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The Plainsman (1936)
Cecile B. DeMille brings you Gary and Jean in their grandest picture...the story of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, the hardest boiled pair of lovers who ever rode the plains...a glorious romance set against the whole flaming pageant of the Old West...
Gary Cooper ... Wild Bill Hickok
Jean Arthur ... Calamity Jane
James Ellison ... William "Buffalo Bill" Cody
Charles Bickford ... John Lattimer
Helen Burgess ... Louisa Cody
Porter Hall ... Jack McCall
Paul Harvey ... Yellow Hand
Victor Varconi ... Painted Horse
John Miljan ... Gen. George A. Custer
Frank McGlynn Sr. ... Abraham Lincoln
Granville Bates ... Van Ellyn
Frank Albertson ... Young trooper
Purnell Pratt ... Capt. Wood
Fred Kohler ... Jake (teamster) (as Fred Kohler Sr.)
Pat Moriarity ... Sgt. McGinnis (as Pat Moriarty)
After the failure of "The Crusades" at the box office, Cecil B. DeMille stopped doing films about non-American history. His films for the next thirteen years were about our history from Jean Lafitte to World War II (Dr. Wassell). The first in order of production was this film, starring Gary Cooper as Wild Bill Hickok, with Jean Arthur as Calamity Jane. James Ellison was Buffalo Bill, John Miljan (not a villain as usual) was General George A. Custer, and Anthony Quinn was one of the Indians who fought at Little Big Horn. The villains were led by Charles Bickford (selling arms to the Indians) and Porter Hall as Jack McCall (who killed Wild Bill Hickok).
Basically the film takes up the history of the U.S. after the Civil War. Lincoln is shown at the start talking about what is the next step now that Lee has surrendered. Lincoln talks about the need to secure the west (more about this point later). Then he announces he has to go to the theater. That April 14th must have been very busy for Abe - in "Virginia City" he grants a pardon to Errol Flynn at the request of Miriam Hopkins on the same date.
Actually, while Lincoln was concerned about the West, his immediate thoughts on the last day of his Presidency were about reunifying the former Confederate states and it's citizens into the Union as soon as possible. It was Reconstruction that occupied his attention, not the west (except for the problems of Maximillian and his French controlled forces in Mexico against Juarez). But he had been involved in actual problems with the West. In 1862 he sent disgraced General John Pope, the loser at Second Manassas, to Minnesota to put down a serious Indian war by the Sioux (the subject of McKinley Kantor's novel, "Sprit Lake". Pope, incompetent against Lee and Jackson, turned out to be quite effective here, and the revolt was smashed.
However, with all Lincoln's actual attention to western problems, it is doubtful that he says (as Cooper repeats at least once), "The frontier should be secure." There is nothing to say he could not have said it, but it is hardly a profound pronouncement by a leading statesman. Like saying, Teddy Roosevelt said, "Eat a good breakfast every morning for your health." It is not a profound statement of policy. It is, at best, a statement of recognizable fact. Cooper turning it into a minor mantra, like Lincoln's version of the Monroe Doctrine, is ridiculous...typical of the way DeMille's scripts have really bad errors of common sense in them.
However, this is not a ruinous mistake. "The Plainsman" is an adventure film, and as such it has the full benefit of DeMille the film creator of spectacle. As such it is well worth watching. But not as a textbook on Lincoln's political ideas or his quotable legacy.
Cecil B. deMille really knew how to create a classic, and after 7 decades his western comes across as the Real McCoy, engrossing, entertaining, spectacular; in no way outdated.
As a real fan of TV's DEADWOOD, I'll tell you the performances of Gary Cooper as Wild Bill Hickock and Jean Arthor as Calamity Jane are far more on-target.
We don't have any giants in Hollywood anymore. PLAINSMAN is just one of dozens of classics from the 1936-1945 decade that have seen enduring commercial life decade after decade: released, re-issued, re-issued all over again. Filmmakers like today's Spielberg, Jackson, Bruckheimer are like kids playing in a sandbox. None of today's movies will be sought out in 7 months let alone 70 years.
The Plainsman is an entertaining western, no doubt a classic, which is actual even today. Gary Cooper is Wild Bill Hickok, ideal for the role, together with John Wayne and James Stewart, they were the best actors that played western heroes in their generation. Jean Arthur is great as Calamity Jane, nobody that I know played it better than her. Even if might not be historically accurate, the film manages to capture the most important about Hickok and about the time it takes place. Sometimes you have to sacrifice History to make your point and that is what DeMille does here. The friendship of Hickok with Buffalo Bill, the selling of rifles to the Indians by a great manufacturer to compensate for the losses he would have because of the end of the civil war, Custer and Little Big Horn, the uneasy relationship between Buffalo Bill's wife, a religious woman, with Hickok a man who had killed plenty, also the unusual love affair between Hickok and Calamity all this makes 'The Plainsman' a non conventional and interesting film. Anthony Quinn has a very short appearance, that already shows what a great actor he was going to become. A lot of care was taken to show the original guns of that time.
* The cavalry sequences were shot with members of the Wyoming National Guard. Two guardsmen were badly hurt during filming of a charge scene.
* 2,000 Indian actors were used as extras for the Custer massacre sequence.
* Paramount executives wanted Wild Bill Hickok to survive the card-game shootout, but Cecil B. DeMille resisted and got his way.
* 'Anthony Quinn' told Cecil B. DeMille that he spoke fluent Cheyenne. Quinn's description of the Custer battle is gibberish, but DeMille was impressed.
* Film debut of Hank Worden.
* The script originally had Anthony Quinn's character entering the campsite with no concern because he thought it was the camp of another Indian. Quinn told DeMille that a real Indian would know the difference between a white man's camp and that of another Indian's, and should show caution when entering. When Quinn insisted, DeMille thought about it and agreed that's how the character ought to react.
* An excellent horseman from his youth in Montana, Cooper did most of his own riding stunts in this film including the shot where he rode "hanging" between two horses.
* One of over 700 Paramount Productions, filmed between 1929 and 1949, which were sold to MCA/Universal in 1958 for television distribution, and have been owned and controlled by Universal ever since.