Wednesday, September 29, 2021

THE SILENT MOVIE DAY BLOGATHON: The Last of the Mohicans, 1920


The first annual National Silent Movie Day has inspired Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Lea at Silent-ology to host The Silent Movie Day Blogathon this September 29th. Your journey begins HERE

The first National Silent Movie Day will be celebrated on September 29, 2021 as established in January 2021 by Chad Hunter, Executive Director of Video Trust and Director of the Pittsburgh Silent Film Society; Brandee B. Cox, Senior Film Archivist at the Academy Film Archive, and Steven K. Hill, Motion Picture Archivist at the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

The most popular and enduring of James Fenimore Cooper's five novels which comprise the Leatherstocking Tales is the second in the series, The Last of the Mohicans published in 1826. The story is set in New York State in the mid-16th century during the French and Indian Wars (the North American site of the European Seven Years War).

James Fenimore Cooper, 1789-1851

The scout Natty Bumppo, known as Hawkeye, along with his close friends Chingachgook and Uncas, the last of the Mohicans become embroiled in the conflict and the danger that surrounds the Munro family, Colonel, and two daughters. 

Cooper's stories caught the imagination of filmmakers as early as 1910 and many adaptations for the big and small screens have been created in the hundred years since. 1920 saw a two-part German film that featured Bela Lugosi as Chingachgook. My contribution to The Silent Movie Day Blogathon is a look at the 1920 Hollywood film from Maurice Tourneur Productions.

The scenario for the film by Robert Dillon distills the epic story to the events surrounding the emotional and danger fraught story of the Munro sisters, Cora and Alice, along with the memorable characters of Uncas, Chingachgook, Hawkeye, and Magua. This story is enhanced by the location filming in Big Bear Lake, the San Bernardino Forest, and Yosemite National Park.

Lillian Hall, Barbara Bedford

Maurice Tourneur whose background in the theatre and in classical art informed his filmmaking directed and released the film through his own production company formed in 1917. The Last of the Mohicans bears his distinctive hallmark of excellence regardless of the illness which forced assistant director Clarence Brown (The Yearling) to take over the duties of his revered mentor.

"Maurice Tourneur was my god. I owe him everything I've got in the world. For me, he was the greatest man who ever lived."     - Clarence Brown

Wallace Beery

Magua: "Magua does not kill his prisoners - he tortures them!"

Fort William Henry was built in 1755 on Lake George in what was called the province of New York. Our story finds Colonel Munro in a stand-off with General Montcalm and his Huron allies. Nonetheless, when General Webb sends reinforcements to Fort William Henry among them are Colonel Munro's daughters under the protection of Major Heyward and the guidance of a Native scout. Magua played by Wallace Beery claims to know a shortcut to the fort but has nefarious plans of his own. Pride and vengeance against mistreatment by Munro motivate the Huron. 

George Hackathorne, Barbara Bedford

Cora: "Surely among his own people he is a prince!"

Captain Randolph: "You! - The daughter of Colonel Munro! - admiring a filthy savage!"

Barbara Bedford plays Cora, Munro's dark-haired, devoted and romantic daughter. Her imagination has been taken by the appearance in their lives of Uncas played by Albert Roscoe. 

Alice Munro played by Lillian Hall is a vivacious blonde protected by the love of her family and admired by the stalwart Major Heyward played by Henry Woodward.

Henry Woodward, Harry Lorraine, Albert Roscoe, Theodore Lorch 

Hawkeye: "I suspect the varmint covets your scalps! Come - these woods are no longer safe."

As the group of the Monro sisters, Major Heyward and Magua split off from the troops they come across David Gamut played by Nelson McDowall. The awkwardness of the preacher/musician adds a touch of comic relief to the tense situation as the travelers come to realize that Magua is not their friend. Friends will be found in the forest in the scout Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and his son Uncas.

Barbara Bedford, Albert Roscoe

Despite the knowledge and experience of the rescuers, escaping Magua and his Huron confederates is no easy task. A night spent in a hidden cave is an uneasy time for all. However, Cora and Uncas find they have a shared attraction and compatible souls. How inconvenient when they are faced with such challenges.

Eventually, our beleaguered group reaches Fort William Henry at the same time as the troops. Those troops and Colonel Munro are betrayed by the cowardly Captain Randolph to Montcalm. Under a flag of truce, the French commander informs Colonel Munro that he is aware that the British defenses are not what they should be and that no further help is coming. Montcalm and the Huron leaders pledge that the women and children, and soldiers may leave the fort under protection to which Monro reluctantly agrees.

Nelson McDowall, Barbara Bedford, Lillian Hall

Emboldened by alcohol and the urging of the magnetic Magua, many Braves turn their back on the word of their leaders and ambush those leaving Fort William Henry. It is a brutal scene that has not been equaled by many movies since. Cora and Alice are kidnapped by Magua who is pursued by Uncas, Chingachgook, Hawkeye, Munro, and Heyward.

Barbara Bedford, Albert Roscoe

Magua seeks his rights through the Delaware council. It is judged that Cora rightfully belongs with the Mohican Uncas, a cousin of the Delaware but that Magua may take Alice as the spoils of war. The protective nature of her relationship with her sister is overwhelming and Cora offers to exchange herself for Alice. The Delaware offer Magua safe passage until sundown at which time Uncas vows to follow.

Barbara Bedford, Albert Roscoe

After almost 200 years since the novel's publication, I have no fear of spoiling the story which reaches its tragic climax on a rocky promontory where lovely and often misunderstood Cora and her valiant protector Uncas lose their lives. Vengeance of a sort comes to Chingachgook with the death of the hated Magua but it does not assuage his pain.

Theodore Lorch

Chingachgook: "Woe for the race of red men! In the morning of life I saw the sons of my forefathers, happy and strong - and before nightfall I have seen the passing of the last of the Mohicans!"

Of note:

The Last of the Mohicans, 1920 was placed on the National Film Registry for culturally significant films in 1995.

You may be interested in my piece on the 1936 version of The Last of the Mohicans. The Dudley Nichols screenplay was a strong influence on the popular 1992 film, and its retelling of the story which sets the romance on its head is familiar to most film fans.

Maurice Tourneur is the father of director Jacques Tourneur who gave us such classics as Out of the Past and Stars in My Crown.

Barbara Bedford and Albert (Alan) Roscoe (Cora and Uncas) were married from 1922 to 1928, and again from 1930 to 1933 when Roscoe passed at the age of 46. The only child for both was their daughter Barbara Edith Roscoe.


  1. Speaking of father and son directors I want to mention that JAY SANDRICH died on Sept. 22 at the age of 89. His father was MARK SANDRICH. Jay directed 119 episodes of THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW! He also directed ten eps of THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. Jay directed many popular shows including THE BOB NEWHART SHOW. CLASSIC TV FAN

  2. You probably recall the name MARK SANDRICH because he directed GINGER ROGERS and FRED ASTAIRE in five movies. They include THE GAY DIVORCEE and TOP HAT. Mark's passing was at the young age of 44 in 1945. Mark and Jay-two talented directors! CLASSIC TV FAN

    1. It struck a chord to hear of Jay's recent passing. A lot of wonderful memories are wrapped up in the work of both father and son.

  3. This always struck me as one of the most visually appealing silent movies. I have never seen another version of this story nor read the novel but so much from this movie has stayed in my mind, particularly the tragic climax.

    1. A definitive classic. The glorious look of the film keeps the story in your mind and heart. Tourneur was a true artist.

  4. Tourneur was an incredible director, THE BLUE BIRD is one of the most beautiful silents I've seen and this is certainly a stunner too. Thanks so much for covering this classic for our blogathon!

    1. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to revisit and appreciate this movie and the amazing Maurice Tourneur.

  5. I have not yet caught up with this story but this version sounds great with the location shooting and real life couple. Also the touch of a Tourneur is always welcome.

    1. "The touch of Tourneur" is a phrase I shall borrow. "Mohicans" is a story that continually touches generations.

  6. It's impressive to see they filmed away from the studio – and a way from Los Angeles. Judging by the images you posted, the film looks almost timeless. It isn't immediately apparent it was filmed in 1920. It has a modern look to it, in some ways. I've got to see this one!

    1. It is a lovely film. The locations are breathtaking to view as well as placing you in the middle of the action. Your description of "timeless" suits it very well.



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