The Last of the Mohicans (1920)



(directors: Maurice Tourneur/Clarence Brown; screenwriters: Robert Dillon/from the novel by James Fenimore Cooper; cinematographers: Charles Van Enger/Philip R. Dubois; music: Arthur Kaye/R.J. Miller; cast: Wallace Berry (Magua), Albert Roscoe (Uncas), Henry Woodward (Major Heyward), Lillian Hall (Alice Munro), Barbara Bedford (Cora Munro), Harry Lorraine (Hawkeye, a scout), Tod Lorch (Chingachgook), James Gordon (Col. Munro), George Hackathorne (Captain Randolph), Nelson McDowell (Preacher David Gamut); Runtime: 76; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Maurice Tourneur; Milestone Films; 1920-silent)

This 1920 silent is the most faithful of the other American adaptations.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This 1920 silent is the most faithful of the other American adaptations (1932, 1936 & 1990) of the novel by James Fenimore Cooper. The historical drama left the whites of New England hateful of the Indians for slaughtering a British fort that had women and children, and it influenced the savage way Hollywood treated Indians until that changed in modern times. It’s written by Robert Dillon and codirected by Maurice Tourneur and Clarence Brown, as Brown took over when Tourneur became too incapacitated during the shoot to finish.

In the summer of 1757, during the French and Indian War, at Fort Edward, along the Hudson River, the teenager Cora (Barbara Bedford) and her younger sister Alice (Lillian Hall), the cultured daughters of the British Colonel Munro (James Gordon), the commander of the nearby Fort William Henry,are entertaining the troops with harp music and dance. The womanizing Captain Randolph (George Hackathorne) has his eyes on Cora, but she shows little interest in him.Uncas (Albert Roscoe), a friendly to the palefaces Mohican, the titled character, brings word that the French under Montcalm, in league with the Indians, is mounting an attack on Fort Edward. The fort is abandoned and the Munro sisters are guided back to Fort Henry by the Huron runner called Magua (Wallace Beery). En route, through an Indian short-cut, they meet Uncas (Albert Roscoe), his father Chingachgook (Tod Lorch) and the white scout Hawkeye (Harry Lorraine). Fearing the worst, after Magua abandons them, they hide in a cave at Glenns Falls. But are soon hunted down by Magua and his Huron friends. After the girls are captured and Magua wants to make Cora his squaw and threatens to kill Alice if not obeyed, Uncas frees the girls and they return to Fort Henry. With Montcalm planning to attack Fort Henry, the cowardly traitor Capt. Randolph, his ego hurt that Cora rebuffed him and that she makes eyes on the “savage” Uncas, reports to Montcalm that the guns on the left rampart at his fort are useless. This causes Munro to surrender to the French, who give their word that the women and children won’t be harmed. But that evening the whites sell liquor to the Hurons and Magua instigates the drunken warriors to go against their chiefs and attack the ones at the fort who surrendered. It results in a massacre. Magua takes Cora and Alice as prisoners, and hopes to have Cora as his squaw. But while Magua stops off at the friendly Delaware camp with the girls, Uncas also goes there and pleads his case for the evil Magua to let the girls go. The Delaware chief decides to let Cora free, but allows Magua to take Alice as his squaw. The hysterical Cora gets Magua to let her take her sister’s place, while according to the Delaware command it is not until the next dawn can Uncas try and free the captive. Which he tries to do atop a cliff, but is too late as Magua causes Cora to fall off the cliff and then kills Uncas in a knife fight. Hawkeye then brings Magua down with his shotgun.

It’s an exciting tale, pointing out that there are good Indians and bad Indians, that some whites were bigots and others not, and that war is hell.