Monday, May 18, 2020

The Affable King in Skins

From the woods of 18th century Tennessee emerged a simple hearted, plain spoken fellow. In the 19th century he was Indian fighter then Indian advocate but always Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier. That's what his friend George called him, anyway, and since he put it in a catchy song it stuck. The 1955 film is a compilation of the first three episodes of the Disney television series, shot in colour and in vast American forests. Fess Parker in the title role is a loveable straight shooter, his personality, perhaps appropriately, strikingly understated compared to his enthusiastic biographer played by Buddy Ebson.

In the first third of the film, Crockett is interrupted in his attempts to subdue a bear by grinning when he's called to duty under General Andrew Jackson (Basil Ruysdael). This is the Creek War and it'll be up to Davy to defeat the dreaded Chief Red Stick (Pat Hogan).

Despite his larger than life reputation, I like how the film shows Davy generally having to struggle in combat. His fights with Red Stick are touch and go and Davy almost loses his scalp in the middle of a battle. But it's diplomacy that finally wins the day and for the second third of the film Davy finds a new career in congress, a role prepped for him by the spread of his legend, courtesy of the faithful George.

At first an ally of the old General Jackson, Davy finds he must argue against him when Jackson plans to double-cross the Native Americans. The first part of this section presents a more hands on version of this drama when Davy must prevail in contests of shooting and fists when an Indian neighbour called Charlie Two Shirts (Jefferson Thompson) is run off his property by the dastardly Bigfoot Mason (Mike Mazurki). The fight choreography is okay but there's an appreciable quantity of ideas at work. Davy and Bigfoot hit each other and bash each other in creative ways and occasionally with props.

The final section is the Alamo and you know that can't end well. Still, it's a Disney film and a strong effort is made to keep it upbeat but the film stops short of lying about Crockett's fate. It's touching to see Davy's friends rally around him, including Captain Hook himself, Hans Conried, playing a cowardly gambler with an unmistakable voice.

I kept waiting for him to say, "Cod fish!"

Davy Crockett is available on Disney+.

No comments:

Post a Comment