October 19, 2008

Yul Brynner, Indian chief

Kings of the SunIn Kings of the Sun, Yul Brynner plays Indian Chief Black Eagle, another role ideally suited to his physical attributes. Stripped to the waist the whole time, bronzed and brooding, he exemplifies the idea of the noble savage, in tune with the ways of nature but able to hunt and fight with lethal agility. The story is a heady blend of Mayan history, war, cosmology and religion, including human sacrificial rites, together with American Indian tribal culture, all taking place in Yucat√°n, Mexico.

When Mayan King Balam (George Chakiris) flees his enemy Hunac Kell (Leo Gordon) by sea, he finds a new land for his people and builds a city, but the territory already belongs to Black Eagle and his tribe. The two factions move through phases of conflict and co-operation, but as much as politics, the driving force behind it all is the mutual interest by the two leaders in a woman, Mayan Princess Ixchel (Shirley Anne Field).

Watching the film today, what is fascinating is seeing how such an historical piece is tackled within the movie conventions and mores of the era in which it was made, reflecting that society, and how the plot lines are shaped so as the whole resembles an offbeat western. There are no difficulties of communication as Mayans and Indians speak the same language (English). Russian Yul Brynner's portrayal of an Indian is very effective, but in addition Caucasian actors Richard Basehart and Barry Morse play Mayan priests, George Chakiris is of Greek extraction and Shirley Anne Field is English, and their mingling with the more ethnically authentic extras does jar to some extent.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.


Anonymous said...

Yul Brynner was one of my all-time favorite actors as he was most versatile in every role he appeared in, especially "Taras Bulba," with Tony Curtis.

I grew up in Los Angeles in the 1960s, when it was a major faux pas for myself to claim Native ancestry as I was horribly razzed by almost all of my fellow classmates. Then, one night on Johnny Carson's show (it might have been in 1969), Yul Byrnner said that he was of Yugoslavian and Mongolian extraction, so voila! I, that night forward became "Mongolian and Yugoslavian" and like a miracle the classroon anti-Indian taunting came to a dramatic halt. Yul, besides your advice on not to smoke - I OWE YOU ONE!

Anonymous said...


Upon re-reading my blog I found a rare typo I made - what's a "classroon?" Is it some kind of simian, like a ba-boon? Or perhaps an exotic animal like a "kanga-roon." Sorry, folks, I meant to say that the CLASSROOM anti-Indian taunting ended.

I might add that I did not become Indian again until I served in the military during the Vietnam-era when it was actually "cool" in most circles to be a " Sioux warrior."

Doc Thompson said...

I just saw the end of this.I don't if it was real or made up,but the movie seemed ok.Beside the girl in it was sexy.