The Far Horizons

Talkie of the Week: The Far Horizons

USA 1955, 108 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Rudolph Maté, Written by Winston Miller, Based on the novel Sacajawea of the Shoshones by Della Gould Emmons. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Charlton Heston, Donna Reed, Barbara Hale, William Demarest, Alan Reed, Eduardo Noriega, Larry Pennell, Julia Montoya, Ralph Moody, Herbert Heyes, Lester Matthews, Helen Wallace, Walter Reed.

Plot summary: After purchasing the Louisiana Territory in the early 1800s, President Jefferson sends Meriwether Lewis and William Clark out West to explore the new territory and claim the adjacent land leading to the Pacific Ocean for the United States.

The_Far_Horizons_1955Review: There are a lot of things one could say about Paramount Pictures’ The Far Horizons, historically correct is not one of them. As one of the few features (if not the only) ever made about the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-06), the film is a piece of fiction rather than a serious rendition of actual events. Dominated by a dramatic love story, the film borrowed an exciting setting to weave a colorful story around an adventure that in itself bears enough material for two feature-length adaptations. Based on Sacajawea of the Shoshones though, a novel by Della Gould Emmons, The Far Horizons falls sadly short of paying tribute to a now famous team of brave explorers.

Sacajawea, although praised as a key figure of the successful expedition, is but a mere shadow of the actual historic figure. Donna Reed – refurbished with a wig, her skin a deep made-up brown – did a decent job transforming herself into a native teenager who, as fiction would have it, falls in love with Charlton Heston’s philandering Lieutenant Clark. But the spark is strangely missing. Reduced to an unfortunate loser in love, Fred MacMurray did his best to flesh out his version of Meriwether Lewis, a man who (in real life) presumably committed suicide a few short years after completing his expedition but was on friendly terms with his fellow explorers. Barbara Hale played Julia Hancock, a young woman who choses Clark over Lewis in the beginning of the movie and has to deal with her fiancé’s change of heart when he returns to Washington in the end. Although none of the heartache ever happened, Barbara Hale’s scenes with the main characters are heartbreaking and one of the reasons to give this picture an honest chance. It’s also a plus to see this film released in widescreen format on DVD. Produced in Technicolor and VistaVision, the nature shots are beautiful and even breathtaking at times, the quality genuinely mid-1950s.

In general, The Far Horizons is not the kind of film you may turn to more than once (unless you are a fan of one of the above mentioned actors). Rated by Time Magazine as one of top ten historically most misleading films in 2011, the plot definitely leaves a lot to be desired. It is still a film, however, that – despite its many controversies – also has acting highlights towards the end and even offers discreet comments about society, including the status of the female sex.

Watch the original trailer here.

Lorna Doone

Talkie of the Week: Lorna Doone

USA 1951, 89 minutes, color, Columbia Pictures. Director: Phil Karlson, Producer: Edward Small, Written by: George Bruce, Jesse Lasky Jr., Richard Schayer, Based on the novel “Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor” by R.D. Blackmore. Cast: Barbara Hale, Richard Greene, Carl Benton Reid, William Bishop, Ron Randell, Sean McClory, Onslow Stevens, Lester Matthews, John Dehner, Gloria Petroff

Plot summary: When John Ridd falls in love with Lorna Doone, he doesn’t only fight the Doone clan to seek revenge for his father’s death but also to help Lorna escape her fate of having to marry another Doone against her will.

Review: Lorna Doone is a worthy adaptation of the novel written by R. D. Blackmore in 1869. Set in 17th century England, the story was cut down to a colorful movie of reasonable length with a beautiful choice of costumes and settings.

Barbara Hale stars as Lorna Doone, the female lead, who does not get as much screen time as the title may suggest, and that’s a let-down if you must look for one. Her portrayal of Lorna is emotionally gripping and excellently adapted to the time and place of the story which makes you long for more of her dilemma, her struggle. On top of that, Barbara Hale knows how to pull off those costumes, rich in color and detail. She practically glows in all of her scenes with on-screen partner Richard Greene, which may suggest a great casting decision or simply refer to her real life pregnancy with son William Katt at the time. Either way, it’s endearing to watch and underlines the romantic storyline with the right mix of heartache and surrender.

Richard Greene supports Barbara Hale’s intense performance with a smooth portrayal of John Ridd, the farmer’s son who seeks revenge for the death of his father and freedom for the woman he loves.

Evidently, Lorna Doone is a film for fans of genre films that come with sword fights, castles and men in tights. It is also a film for everybody who wants to see a decent cast of actors, including a charming male lead and an ever lovely and talented Barbara Hale. It’s a fantastic movie to lean back to and become a child again with a vivid imagination and romance-hungry eyes.

Available on DVD.