Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1939. Twentieth Century Fox. Screenplay by Lamar Trotti, Sonya Levien, based on the novel by Walter D. Edmonds. Cinematography by Bert Glennon, Ray Rennahan. Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. Music by Alfred Newman. Production Design by Richard Day, Mark-Lee Kirk. Costume Design by Gwen Wakeling. Film Editing by Robert L. Simpson. Academy Awards 1939.
Pre-revolutionary Americans Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert get married and take off into the wilderness of upstate New York to create a new life for themselves. Their happiness is destroyed by invading natives who burn them out of their home, forcing them to take up residence as the hired hands of an ornery widow (Edna May Oliver, earning her only Oscar nomination before her premature death a few years later) before the same thing happens to them again. Change is in the air, as the attacks by the savage enemy coincide with the increasing forces arriving from England (who may be behind all of it) that are about to plunge the nation into battle and towards its destiny as an independent land. This wilderness adventure is lesser John Ford, stately but not quite iconic, admirable for its attempt at period detail but still too glamorous to be impressive. The gorgeous colour cinematography, made in the early years of the format, is a draw, while Colbert and Fonda turn in sturdy performances, but the whole thing is undercut by the jingoistic portrayal of natives that must have seemed so modern at the time (there’s one good one who is a thriving member of their community) but today just comes off as simplistic (the good one is as uncouth as the bad ones are savage).