TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE(director/writer: Abraham Polonsky; screenwriter: based on the book Willie Boy…A Desert Manhunt by Harry Lawton; cinematographer: Conrad Hall; editor: Melvin Shapiro; music: Dave Grusin; cast: Robert Redford (Deputy Sheriff Cooper), Katharine Ross (Lola), Robert Blake (Willie Boy), Susan Clark (Dr. Elizabeth Arnold), Barry Sullivan (Ray Calvert), Lloyd Gough (Dexter), Charles McGraw (Sheriff Frank Wilson), John Vernon (Hacker), Mike Angel (Old Mike); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Philip A. Waxman/Jennings Lang; Universal; 1969)
“It’s basically a Western chase film that openly serves liberal messages over the Indian-white conflict.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Blacklisted for refusing to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee over his communist beliefs, this is the 59-year-old trained lawyer Abraham Polonsky’s first film since his 1948 debut in the political-tinged noir masterpiece Force of Evil. He only directed three films, as his other movie after this was Romance of a Horsethief (1971). Because of a weak heart, doctors advised against making other films. “Tell” is based on the book Willie Boy…A Desert Manhunt by Harry Lawton, that is based on a real incident (“There’s a marker in Yucca Valley in California that claims to be the spot where Willie Boy died, engraved with the words “The West’s Last Famous Manhunt”). It’s basically a Western chase film that openly serves liberal messages over the Indian-white conflict. One thing that seems out of place, is the Indian dialogue sounding too much as if they were Polonsky liberals talking about their grievances and not like real Indians.
In 1909, in Banning, California, a hotheaded, strong young Paiute Indian known as Willie Boy (Robert Blake) returns to the Morongo Indian reservation to attend his tribe’s annual fiesta and ask his Indian girlfriend Lola (Katharine Ross) to marry him despite her white father’s (Mike Angel) opposition. In self-defense he kills her father and goes on the run with Lola to the mountains. According tribal tradition, Willie Boy is now permitted to claim Lola as his wife. But Dr. Elizabeth Arnold (Susan Clark), the wealthy Bostonian medical doctor educated at John Hopkins and the superintendent of the reservation, coerces the reluctant laid-back deputy sheriff Cooper (Robert Redford), whose sympathies are with the Indians, to lead a posse to capture Willie Boy and bring back the girl.
The posse is made up of ranchers itching to kill the Indian. They pursue through the Mojave Desert, but Coop is forced to abandon the chase in order to return to town to be one of the many bodyguards to the visiting President Taft. In Coop’s absence, Willie shoots the posse pursuers’ horses but accidentally shoots the hateful old Indian fighter Ray Calvert (Barry Sullivan). The town becomes hysterical over a possible Indian revolt, and is concerned over an assassination attempt against the President. When Coop returns to the chase, he finds the body of Lola. The opinion is divided whether it’s a suicide or that Willie Boy killed her according to Indian custom so that the enemy would not get his exhausted wife, who couldn’t go on any further and was worried she was holding him back. Coop chases Willie Boy to the top of Ruby Mountain, and in a shootout kills him–only to discover that Willie Boy had no bullets in his rifle. The deputy then allows for the Indians to cremate him. When Sheriff Wilson (Charles McGraw) arrives on the scene, he berates the deputy for the cremation by saying: “we have no body to show the people.” Coop sharply retorts: “Tell them we’re all out of souvenirs.”
REVIEWED ON 1/5/2008 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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