The Last of the Mohicans (1920)

The Internet Archive contains a bit of everything. High and low. Old and new. Good and bad. You can find just about every major genre that you can think of (short of hard-core pornography). Diversity is a key word, but if there is one genre which is more dominating, it must be the westerns.

IA has given me some perspective on the incredible number of westerns that have been made. The archive contains hundreds; probably only a fraction of all that have been produced. Many of them have generic titles such as Raiders of Old California, Oath of Vengeance or Gangsters of the Frontier. Now, western is not my favourite genre, but I am always ready to acknowledge a good movie when I find one. And one such good western is The Last of the Mohicans.

Wallace Beery and Barbara Bedford in The Last of the Mohicans (1920)

This is not the typical western with John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. There is no main street, no saloon, no six-shooters and no Mexican bandits. Not even a single cowboy as far as eye can reach. All those clichés were already well established by 1920, but this is not that kind of a movie. Instead, it is a movie about native Americans and impossible love.

“The Last of the Mohicans” was originally a novel by James Fenimore Cooper. It is set in the 18th century, during one of the wars between England and France. In those days, natives sometimes took sides in the conflicts of the Europeans and fought side by side with them.

In the movie, two sisters are travelling across hostile territory to visit their father, an English colonel. They soon find themselves in deep trouble, but are helped by the Mohican Uncas and his father; the last remnants of a once mighty tribe, who have sided with the British.

Very much like modern historical movies, The Last of the Mohicans is not an accurate history lesson. It is highly romanticized and historical events are adapted to fit the story rather than the other way around.

By 1920, the art of film had not yet attained the heights that it was to reach within a few years, neither in terms of visual expression nor in the flow of the story. Even so, The Last of the Mohicans is majestic and beautiful almost beyond belief. Whether vistas of nature or battle scenes, everything is breathtaking. And there is no green-screen and no CGI. This is the real deal.

It is common when this film is mentioned to make note of the fact that Boris Karloff (later famous as Frankenstein’s monster) plays a minor role as an Indian. (There, now I went and did it too.) This is unfortunate, because there are so many other reasons why it deserves to be remembered.

This film is best enjoyed if you love historical costume movies.

Maurice Tourneur and Clarence Brown's The Last of the Mohicans (1920)

The Last of the Mohicans
Internet Archive page
Year: 1920
Running time: 1 h 11 min
Directors: Maurice Tourneur, Clarence Brown
Stars: Wallace Beery, Barbara Bedford
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (640 x 480)
Soundtrack: Random classical music
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: DivX (721 M)

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