WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE
(director: Stuart Millar; screenwriters: Robert Dozier/from novel by Hal Borland; cinematographer: Richard Kline; editor: Louis San Andres; cast: Richard Widmark (Red Dillon), Frederic Forrest (Tom Black Bull), Luana Anders (Mary), Vito Scotti (Meo), Tillman Box (Young Tom Black Bull), Sondra Pratt (Angie), Garry Walberg (Superintendent), John War Eagle (Black Elk), John Gruber (Tex Walker); Runtime: 105; 20th Century Fox; 1972)
“An interesting contemporary view of cowboys and Indians.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An interesting contemporary view of cowboys and Indians. It is told through the relationship that develops between a hard-living old timer who is a has-been on the rodeo circuit, Red Dillon (Widmark), and a young Ute boy, Tom Black Bull (Forrest), who has an affinity for horses and uses this knowledge to get off the reservation he hates. It is through Tom’s eyes that we see the pic.
When Tom’s parents die he’s too young to be left alone on the mountains and is brought by a friend of the family, John War Eagle, to the reservation. He is told by the white superintendent that he must learn about the ‘new ways’ before he talks to him about the ‘old ways,’ and the young boy is forced to learn the white man’s ways at the school against his wishes. He reluctantly stays on the reservation, eventually becoming trained to only be a sheepherder, until he is spotted by Red while horse riding. Red becomes the 18-year-old’s guardian, someone which he must have until he is 21 at which time he becomes a free man. Tom gladly moves in with Red, where they go on the rodeo circuit in the small venues out West. Tom develops into an outstanding bronco rider while Red spends the money Tom earns on booze and women, cheating Tom out of his share. He also gets Tom to dump bronco rides so that he can then bet on him and get better odds when he rides for real. After being on the road for a few years Tom dumps Red in a gas station and takes his car, leaving him stranded with $10 and a bottle of booze. Even though he has a warm spot in his heart for Red, he realizes that Red can’t change and he will always be a boozer and a con artist. Tom is determined to make his mark in bronco riding… doing it honestly.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
In the next few years Tom becomes a big star on the top rodeo circuit, though developing a reputation for riding his horses so hard that he killed four of them. The introspective, reticent boy, experiences relations with white women and learns how to dress as a dude, but his dreams come crashing down when he has a bad spill and is hospitalized and put out of action for a long while. After a brief relationship with a divorced nurse, Tom returns to Red’s small ranch bearing as a gift an expensive saddle but finds that he has to bury his former guardian. As a symbolic gesture to cut his bridges and move on, Tom burns down Red’s squalid ranch. But in his new freedom, he feels lost and imprisoned. This time it is not by the reservation, but by being lured into the American Dream.
Widmark is outstanding as the aging cowboy who could be generous as well as a bully, and who turns out to be the only friend the Ute has. Frederic Forrest captures the spirit of the noble savage trying to understand and survive in the civilization he is forced to live in. Their superb characterizations about the cowboy’s hard life and romantic visions living as loners, often traveling on dusty roads into one-horse towns while hanging out in tawdry bars, is what gives this film a special force and fills it with a moody modern noirish atmosphere.
REVIEWED ON 12/10/2000 GRADE: B