AND EVEN MORE MOHICAN MUSINGS
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Throughout these pages, we've discussed Cooper's novel at some length, and, of course, delved deeply in the 1992 film version of LOTM. Barely touched is the previous "classic" film version of the story, the 1936 edition.
The movie stars Randolph Scott as Hawkeye and Binnie Barnes as Alice. Here we find a virtual reversal of the Cora/Alice roles from what we have become used to in Michael Mann's film. In the novel, Cora is the older, darker sister attracted to Uncas who dies on the cliffs. Here, Alice is the older, dark-haired sister. She & Hawkeye share a love interest. Cora & Uncas are attracted to one another, and it is the Cora character who leaps off the cliffs to join Uncas. Confused?
You might be surprised to hear & see some amazing similarities between this film and the 1992 version. Look past the cheesy music, the cardboard-like characterizations of the Indian roles, the uninspiring scenery! What you'll find are some incredible influences upon Michael Mann by this screenplay written by Phillip Dunne. Though there are, at times, some minor word changes, and perhaps a line is spoken by a different character, there are certain scenes which are lifted, almost verbatim, from this early classic.
Heyward arrives at Albany via carriage ... You'll hear, "... loyal subjects ... France is your enemy ... You do want you want with your own scalp ..." Following a version of The Ambush, Cora (or is it Alice?) again stops Heyward from shooting at the Mohicans, and Hawkeye utters, "If your aim's as bad as your judgment, I don't imagine there's much danger of you hitting them!" The horses are killed. Soon after is Canoes. The group separates to avoid the pursuing Hurons. Alice & Hawkeye discover a burned out cabin. The scenes of Cameron's Cabin & The Burial Ground are combined into one, as Alice & Hawkeye have, and resolve, a conflict based upon misunderstanding. They all reunite at the cave. The party arrives at Fort William Henry. There's even a 1936 version of The Kiss - maybe, The Peck? Uncas is the courier ... things vary wildly here, but then comes a sequence of scenes that are strikingly similar ... the word "remake" is truly applicable! The colonials debate Munro & Heyward; "... not a butcher ... You forget yourself ... his word's good on the frontier ... making peace with the French ..." even the "... serious disagreement" line! The colonials leave ... "... should've skinned out of this ... got no families ... clear the French outposts ..." Shown is Hawkeye, Chingachgook & Uncas actually struggling with British troops attempting to stop the desertion. They land, all three of them, in jail. Alice goes to the stockade to speak with Hawkeye ... "... You should have gone when you had the chance ..." She then proceeds to argue the Mohicans' case with her father & the Major "... He knew the consequences ... He didn't send me ... I would do anything to keep you from getting hurt ... Justice! ... the sooner British guns ... Sedition! ... It's all there, nearly word for word! And, watch Binnie Barnes. Think Madeleine Stowe may have patterned her mannerisms after her? Webb sends his messengers who are ambushed by Magua. There is a Parlay. The scene is visually very similar to what you are used to in the 1992 version. The Indians look on ... " Col. Munro ... gallant antagonist ... My scouts intercepted this dispatch ... I know the temper ... You've had your answer! ... I beg you ..." Magua fires up the Indians who proceed to assault the surrendered fort ... a heart (or is that jelly?) is cut out ... Munro is shot ... Alice shoots a warrior ... the Munro sisters are taken captive ... the Mohicans escape the prison ... the French intervene and restore order (a touch of historical accuracy here?) ... The most poignant moment of the film ensues, as a dying Col. Munro is brought before Gen. Montcalm and is presented his sword. The Mohicans, with Heyward, track the sisters. Heyward threatens Hawkeye with judgment after this is all resolved ... Uncas takes Cora from the Huron village ... they are pursued to the cliffs ... Magua & Uncas fight ... Uncas is killed ... Cora jumps ... The others arrive and Chingachgook fights, and kills, Magua ... there is burial & prayer, "Great Spirit ... a warrior goes to you ... I, Chingachgook, The Last of the Mohicans." Alice needs to be rescued. Heyward shows his heroic side ... this time, however, it is Hawkeye who is to be burned at the stake, saved in the nick of time by Capt. Jack's arrival with Gen. Abercrombie's British forces. Before a military court, Heyward exonerates Hawkeye, who signs on as a scout for the march against Canada.
Differing in many aspects - and in some, a bridge from the 1826 novel to the 1992 film version - this 1936 movie is clearly the inspiration for the Michael Mann story we have come to know and love. Catch it sometime, if you haven't yet.
How Fictional Was Cooper's Fiction?
Whenever the subject of James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Last of the Mohicans arises, the commonly held belief that it is far a field from historical reality arises as well. If the truth be known, Cooper's novel is more accurate than many believe. Interestingly, Mr. Cooper had a personal interest in the fateful events of 1757. We will be examining the issue of historical accuracy in greater detail elsewhere on our site. Meanwhile, we offer the following to muse over.
There are three factors that support the assertion that James Fenimore Cooper had an uncommon interest in the history of Fort William Henry as well as the individuals who were involved. They are time, place, and association. The author was born in 1789, only 32 years after the shocking events had unfolded in the Hudson Valley. (Yes, shocking... this would have been a big headliner!) He grew up in New York's frontier and had first hand experiences and relationships with people, both Indian and Anglo, who may have been participants of the colonial wars. (If so, Cooper would have had access to first hand accounts!) In 1799/1800, the young Cooper attended school in Albany under the tutelage of the Reverend William Ellison, a man known as an unabashed Tory. It would be logical to assume that the loyalist pastor did not neglect to sing the praises of English war heroes, including Lt. Col. George Monro, to his students. Ellison's immediate predecessor at St. Peter's was Rev. Harry Munro. There is sound speculation that this man may have been a kinsman to our Officer Monro; perhaps even the source for Cooper's spelling of M-U-N-R-O. Furthermore, during Cooper's stay in Albany, St. Peter's underwent renovations that required the transfer of graves to another burial site. Among the re-interred was Lt. Col. George Monro. One can imagine the excitement and renewed interest this event would have evoked among the local population, especially the young schoolboy who was shepherded by the good Reverend Ellison!
Thus time and place in Cooper's life give strong indication that the author would have had cause and opportunity to familiarize himself with the facts surrounding the siege and massacre of Fort William Henry. What of personal association? For starters, there is Cooper's wife Susan DeLancey. Susan was the niece of Captain James DeLancey, a French and Indian War veteran who is spoken of in Lewis Butler's Annals of the King's Royal Rifle Corps as one who "may have been present at the massacre." Susan's brother William Delancey married Frances Munro, the daughter of the previously mentioned Rev. Harry Munro. What do you suppose may have been a frequent topic of conversation and point of interest among these families? A nice piece of family lore to investigate, no? Thus, James Fenimore Cooper had personal motivations for examining the history of Fort William Henry; a vested interest you might say. The author's existence was close on the heels of this historic affair that had particular import to his family.
Alright then, Cooper's interest in the 1757 events had impetus on a personal level, but how, you ask, does this support historical accuracy? Ah! Well, this can get very lengthy, but to avoid over-musing, consider the following points.
We should begin with James Fenimore Cooper's own words found in the preface of The Last of the Mohicans. After cautioning readers who are seeking merely a romantic, fictional tale that they may wish to pass by LOTM, he explains "The work is exactly what it professes to be in its title page - a narrative." It is the only work of The Leatherstocking Tales thus described. Why would James Fenimore Cooper declare this work a narrative if it weren't meant exactly as such? The author was not negligent nor ignorant of historical background. Cooper's daughter Susan stated that her father was in the habit of questioning locals to gather "the gossip of those old times" whenever he wrote. According to Robert E. Spiller, author of James Fenimore Cooper, Cooper studied the historical facts behind his works "with the thoroughness of a scholar."
There are numerous details found in The Last of the Mohicans, as well as footnotes, that confirm Spiller's statement. The presence of the footnotes alone would seem strange in a book that was merely fiction. One such example is found on page 211. Here Cooper informs the reader of the various figures given for the amount killed during the massacre; between 5 and 1500. Resulting from the hysteria of the massacre, many exaggerated and premature accounts circulated that impressed upon the public the false idea that hundreds and hundreds were slain; that overestimation remained in the public's mind. Cooper's decision to note the varying figures reveals two things; he recognized the probability that far less were killed than many of his readers thought and believed it important enough to clarify the record, and he was indeed offering an historical narrative, albeit fictionalized.
Another area that supports Cooper's accuracy is the details that he includes in his book; details that are often minute and unimportant for the purpose of advancing his plot. He describes French soldiers swimming within close proximity to the fort's guns. A contemporary map shows a beach only 300 to 400 yards northwest of Fort William Henry. He has Heyward climbing down the "grassy steps of the bastion", a description that reveals his knowledge that the earthworks had not been encased in stone, a negligence that was contradictory to military engineering wisdom and a factor that Stanley Pargellis ("Lord Loudoun in North America") claimed hastened the capitulation. Cooper's figure of "near three thousand" troops leaving the fort following the surrender was right on the money; 2900 being the probable total. He comments that Cora and Alice were among an "assemblage of their own sex" at Fort William Henry. Very true. Heyward's speech about broken ordnance and broken spirit prior to the capitulation mimics an actual petition by Munro's officers that did lead to the capitulation parley. These are but a few examples of Cooper's detailed knowledge of the historical record.
As for characters; some are fictional, some are real. Even the fictional characters, however, are generally modeled after historic persons. From Lt. Col. John Young (Major Heyward) to the Delaware Chingachgook of Heckewelder's work; the Mohegan chief Uncas (two of them!) and the solitary frontiersman who carried his long rifle when visiting Cooper's boyhood home (Hawkeye); the sachem of Cooper's book is named Tamemund, a true Delaware sachem of the late 17th century; and Monro's daughters, Cora and Alice, may yet prove to have historical basis. Yes, even the mulatto daughter of the "Greyhair" may have existed! But much more on this another time.......
So, should Cooper's Last of the Mohicans be dismissed as mere fiction? What say you?
The Under The Falls scene was the last shot during principal photography. Most all involved in the filming were long gone. Thus, it becomes difficult to find people who can shed any light on that curious scene found in the script but never seen in the film ... and that is the love scene between Uncas & Alice. The question many have posed is, "Was it ever filmed?" Luckily for us, two who were on hand, Soldiers #1 & 2, are contributors to this Web Site.
Soldier #1 un-categorically says that it wasn't filmed. Soldier #2 was not aware of it being filmed, but remembers a camera man referring to a love scene they were going to be shooting. Both say that huge chunks of script were cut by Michael Mann at the last moment. So, it would appear that there was a plan to film it, right up to the very end, but it was probably nixed. So, the question becomes, "Why?"
Was it because of time constraints? Was it deemed peripheral to the story line and consequently unnecessary? Maybe both. We believe, however, that the main reason was probably Jodhi May's mother! Both of the Soldiers remember her being on the various sets ... Soldier #2 remembers her specifically at the Cave. In a long conversation with Jim & Ruth Boylan several years ago - they were extras and worked in props and other areas ... Jim having fashioned some of the lighter weight Killdeer doubles - they emphasized the notion that Jodhi's mom was ever-present to make sure her young daughter was not involved in any scene she did not approve of. How many moms would approve of a love scene involving their 16-year old daughter? We would suspect that not many would! Apparently, this even became an issue during filming, when at their arrival at Fort William Henry it seems Mann wanted a button or two undone on Alice's dress. It didn't happen, and that goes a long way towards indicating whether or not a love scene was ever going to be filmed ...
... on the other hand ... In an interview with Eric Schweig, from a 1992 edition of Trail Dust magazine [no longer accessible through this Site], Eric makes it clear that a love scene with Alice was indeed filmed in the cold, dank interior of the cave. The crew was cranky after several long months of filming, it was uncomfortable on the cave set ... hardly a mood inducing setting for a love scene! Yet Eric says it was! Was it a graphic love scene? Or, more along the lines of The Kiss? Perhaps this is where all the confusion comes in ... What is a love scene? Eric doesn't elaborate. One thing of note ... he makes a reference to an extended version of the movie he thought might be released on video. Ah ha! There is hope for a Director's Cut!
The Masterpiece that is The Last Of the Mohicans really results from the monumental efforts of two men ... James Fenimore Cooper & Michael Mann. Cooper, of course, for his literary vision & love of the Native culture and world that enabled him to create the story over 175 years ago (for all the criticism he has had leveled against him over the years, it is easy to forget that this is his story!); and Mann for so masterfully transferring this tale to the screen. In our opinion, it is the imagery Mann uses that makes it such a work of art. The storyline and events are changed somewhat, but the imagery Cooper laid down on paper is brilliantly conveyed to the screen by Mann.
Of the many strong points the film version of LOTM has, the three that seem to stand out the most are the cinematography, the soundtrack and the casting ... all three enhancing the imagery. Mann relies heavily on this imagery to carry the film. Sweeping landscapes, rushing torrents of water, vivid, choreographed battle scenes, mood evoking musical themes, slow motion, elaborate, historically accurate sets & costumes, and subtle looks and gestures between the cast. Dialogue - and there is some great dialogue to be found - takes a back seat. In fact, Mann abandons it entirely during the nearly 10 minute segment between leaving the Huron village and Magua's death. It is brilliant movie-making ... dramatic action sequences, romance, stirring music ... all enveloped by gorgeous scenery ... even the fates of the main characters are decided ... all without even one spoken word! Such power! Such imagery!
As if to underscore this, Mann actually under uses much of the stellar cast. Russell Means & Eric Schweig together project a strong image of Chingachgook and Uncas and evoke a sense of their familial bond, but really, though more than competent, neither is a great actor in the sense Daniel Day-Lewis is. Even he, convincing as he is as America's first literary hero, isn't really allowed to act in this movie; not as we've seen him in My Left Foot or In The Name of the Father. Mann cast some fine actors in this film, though many are barely noticeable. Colm Meany (blink and you'll miss him!) ... Pete Postlethwaite (a couple of sneezes will do him in!) ... and Jodhi May, though featured, has hardly a spoken word though she had an award winning performance behind her in A World Apart. Much of the rest of this cast is so strong because of the image they convey in relatively small roles. Only Madeleine Stowe and Wes Studi really come out and knock you over with their acting abilities, rather than solely the image they cast. This is not meant as a criticism of the other actors ... our feeling on their performances is dealt with elsewhere. Obviously, Mann wanted it this way. The scenery & images were to override the individual performances. It was a stroke of genius and a great part of what makes this film adaptation of The Last of the Mohicans stand apart as a classic.
It should be recognized also that though Michael Mann portrayed the historical era and events far better than most films have, his intention was to create art. There are some inaccuracies, to be sure, and some of them were called to the director's attention by many of the re-enactors that participated in the production. According to one re-enactor, his reply? "I'm making a movie here, not a documentary."
Mark A. Baker is a black powder expert, writer, and history buff. Not only that, but he was Daniel Day-Lewis' muzzleloading mentor during the preparation, and filming, of LOTM. Writing for MuzzleLoader Magazine, in the May/June '92 issue, he explores deeply many fascinating aspects of the making of LOTM. The article is in-depth, and includes an extended role-playing introduction that is extremely entertaining, and some rare photos of the fort set. It's an issue we highly recommend to you. Should you be interested in purchasing a back issue, go to A GREAT LOTM ARTICLE on our WWW Board. Selected quotes from the article follow. This first one gives an inclusive view of a night on the set:
... Within a brief second, the outdoor set of the movie The Last of the Mohicans, located on the shores of Lake James, North Carolina, changed from a state of magic to a hubbub of controlled energy and confusion ... Bill [another extra] and I continued talking quietly as Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means and the rest shuffled past our leaning post, returning to their marks deep within the sally port tunnel. More than 350 extras were also backtracking to their original spots, preparing once again to run, shoot, shout and die on cue. The electrical crew silently drifted from one lighting station to another, holding up their exposure meters and calmly calling out directions to an unseen "Danny". Hair and makeup personnel made their way through the crowds, spraying water on various actors' hair, checking "burns" and "scars", and generally touching up the various camera-front people.
Now here's something you can notice if you have the widescreen THX version of the movie - in the "featurette" that precedes the film:
... The wardrobe department needed thousands of center-seam moccasins for the Indians and the Colonials. To overcome this obstacle, they developed a center-seam moccasin top made of deerskin that could be sewn together quickly and hot-glued to a black, cotton Chinese slip-on shoe. In order for the principal actors' moccasins to withstand the abuse of an action-packed shooting schedule, each pair designed for them was made of the same moccasin tops but was glued to state-of-the-art running shoes ...
And finally, here's a short excerpt that deals with Daniel Day-Lewis and that attraction quality he seems to have (or, haven't you noticed?) ...
... After [Day-]Lewis' workout, which lasted about three hours, we left the spa in a pristine 1950 Ford Pickup, and he took me to lunch at the "Cafe on the Corner." We talked about the movie, his goals in interpreting the role and how that included using Killdeer as the rifle would have been used over 250 years ago. I found the actor to be very polite and sincere, even humble. As reflected in his passion to excel physically, he was just as driven to properly interpret Cooper's hero, Hawkeye. While we munched on fresh greens, sliced avocados, and grilled chicken, we shared our ideas about Colonial woodsmen and their rifles. Just behind [Day-]Lewis I could see an attractive woman continually whispering to her friend and pointing at our table. Somehow I knew she was not referring to me ...
For more from Mark, read ON THE TRAIL WITH ... MARK A. BAKER.
Monro's Celtic Fury ...
Let there be no doubt ... Colonel George Monro, commander of Fort William Henry during the fateful summer of 1757, was no coward. He displayed persistent determination to withstand the siege until the end. Had it been up to Monro, who knows how much longer the garrison would have held out? A loyal, able soldier, Monro detested the faint of heart, and apparently had a short fuse.
His stinging condemnation of General Webb is well known; but what was his opinion of the men he commanded? For those who remained focused on their duty, Monro had high praise. As for men who may have entertained the possibility of surrender, Monro showed no patience. He published orders to all under his command that "... if any person proved cowardly or offered to advise giving up the Fort that he should be immediately hanged over the walls of the Fort." The fiery Scot had no regard for such men.
The commander's opinion of the courage displayed by his regulars was high. The inexperienced provincials were another matter altogether. Colonel Frye of the Massachusetts Bay provincial regiment said of his troops to Monro; "... they were quite worn out, & wou'd stay no longer, And that they wou'd rather be knock'd in the Head by the Enemy, than stay to Perish behind the Breastworks." Monro's reply minced no words. He stated that it would be proper "to make an Example of such People." In his November Memorandum presented in Albany Monro stated; "The Provincials in the Fort, behav'd Scandously; when they were to fire over the Parapet, they lay down upon their faces and fir'd straight up in the air." He added; "I'm sorry to say it, tho' with great truth, that in general, the Provincials did not behave well." A notable exception in Monro's eye among the provincials were the Massachusetts troops led by Col. Frye. According to Monro, " they did their duty".
And ... it turns out the Colonel did indeed have one daughter, as well as two sons. Their names and other details remain shrouded in a mystery created by the Scotsman himself.
Coincidences shared by Montcalm and Cooper
Apart from their association with Fort William Henry, what could James Fenimore Cooper and Le Marquis de Montcalm possibly have had in common? Well ... they were both born in the 18th century, both had crossed the Atlantic Ocean, they shared a background of wealth and social status, both were avid readers and intellectuals, and both had uncommon love for their childhood homes ...
And they both died on September 14th!
"Two leagues ... better water."
Just how far did Magua expect the two gentlewomen to travel before having a refreshment anyway? Quite! A league is between 2.42 and 4.6 miles, usually approximated at 3 miles. A long way when one is thirsty!
For More Musings, See The MOHICAN MUSINGS INDEX.
Last Update: 04/16/2000