies. She is rescued in 1853 after living alone for 18 years, and taken to the mission in Santa Barbara. In 2012, there were claims that the cave in which she lived had been located in the Channel Islands. This is a wholesome movie and pleasant to watch.
The Last of His Tribe (1992)
This is a made-for-TV movie (available on video), based on the book, Ishi: The Last of His Tribe by Theodora Kroeber. Jon Voight plays Dr. Kroeber, a rigid and repressed professor who becomes the guardian of Ishi. Anne Archer plays his sickly but gorgeous and confrontational wife. Ishi, already a mature man (Grahame Greene), is apprehended while stealing meat from a slaughterhouse in California of 1911. The opening print legend says, “In 1800 there were 300,000 Native Americans living in California; by 1900 only 20,000 remained.” Dr. Kroeber and his wife discover that Ishi is the last surviving member of the Yahi tribe. The others were methodically hunted down and killed by white men and dogs. As Ishi descends into painful memories, Kroeber comes to terms with his own repressions. His wife embodies an uncomfortable sexuality, and a medical doctor (David Ogden Stiers) adds a note of eros when he sends a prostitute to Ishi’s room. Though the Indian is mostly appalled by the ways of the white man, this treatment seems to agree with him. A low point for him comes when he happens into an autopsy room full of opened corpses. He runs off in anger and confusion and fares badly in the wider world. In the end, Ishi dies sadly of white man’s illness and Stiers performs an autopsy to the horror of Kroeber.
There was a 1978 TV film of Ishi’s story, which Wikipedia says was criticized for being too politically correct.
Southwest & Northwest Related Posts:
- Movies of the Pacific Northwest (U.S.)
- Movies of the Southwest
- John Ford’s Classic Westerns
- The Geronimo Movies