Last of the Mohicans

(dir. Michael Mann)

This is an entertaining romp, with a great soundtrack and stunning cinematography, but somehow it doesn't quite work. Too many liberties are taken with the novel to make premature points (this is 1757 and the French threat far from over) re: American independence. At least when the 1937 film (starring Randolph Scott and Henry Wilcoxon) on which this script was based did so, it nevertheless ended up with the 2 heroes marching off side by side to 'The British Grenadiers' to deal with a common enemy: like many films of the era, anticipating the coming of WW2.

In the book, Captain Duncan Heyward is a Scots-American, the dashing young hero who gets the girl, and Hawkeye, older than portrayed in the film, doesn't do romantic stuff. But clearly Hollywood still doesn't think audiences are ready for a Redcoat as sympathetic romantic lead, even in a Seven Years War setting - although Fenimore Cooper wrote it back in the early 19C! Mind, he was the son-in-law of a Loyalist, De Lancey! Besides, since Duncan was originally written as a Virginian, surely Americans would have been inclined to identify his future career trajectory echoing that of another Virginian officer in the Seven Years War, one G. Washington?

But in the film, we have Steve Waddington (subsequently an excellent Wilfred of Ivanhoe in the BBC's Scott adaptation) playing Duncan as a brave, if rather dim, stereotyped pompous Englishman, who sacrifices himself to save Hawkeye, who ends up with Cora. Alice jumps off a cliff after Magua kills Uncas. This is most unlike the novel, in which Magua knifes Cora (who is Uncas's love-interest), and Alice and Duncan end up together. Hawkeye, a middle-aged bachelor woodsman, goes back to doing Hawkeye things: Cooper realised, as this script doesn't, that a character named NATTY BUMPPO is NOT cut out to be a romantic lead. But then, he didn't envisage him looking like Daniel Day-Lewis: a fine actor, and most attractive (yours truly admits to a weakness for long dark hair), but not Hawkeye.

A few other complexities re: the characters' backgrounds are omitted: such as the fact the girls are half-sisters, and that Cora isn't just a brunette, but is partly of Afro-Caribbean ancestry. (No doubt why, given 19C racial prejudices, Cooper felt able to set up her tentative romance with Uncas, and also able to kill her off - a pattern that Westerns almost inevitably followed in dealing with inter-racial relationships (the Indian girl always dies).)

Gorgeous music and scenery, and some good acting (especially from Russell Means and Wes Studi as Chingachgook and Magua respectively, and Eric Schweig, as Uncas, could have been given more to do), but the script...???!

Return to Top