February 11, 2014

Susannah of the Mounties

Shirley Temple Black died today at age 85, so it's a good time to look back at her career. Here's an encounter with Indians:

Susannah of the Mounties (film)Susannah of the Mounties is a 1939 American drama film directed by Walter Lang and William A. Seiter and starring Shirley Temple, Randolph Scott, and Margaret Lockwood. Based on the 1936 novel Susannah of the Mounties by Muriel Denison, the film is about an orphaned survivor of an Indian attack in the Canadian West who is taken in by a Mountie and his girlfriend. Following additional Indian attacks, the Mountie is saved from the stake by the young girl's intervention with the Indian chief.

Comment:  I haven't watched this movie, but it sounds stereotypical. Start with the threat of burning the white man at the stake. Has any movie tribe ever not tried to kill someone horrifically?

Then there's the split into good Indians, who obey the rules and help the white man, and bad Indians, who perform dastardly deeds because they're evil. These bad apples are usually described as renegades or half-breeds, meaning they're bucking the system supported by both sides.

Note that neither the good nor bad Indians ever criticize this "system"--meaning the government-backed history of broken treaties, land theft, and the resulting Indian wars. Indeed, if you go by the movies, there's no system to criticize. White people rule the land and Indians live under them. That's the way it is and always has been.

Everything's perfect, with liberty and justice for all, unless greedy white men and savage Indians try to cause trouble. Then you see corrupt Indian agents who don't at all represent the federal government. And renegade warriors who don't at all represent their tribes. White men and Indians would live in peaceful harmony if it wasn't for these troublemakers.

Then there's the whole Pocahontas vibe. In this case, a white girl plays the savior who brings peace to the warring factions. Unless it's a self-sacrificing "Indian princess" (chief's daughter), Native are almost never instrumental in forging their own destiny. Even if it's only a little white girl, white men know best.

Below:  Martin Good Rider (Blackfeet) and Shirley Temple.

"Shirley Temple on the 1939 Hollywood set of Susannah of the Mounties with seven Blackfeet chiefs of Montana and Canada."

No comments: