Last of the Mohicans (1936 and 1920)

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 19, 2013

Last of the Mohicans—Randolph Scott, Binnie Barnes, Henry Wilcoxon, Bruce Cabot, Heather Angel, Philip Reed, Robert Barrat, Hugh Buckler (1936; Dir:  George B. Seitz)


The official 1936 movie poster uses a 1919 N.C. Wyeth illustration from the book (upper left corner).

The successful 1992 version of this story was said to be have been based more on this 1936 movie than on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper.  There are several lines from this version that recur in the 1992 movie and the 1936 screenwriter Philip Dunne even has a credit in the 1992 film, but the two versions are not identical in plot. 

Col. Munro (Hugh Buckler) is at Albany, about to head for Fort William Henry on Lake George, when he is joined by Major Duncan Heyward (Henry Wilcoxon) and Munro’s two daughters, Alice (Binnie Barnes, with dark hair) and Cora (Heather Angel, blond).  Their column is led by adopted Mohawk Magua (Bruce Cabot), who talks Heyward and the Munro daughters into taking a short cut on which he plans to betray them to the invading Hurons.  The small party is rescued by Hawkeye (Randolph Scott) and father and son Mohicans, Chingachgook (Robert Barrat) and Uncas (Philip Reed).  While making for Fort William Henry, they steal canoes and elude the Huron pursuit.  Hawkeye and Alice begin to form a relationship, to the irritation of Major Heyward, as do Uncas and Cora.

LastMohicans36BarnesScott Alice and Hawkeye

Once at the fort, the British are besieged by the French, Hurons and Ottawas.  Uncas makes an unsuccessful attempt to carry a dispatch to Gen. Webb and is wounded.  Hawkeye tells the colonials their homes and farms are in danger and helps them to escape the fort; for this, he and Chingachgook are put in the fort’s brig.  Montcalm, the French commander, persuades Munro that further resistance is hopeless, and Munro surrenders on the promise of honorable terms and treatment.  Magua whips the French-allied Hurons and Ottawas into a murderous frenzy, and the Indians attack the now-vulnerable British before they are able to leave the fort.  The French are horrified and eventually put a stop to the massacre, but not before Magoa makes off with Alice and Cora and heads north.


Hawkeye and the Mohicans escape the brig in the melee and head after Magua, encountering Major Heyward on the trail.  Magua brings the sisters to the Huron council, where it is decided that Alice will die by being burned to death, and Cora is given until morning to decide between joining her sister in death or becoming Magua’s squaw.  Uncas sneaks into the camp and rescues Cora, but Magua pursues.  Uncas is killed by Magua and Cora chooses death rather than be taken again by Magua.  In turn, Chingachgook kills the evil Magua.

Hawkeye and Major Heyward argue over who will volunteer to trade himself for Alice.  Heyward knocks out Hawkeye and steals his clothes; the Hurons agree to trade Cora for the disguised Heyward.  Hawkeye shows up and has a shooting match with Heyward to prove who is the real Hawkeye; he ends up being tortured and prepared for burning.  As the Mohicans, Heyward and Alice escape, they find a relief column near and return in time to save Hawkeye. 


Once back in in Albany with the relief column, Hawkeye faces a court martial for the same changes for which he was imprisoned at Fort William Henry, but this time Heyward comes to his defense.  He is acquitted of all charges in return for joining the British army as a scout in their next expedition northward.

So the blond and dark Munro daughters are switched in this version; the canoe chase takes place before the fort surrenders, Major Heyward surivives, and Hawkeye joins the British army.  These are all changed in the 1992 version of the story.  But this version deserves to be regarded as a classic.  Scott is excellent as Hawkeye in one of the best of his early screen roles, and Wilcoxon does very well as Heyward.  The sisters are also excellent.  Cabot as Magua is neither as evil and leering as Wallace Beery (1920) nor as implacably cruel as Wes Studi (1992).  But this is well worth watching, despite a couple of clunky spots.  It was filmed in the Crescent City and Smith River areas of northern California, using Yurok, Hoopa and Tolowa extras.

The Last of the Mohicans—Wallace Beery, Barbara Bedford, Harry Lorraine, Alan Roscoe, Theodore Lorch, Henry Woodward (1920; Dir: Clarence Brown, Maurice Tourneur)


The first film version of Last of the Mohicans was a 1911 one-reeler starring James Cruze, better known these days for directing the 1923 silent western classic The Covered Wagon.  The silent version most often seen these days is Maurice Tourneur’s 1920 version.  That same year there was a German version of the story featuring Bela Lugosi as Chingachgook. 


Bedford and Roscoe as the young lovers Cora and Uncas.

This Tourneur version is notable for Wallace Beery’s leering performance as the evil Magua, for the prominence of Uncas (Alan or Albert Roscoe) as the romantic hero, and for the strangely hayseed depiction of Hawkeye (Harry Lorraine), giving him a much less prominent role in the drama than this character usually has.  The romantic leads of Roscoe and then-17-year-old Barbara Bedford (Cora) were later married.  Boris Karloff is said to be one of the Indian extras in the film, but if so he’s not very obvious.

LastMohicansBeery Beery as Magua

This was filmed around Big Bear Lake and the San Bernardino National Forest in southern California, with some shooting in Yosemite.  The directors are top-quality:  Tourneur did most of the movie, but after being injured on the set, he gave Clarence Brown one of his first directing chances in finishing the film and doing much of the outdoor shooting.  The restored print has a lot of color tints in it.  This version is one of the three (1920, 1936, 1992) most worth watching and is said to be truer to Cooper’s novel than most later versions.  At 73 minutes, it’s not terribly long.

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