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Winners of the Wilderness
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Silent. 68 minutes.
US release: 1/15/27.
Cast: Tim McCoy, Joan Crawford (as "Rene Contrecoeur"), Edward Connelly, Frank Currier, Roy D'Arcy, Louise Lorraine, Edward Hearn, Will R. Walling, Tom O'Brien, Chief Big Tree, Lionel Belmore.
Credits: Story by John Thomas Neville. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Camera: Clyde De Vinna. Titles: Marian Ainslee. Editor: Conrad A. Nervig. Costumes: Lucia Coulter. Sets: David Townsend.
Plot Summary: ...Boasting a larger budget than the average "B"-western, the film casts McCoy as a courageous Indian scout, determined to negotiate an honorable peace between the white settlers and his Native American friends. Though his efforts are undercut by various villains pursuing their own agendae, our hero finally prevails. The film's most startling sequence finds a nude male prisoner being burned at the stake by hostile tribesmen -- hardly the sort of thing one might expect in a film essentially designed for preteen moviegoers. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
Box Office Total Gross: $283,000. (Profit of $74,000.)
• McCoy, a stickler for authenticity, insisted on having genuine Cherokees in the picture. (Ultimate Star)
• McCoy was "not at all pleased" when MGM put out publicity stills showing Joan teaching Chief Big Tree to Charleston. (Ultimate Star)
Film Daily (1927):
Colonel Tim McCoy, a handsome soldier and a fine actor, mostly because he doesn't act. He is natural at all times. Joan Crawford the lady sought and Roy D'Arcy up to his usual deviltry.
Motion Picture News (April 8, 1927):
Colonel O'Hara (Tim McCoy) dashing young officer of Braddock's staff is aided to escape from the French by Rene (Joan), daughter of commandant whom he worships. When the positions are reversed and she is his prisoner of war she willingly consents to become his prisoner for life. The costumes of the period offer a pleasing contrast to the interesting sequences ... in which are seen such historical figures as Washington and Braddock. The latter's disastrous defeat is the film's highlight and it is carried out with realism.
If you've seen Winners of the Wilderness and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Feel free to include a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite titles from the film.
Shane Estes (June 2011)
Rating: of 5
I found this film from a man in Pittsburgh who bought it on VHS 18 years ago and transferred it to DVD for me. The fact that it exists at all is amazing. The quality is rather poor. It is really bright in parts to the point where you can’t see actual faces sometimes, and the sound is high pitched and squeaky, but it’s all there. I actually expected it to be worse, so I was pleasantly surprised. I would wager that the quality of some of these “lost silents” is what keeps them from being released to DVD.
The film is a period piece starring Tim McCoy and in the first of two collaborations between them. I was expecting it to have a “B-Western” kind of feel to it, but that’s not what this is at all. There are many Western elements in the film (guns, horses, Indians, etc.) but it is definitely not a Western. The film looks like it actually had a pretty high budget. Apparently Tim McCoy insisted that all the Native Americans portrayed in the film would be played by actual Cherokee Indians, and they do look authentic to me. They definitely aren’t white guys in make-up, which was very common for that time. A publicity photo for the film showing Joan teaching the Cherokees how to do the Charleston is pretty amusing, although Tim McCoy reputedly wasn’t too fond of it. I think he was going for authenticity.
Winners has a comedic feel to it, with Tim McCoy having a lot of charisma and humor that I was not expecting at all. He’s kind of a swashbuckler in this role, very akin to a Douglas Fairbanks character. He’s a lover, a soldier, a hero, a gentleman, and a rebel. It’s certainly not all comedy though. There are many very serious moments in the film. One scene in particular really caught me off guard. There is a moment in the film where the Cherokees tie up a naked prisoner to a post and burn him at the stake while riding around him on horses and slapping his buttocks with whips. I’ve seen female nudity from time to time in films made before the Hays Code went into full effect in 1934, but this is the first instance of male nudity that I have seen.
Joan Crawford plays the female lead in this film and is a major part of the plot from beginning to end. Her role in Winners is more significant than any other film she appeared in before this (that I have seen). She’s not just a prop like she is in films like Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, and she’s not just “the girl” like she is in films like The Boob. Her character is integral to the progression of the story. She plays the of Tim McCoy and is the motivation for all of his actions in the film, similar to the role she played in . I really liked her in this. I’m usually not a big fan of Joan in period pieces (like ), because she always comes off as too modern to be believable, but she works really well in this for some reason.
The film’s setting is the French and Indians wars that took place in the middle of the 18th century. Crawford plays a French society woman (Rene) living in what is now Canada, and McCoy plays an English soldier (Colonel O’Hara) from Virginia fighting on the side on the Indians. Of course he falls in love with her, and it turns into a forbidden romance, somewhere along the lines of , but without all the suicide. After much ado, they end up together by the end and joke whether they should raise their children as French or English. “She is French – you are British. What will the children be? They will be – AMERICANS!”
I was highly entertained by this film. Crawford’s performance is flawless. It is definitely a fast-paced and action-filled film from beginning to end. There’s never a dull moment! There’s a really cute chase scene with Joan on a horse toward the end of the film that is a must-see. The scene where the two meet each other on a balcony is quite humorous as well. Joan says to McCoy, “In Quebec, the moon is usually in the sky.” To which he replies,” That’s strange – the stars are in your eyes.” What’s up with lovers meeting on balconies in these 1920s films? I enjoyed this film a lot and would recommend it to any fan of Joan’s silent film performances.
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