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SITTING BULL (director/writer: Sidney Salkow; screenwriter: Jack DeWitt; cinematographers: Victor Herrera/Charles J. Van Enger; editor: Richard J. Van Enger; music: Raoul Kraushaar/Max Rich; cast: Dale Robertson (Major Bob Parrish), Mary Murphy (Kathy Howell), J. Carroll Naish (Sitting Bull), Joel Fluellen (Sam), Iron Eyes Cody (Crazy Horse), Bill Hopper (Charles Wentworth), John Hamilton (President Ulysses S. Grant), Douglas Kennedy (Col. Custer), Tom Brown Henry (Indian Agent Webber), John Litel (General Howell); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: W.R. Frank; United Artists; 1954)
“An earnest but sluggish account of the Battle of Little Big Horn.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An earnest but sluggish account of the Battle of Little Big Horn, that is more accurate than most such versions due to Iron Eyes Cody’s role as technical adviser and designer of the Indian costumes. Cody, who passed himself off as a Native American had Italian immigrant parents but married an Indian woman. He also played the warrior Crazy Horse. The film also contains some obvious historical errors such as the meeting shown between the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (J. Carroll Naish) and President Ulysses S. Grant (John Hamilton) that never took place. It was unevenly directed by second feature filmmaker Sidney Salkow (“Sword of the Avenger”/”Tillie the Toiler”) and cowritten without much gusto by Salkow and Jack DeWitt. It remains flat because Dale Robertson is wooden as the lead actor and the film is poorly executed with too many awkward moments. It also looked phony with Mexicans trying to pass as Indians.

Set in the Black Hills of the Dakotas, in 1876, where Sitting Bull is the respected leader and holy man of the Sioux Indian tribe. His second in command Crazy Horse calls for war with the white men for breaking the treaty, starving their tribe and treating them like dirt, while Sitting Bull counsels for patience. Indian sympathizer Major Bob Parrish (Dale Robertson), busted in rank previously from colonel for his human rights stand, rebukes trouble-making prospectors for going into Indian Territory searching for gold, but back at the fort the Indian hater Col. Custer (Douglas Kennedy) rails against the major for not helping the white men and the fort commander General Howell (John Litel) sides with the hateful Custer even though Parrish is engaged to his daughter Kathy (Mary Murphy). The redheaded beauty is so irritated with her man for making poor career decisions that she breaks off the engagement. The major is sent for a year’s assignment to be in charge of policing an Indian Agency prison camp in Red Rock, where he sides with the Indians over their mistreatment by the oily corrupt monster agency head, Webber (Tom Brown Henry). When the Indians attempt an escape, the major refuses to shoot them. Adding fuel to the fire, Webber shoots the chief’s son Young Buffalo in the back. An outburst against Webber gets Parrish court martialed and he’s brought to his old friend President Grant (John Hamilton), whom he served under as a colonel. The Prez demotes him to captain but entrusts him with an important assignment to pow-wow with Sitting Bull to see if a war could be prevented. Back at the fort in the Black Hills Kathy introduces Parrish to her new fianc√© Charles Wentworth (Bill Hopper, son of gossip columnist Hedda), an easterner who is out west to write about the ensuing Indian troubles–looking for a breaking story. Parrish uses Grant’s letter of empowerment to free Sam (Joel Fluellen) from prison, a black runaway slave who stayed with the Sioux, as he leads our hero to the chief’s camp. Sitting Bull insists that the white chief come to him before the next moon or else war is imminent. Grant agrees but Custer spoils the plans for a treaty by provoking an Indian attack at Little Big Horn, where he’s slaughtered along with his regiment. To prevent more fighting, Parrish guides Sitting Bull to safety. For this he’s charged with treason and set to face the firing squad, when in the nick of time Sitting Bull is brought by Kathy, once again falling for the Indian lover, to plead with Grant to spare Parrish’s life. Grant is convinced that Parrish acted as a patriot and gives him a pardon (this part was typical Hollywood melodramatic bull).

Too bad it was such a sloppy film because it has something to say about the arrogance and bigotry of the American military and civilian commanders that is appropriate for today.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”