Monday, June 8, 2015


CINEMACABRE's Steve Vertlieb & FAMOUS MONSTER's "Forry" Ackerman
A long time ago, in a land not that far away - during an infinitely more primitive time before high speed social media, video journals, TMZ, ACCESS HOLLYWOOD and DISH NATION, if a film fan wanted to know more (and maybe even own just a teeny weeny bit - in the way of behind the scenes stills and / or trivia) of their favorite movie, well, ... the "fanzine" was the be-all and end-all king. Generally considered the first two such publications, both PHOTOPLAY (edited by James R. Quirk - not to be confused with that Starship Captain guy) and MOTION PICTURE STORY, bowed in 1911, and within their first few issues were pulling in staggering circulation totals in excess of 200,000 per month.
    Essentially covering the broad spectrum of film news - from behind-the-scenes insider production stories to good 'ol fashioned star gazing (regular contributors to PHOTOPLAY included Hedda Hopper and Walter Winchell), the fanzine became more specialized ("niched" if you will) during the 1950s with the arrival of two of what would come to be considered the "grandaddy's" of the medium, CONFIDENTIAL - that citadel of gossip, scandal and expose' journalism launched in December 1952, and the more family friendly FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND - established in 1958.

    Launched by publisher James Warren (EERIE, CREEPY, VAMPIRELLA) and edited by Forrest J (“Uncle Forry”) Ackerman, FAMOUS MONSTERS would go on to become the quintessential genre fan magazine, over the years inspiring young sci fi (a phrase Forrie himself claims to have coined, by the way) and horror aficionados such as Peter Jackson, John Landis, George Lucas, Richard Edlund, Steven Spielberg and Stephen Sommers to ultimately become film makers as adults.  While also inspiring the late 1970s - 80s rise of similarly themed genre publications such as STARLOG, FANGORIA, VIDEO WATCHDOG and the revised CINEFANTASTIQUE, FAMOUS MONSTERS' high-flyin’ heyday surely was the ten year span between the mid 1950s - 1960s, when many of the aforementioned future directors, film techs and others (born in the mid 1940s) were in their teen years, and enjoying many of the films discussed in the pages of the magazine on television.

    During the late 1960s genre films (and even once popular genre themed television such as LOST IN SPACE and THE OUTER LIMITS) fell out of public favor in lieu of the increasingly more popular and cynical "youth culture" cinematic craze - embodied by films such as EASY RIDER, THE GRADUATE and GOODBYE COLUMBUS, and the hard edged socio-politically aware cinema of the 70s - represented by titles such as THE FRENCH CONNECTION, SHAFT, NETWORK and DOG DAY AFTERNOON. 

Steve Vertlieb with dear friend, Ray Harryhausen (1920 - 2013)
During this time even the once legendary Ray Harryhausen (creator of JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.) saw his lovingly realized dinosaurs-in-the-old-west Willis O'Brien homage, VALLEY OF GWANGI, discarded and dumped by its own studio, then buried into the purgatory-ish filmic distribution world of the grade "B" second run drive-in movie circuit. It wasn't until Lucas' STAR WARS and Richard Donner's SUPERMAN (1977 and 1978 respectively) reignited the fantasy film box office, that the genre fanzine, as well as the films they covered, would once again prove popular and profitable endeavors.
    Those who have been following the production progress of our STEVE VERTLIEB: THE MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES documentary over the last two years know a theme which originally quietly arose in the background, then over time asserted itself to the fore, is the question of "What Constitutes Film Archivism?".  Is it, as some attest, preserving for posterity only physical memorabilia such as the original 1933 KING KONG puppet armature, the “granny” dress of Norman Bates mother, or one of the aerodynamically slick pod cars from LOGAN'S RUN? Or is it also preserving for future generations of film fans and filmmakers-to-come the memories, stories and firsthand recollections of those legends of fantastic cinema and literature; and how and why they came to create those classics in the first place?  Those classics which continue to enthrall audiences, and now also serve as an endless franchise catalog – a box office “Well Of The Souls” if you will, for studio producers.


    In an era where, film-wise, “everything old is new again”, and where schools, students and online cinema “historians” go gaga over the latest Scorcese / Tarantino references to classic genre films (you know Scorcese’s SHUTTER ISLAND is his homage to the films of Val Letwton, right?), it’s a heartbreaking reality of passing time that the list of surviving members of that elite cadre, who created this rich cinematic and literary history, is diminishing every year. Think about it, within the last seven alone we've lost not only "Uncle Forry" Ackerman and Ray Harryhausen, but Ray Bradbury (THE ILLUSTRATED MAN, FAHRENHEIT 451, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES), Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND, BID TIME RETURN, DUEL, STAR TREK, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN), ALIEN / NECRONOMICON artist H.R. Giger and many more.

    During that high-and-dry period between the mid 1960s and 70s, before the post STAR WARS resurgent popularity (and profitability) of the genre film and fanzine, a small group of men would "carry the Olympic Torch" if you will, keeping it burning through the cold, and often at the expense of personal financial ruin and professional ridicule as they, from their own pockets, lovingly funded, wrote and distributed a handful of genre themed publications (many of them originally mimeographed – some of you “under 30-ers” will have to Google that word) which many would disparage as being indicative of an irresponsible sense of arrested development. At times lambasted and (no exaggeration, we get into this in our film) disowned by their own families, these "old men who refused to grown up and face the real world", would in the long run prove to be true heroes of filmic archivism - their work and preservation of the letters, technical drawings and first hand "how it came to be" recollections of some of the most revered names in genre history, now considered a "Lost Ark" treasure trove which, if they'd kowtowed to popular opinion at the time, and “grown up”, would now be lost forever.

Everything old is new again - literally: (top L&R) Howard Hawks' HATARI (1962) /
Steven Spielberg's THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK (1997)
One of the most respected of these (until now) unsung “Olympic Torch bearers” is the titular subject of our film - Steve Vertlieb. In the late 1960s he, along with George Stover (those of you familiar with the films of John Waters will recognize that name as part of the cult director's stable of performers) and the late John Parnum, in various capacities supervising the creation, editing and publication of the fanzines BLACK ORACLE and CINEMACABRE. Becoming more than fanzines, ORACLE and CINEMACABRE offered such learned, in depth and perceptive articles by these men and others, as to garner (in Steve's case alone) the respect, admiration, and in many cases personal years-long friendships, with such legendary filmic figures as Peter Cushing, Miklos Rozsa, Jerry Goldsmith, Richard Matheson, Buster Crabbe, Veronica Carlson, Philippe Mora, Vincent Price, Paul Clemens and Robert Bloch. Then, in more recent years, the veneration and friendship of composers Lee Holdridge (tv's MOONLIGHTING, SPLASH, INTO THE ARMS OF STRANGERS) and Mark McKenzie (THE GREATEST GIFT, THE ULTIMATE MIRACLE, STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE), writer / director Nicholas Meyer (THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION, TIME AFTER TIME, STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) and many more.

    It’s been an, at times, tough slog for Mr. Vertlieb and the others. In Steve's case alone, while now respected by many, his desire back then to "save" the movies - as in preserving those letters, technical drawings, photos, memorabilia and personal stories for posterity (this at a time when the definition of success was the Gordon Gekko-like religion of a huge payday by any means necessary), would come at great personal cost, including the loss of his own marriage and career, near bankruptcy, and deep emotional depression. But amazingly and maybe even (for those with active imaginations and / or souls which just refuse to “roll over and play dead”) magically, those films – many with their near spiritual / Utopian-inspired messages and subtext, would in-turn reciprocate the favor and "save" Steve during those dark times; both he and those revered classics waiting patiently until now finally enjoying a 21st century Renaissance of sorts. Those films serving as the inspirational basis for current blockbusters such as JURASSIC WORLD, and Steve enjoying a personal "franchise reboot" of his own with, among other recent developments, a new life love in the luminous Rochelle Trust, as well as feature length documentary being filmed about his long, colorful, and ultimately inspiring life and times.

Spending the afternoon talking film with writer / dir. Nicholas Meyer (THE DAY AFTER / STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN) and writer / dir. Frank Capra
For those who have been following and supporting our film's progress, we thank you. Admittedly at times there may seem to be long stretches of "no updates", but rest assured production ever continues. As those who've ever been involved in any kind of independent filmic endeavor can attest, sometimes there are long stretches of apparent nothing-ness going on while the foundation is being poured, leveled and solidified for the next all important phase. And in our case, part of that "foundation laying" sometimes falls under the very un-sexy and uninteresting-to-most category of the financing of said vision. Some of you will get this analogy.  And for those who don’t, … well, consider yourself at present very lucky. It’s kind of like being a homeowner who doesn't have unlimited pockets, and who must renovate his / her house over a much longer period of time than the person who just say calls in a contractor, then puts it all “on the card”.

    The not-necessarily-financially-flush, but oh so dedicated, home owner will save up a few paychecks in order to do a Saturday at Lowes; then they’ll spend the next week completing one or two household renovations. In another month (or two or three) they save up enough to do it again, and again and again. The important thing however is to keep moving. This is what we've always referred to as the "pick and shovel work" aspect of things, or what others might think of as the "boring" part. Such is the life of a truly independent film project.  And hey, sorry to burst the bubbles of those who dream of completely financing via crowdfunding, then hitting all the major festivals and scoring a massive distribution deal. While yes, it does now and then happen, for many a (shall we call ‘em) “blue collar” film maker, the non-sexy “slogging one day at a time” method is often the manner in which these things sometimes progress.

Film scores by Steve's beloved friend & mentor Miklos Rozsa (1907-1995) include
Interestingly, timing-wise, Steve has recently been the subject of two lushly realized (what else?) contemporary fanzine publications. In the latest edition of Gary and Susan Svelha's near coffee-table-book-like MAD ABOUT MOVIES (#9 / Nov. 2014), Steve recounts his childhood fascination with TV's legendary series ROUTE 66, and how (after learning the production crew and stars were coming to his hometown of Philadelphia, PA to film) this fascination lead he and his brother, Erwin, to cut school, visit the crew at a local hotel, then ultimately receive an invitation by series star George Maharis to witness the episode's climactic shoot atop the dizzying heights of the city's Benjamin Franklin Bridge. In our MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES documentary we pay homage to both that December 1961 ROUTE 66 episode, "The Thin White Line", and how it lead to young Steve's desire for a career in film journalism, by shooting adult Steve (on a particularly brisk and windy morning) retracing those childhood steps up the pedestrian walkway of the same Benjamin Franklin Bridge, he recalling and recounting that influential day.

ROUTE 66; "The Thin White Line" (1961) / MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVES (2014)
Then just weeks ago, Richard Klemensen's much acclaimed LITTLE SHOPPE OF HORRORS MAGAZINE (now amazingly entering its 42nd year as an actual printed periodical - WOW!), not only featured Steve, George Stover and others in its tribute to the art form of the fanzine, but also dedicated the entire issue to our beloved “Man Who ‘Saved’ The Movies”.

    And, as if that wasn’t enough (and talk about synchronicity), we also recently received an invitation to preview our film, in a polished work-in-progress version, at this upcoming August’s REEL EAST FILM FESTIVAL, to be held in Oaklyn, N.J.  Just last year the much talked about feature length documentary, THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE POPCORN, debuted at Reel East in a similar “work-in-progress” state.  And one of our all time favorite writer / directors, John Sayles’, screened his GO FOR SISTERS there.  So, needless to say, we’re rather excited.  As such the next month and a half will be spent picking up a bit more "guerilla style" footage, then spending endless hours at the editing desk in preparation. As mentioned in one of our earlier postings, in this biz (that of independent film making) one has to be willing to live by the adage, "How do you eat an entire elephant? ... One bite a time".

    Is it a helluva slog? You bet!  But if Steve Vertlieb, John Parnum, George Stover and the others could save the movies for us, it’s the very least we can do in return to honor them, wouldn't you say?

Documentary Trailer

CEJ (6/8/15)

* Go on location during the filming of MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES via our exciting production blogs @

* View film excerpts, raw footage and more on our MAN WHO "SAVED" THE MOVIES
YouTube Channel @


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"Celebrating The Art of Cinema, ... And Cinema As Art"

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Thursday, February 26, 2015





     Biology tells us the evolution of an organism is a series of sometimes traumatic and even painful mutations over time which, if said organism survives, in the end crystallizes it into a stronger, more advanced version of its earlier state.  In the 1980s and 90s, econophysicist Doyne Farmer (stay with us, we promise this is about movies) popularized the notion of the "Edge Of Chaos", espousing that the most (and most healthy) evolution of this sort takes place within a tense-but-not-too-intense state of environmental "yin and yang". Namely, that if there is not enough change to the organism's surrounding environment (nothing to encourage it to grow and change) it will stagnate and eventually die off; whereas if there is too much environmental change at once, it won't be able to adapt quickly enough, and will (well, like we said) cease to exists, "die", "croke", "push up daisies", you choose the colloquialism.  If there was ever broadsweeping proof as to the veracity of this "econo-evolutionary" theory, it was surely the film industry of the late 1960s / early 70s.

      The "out of left field" successes of THE GRADUATE (1967) and EASY RIDER (1969), in coincidental conjunction with a cinematic obituary list of mammothly budgeted 60s era failures from major studios, among them CLEOPATRA, PAINT YOUR WAGON, DOCTOR DOOLITTE and STAR! - all geared towards older audiences, caused a sudden (some would say "panicked" and "survival based") industry-wide paradigm shift towards a more gritty, European New Wave-influenced, and (most importantly to studio CEOs) "micro-budget"-inspired string of films aimed at an emerging youth and urban demographic market.  HELLO DOLLY was out, and THE MINI-SKIRT MOB, "IT'S ALIVE!" and SWEET SWEETBACK'S BAADASSSSS SONG were in. The death knell had sounded for the end of the grand scale Cinemascope "Road Show" epic.  And in order to survive this film industry "Age Of Chaos" one had to adapt, change and grow ... or ultimately fade away.  Nowhere was this harsh new reality felt with more brutal impact than at the Walt Disney company. A haven of good ol' timey middle-American family values splashed across the screen of the local Bijou since its inception (as the "Laugh-O-Gram Studio") in the 1920s, a literal "death chime" would plunge "The Mouse House" into its own search for evolutionary survival in the age of the grindhouse. 

      One of the most heartrending moments towards the end of the superlative (though little seen) 1995 documentary, FRANK AND OLLIE, occurs when legendary Disney Studios animators (and near life long BFFs) Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson - two of Disney's iconic "Nine Old Men", that core group which worked on classics such as CINDERELLA, PETER PAN, SLEEPING BEAUTY and more, reminisce about that fateful day two weeks before Christmas in 1966, when studio founder Walt Disney, creative surrogate father to them all, unexpectedly passed away while they were working on the animated feature THE JUNGLE BOOK.  One of the last projects to bear Walt's personal stamp, the public's box office response to the musical / comedy take on Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli stories would help determine the studio's future.

     THE JUNGLE BOOK pulled it off.  A financial success, it granted Disney time to adapt to the present industry-wide environmental shift.  But that evolution would, as is also often the case in the biological world, be traumatic and painful. Over the next few years the studio, for awhile under the leadership of Walt's brother and business partner, Roy O. Disney; then with Roy's son / Walt's nephew, Roy E. Disney, at the helm, cranked out a series of films - among them THE LOVE BUG, THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES (starring recurring young Disney star Kurt Russell), THE ARISTOCATS, and BEDKNOBS AND BROOMSTICKS, all of which closely adhered to Disney cinematic tradition.  And while financially successful, they came to carry a surprising (and not so surprising, in the era of SHAFT, THE GODFATHER, DEATH WISH, and ENTER THE DRAGON) stigma of the "corny 'G' rated kiddie film" which audiences came to be embarrassed to admit that they'd seen.  This perception phenomena backed up on the studio and came to color it in the eyes of many as the industry's version of the once great ballplayer now become an anachronistic has-been unable (or unwilling) to face the realities of the modern era.

(L to R)  Roy O. Disney,  Roy E. Disney,  Card Walker,  Donn Tatum,  Ron Miller

     The fate of the Disney empire over the next decade fell primarily into the hands of four men - the aforementioned Roy E. Disney, along with Card Walker, Donn Tatum and Ron Miller.  Miller was Walt's son-in-law, and perhaps best known to many as the producer of PETE'S DRAGON, the original ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN and FREAKY FRIDAY, then much later THE BLACK HOLE, NIGHT CROSSING, TEX, TRON and THE BLACK CAULDRON. While the quartet certainly managed to keep the company's head financially above water, without Walt's personal vision, over time a creative stagnation began to set in, leading to a slew of admittedly enjoyable, but ultimately redundantly puerile titles such as SNOWBALL EXPRESS, THE NORTH AVENUE IRREGULARS, GUS, HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO and THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE dominating the release slate.  Even the studio's animated features of the 1970s, such as ROBIN HOOD, while lauded for technical craft, were critically derided for what many perceived as a lack of creative spark.

70s era Disney "rejects" (L to R): Don Bluth,  Brad Bird,  Henry Selick,  Tim Burton

     Disney's artistic cred (and attendant stock market standing) would bounce back considerably in the early 1980s with the founding of Touchstone Pictures and it’s more adult oriented titles such as SPLASH, RUTHLESS PEOPLE, and DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS.  But in the meantime it's 70s era stagnation - anathema to an organism's survival, led to the departures of not only some of the studio's best and brightest new talent; among them animators Don Bluth (who'd go on to found his own company with THE SECRET OF N.I.M.H. and AN AMERICAN TAIL), Brad Bird (later of THE IRON GIANT and THE INCREDIBLES), Henry Selick (THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, CORALINE) and Tim Burton, but also to the resignation of Roy E. Disney himself, who'd later return in the early 80s ("in the knick of time" as it were) with a consortium of "white knight" investors to save the studio from a hostile takeover attempt.

      Common knowledge says the 1970s was the era of the Disney studios' great creative "malaise"; and that it truly didn't mature into the risk-taking creative juggernaut we now know it to be until those early 80s titles such as SPLASH, NEVER CRY WOLF and SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES jolted it from a self-induced near comatose slumber.  But years before the studio officially "grew up", it already had with a one shot cinematic "hail mary" pass; in retrospect perhaps it most daringly original film of the decade.  Not a financial hit, it would go into hibernation for over 30 years, sporadically poking it's head out of the darkness to make an appearances on Disney TV then for a short time on VHS, before vanishing back into the shadows of its winter cave, only to be rediscovered in that vast treasure land known as late nite cable TV. 

      In that same 70s era, when many legends of classic Hollywood (both in front of and behind the lens) where considered "out of vogue", this same film, along with a handful of other "forgotten" Disney vaulted treasures, would help to keep those cinematic gems "in the creative loop" until the next rotation of thematic trend - the retro fad days following the release of STAR WARS, once again made them and their brand of old school films and film making technique popular and profitable. The aforementioned film would be one of the first from a major studio to question Hollywood's mostly up-till-then "pure white" (both literally and figuratively) depiction of American history's treatment of its Native Americans.  And it would also offer cloaked commentary on the then controversial war in Vietnam.  Yeah, seriously, a Disney movie!  And oh yeah, it would also manage to be a nift-i-ly enjoyable big screen / big sky western adventure, integrating into its narrative one of the most amusingly obscure parts of true life American military history.  It was 1973's ONE LITTLE INDIAN.

     Now THAT's one hell of an intro!  And well deserved for a film which deserves far greater exposure. For, as we’ve stated before, streaming is wonderful, but many cinematic gems (for various reasons) have yet to make the leap to NetFlix, Hulu, Blu-ray or even DVD. In fact some have never been released in ANY home video format. And many which DID have long since gone out of print and become high priced collectibles. For this reason, in this age of streaming, we not only saved those DVDs, but old school VHS tapes / players and DVD burner; and love to return "to the vaults" to relive old faves.

     In the post Civil War American west, a military prisoner with hands bound behind his back – U.S. Calvary Corporal Clinton Keyes (MAVERICK and THE GREAT ESCAPE’s James Garner), attempts escape on horseback before he’s recaptured by Sgt. Raines (western stalwart Morgan Woodward), roughed up, then brought to Fort Dorado where he’s to face the hangman’s noose for mutiny and desertion.  Keyes crime, it is later learned, is that he turned on his own platoon and sought to help Native American women and children who were being indiscriminately cut down by U.S. soldiers during November 1867’s infamous “Battle On The Red Fork” – one of the darkest episodes of history’s “Great Sioux Wars”.  As the institution of the reservation system continues under General George Crook, various Cheyenne are also herded into the fort – one of them at first believed to be a young Indian boy.  But when it is discovered that he is in fact a white child (frequent John Wayne co-star Clay O’Brien) taken in and raised years prior by the Cheyenne, he is baptized and given the name “Mark” by the chaplin, who’s task it is to oversee the lad until arrangements can be made to deliver him to an orphanage.

     Determined to make it back home to his Cheyenne mother, Mark escapes Fort Dorado in the dead of night, then ventures into the harsh desert valley where the next day he encounters Keyes, who’s also taken flight from the compound, using as his escape “vehicles” two camels (yes, camels; stay with us!) – a mother named “Rosie” and her calf, because of it’s ironic and constant pursuit of water, dubbed “Thirsty”.  Unable to send Mark on his way (if the posse pursuing Keyes find the boy, he may be forced to tell them in which direction Keyes is heading), but also unable to escort Mark to his Cheyenne village home, Keyes agrees to take his new young traveling companion with him towards a new life south of the border in Mexico.  En route they engage in a series of hair breathed escape adventures while eluding Raines’ relentless posse, and they cross paths with widowed homesteader, Doris McIver (PSYCHO’s Vera Miles) and her young daughter, Martha (a ten year old Jodie Foster), the two of whom may alter not only Clint and Mark’s traveling plans, but their life course as well

     On the surface a mash-up of tried-and-true Disney filmic (even formulaic) traditions – a combo of the studio’s nature films (a’la THE LIVING DESERT and THE VANISHING PRARIE), animal / friend yarns (OLD YELLER, THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY), and live action retro adventures (TREASURE ISLAND and SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON), the “Mouse House” would, with ONE LITTLE INDIAN – cleverly scripted by (most times) horror scribe Harry Spalding (of THE DAY MARS INVADED EARTH and CURSE OF THE FLY), take a nod from other recent iconoclastic genre outings such as 1969’s sci-fier PLANET OF THE APES (a deliberate genre parallel to McCarthyism and the Civil Rights Movement) and Robert Altman’s 1970 war satire M*A*S*H (set in Korea but analogous to Vietnam).  As with those two earlier films, ONE LITTLE INDIAN would use its pulp story format as a mask, then launching pad, from which to make comment on current social issues and concerns of the day.  As for the camels? … 

     A nifty piece of obscure American military history.  In 1855, a pre Civil War Jefferson Davis (future President of the Confederate States of America), after being appointed Secretary of War by U.S. President Franklin Pierce, assigned army Major Henry Wayne to travel to various nations along the Mediterranean / Mid East in order to procure 33 camels and return them to the U.S. for usage in desert warfare – the animals being much more hardy pack beasts than horses.  While partially successful in the Southwest, the experiment was abandoned a few short years later because a) the camels constantly spooked the military horses, b) they could be temperamental at the most inappropriate of times, and c) the outbreak of the American Civil War caused such experiments to be viewed as extraneous extravagances.

     In ONE LITTLE INDIAN, Keyes, familiar with the camel corps, takes Rosie and Thirsty as his pack animals when he’s unable to access a pair of horses under guard in the stables.  The growing bond between him, Mark, Rosie and Thirsty (from desperate need to grudging respect to bonafied family) forms the emotional core of the story, which in time also comes to include the possible familial additions of both Doris and Martha.

     One of the most surprising and impressive aspects of this “before it’s time” / more grown-up Disney adventure is how, as a “conscientious objector” to what he perceives to be an “unjust war” against an indigenous population, Garner’s Clinton Keyes is a period stand-in for the 60s / 70s Vietnam War protestor: more than a bit of him taken from inspirational sources as varied as real life boxer Muhammad Ali (who refusing the draft in 1966 famously stated, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong; no Viet Cong ever called me Nigger”), to the fictitious returning Vietnam vet turned freedom fighter BILLY JACK in a series of four popular films from 1967 – 1977.

ONE LITTLE INDIAN's setting: the institution of the reservation system under U.S. Gen. George Crook

     As with the BILLY JACK series, hugely popular at the time of ONE LITTLE INDIAN’s production, so would Disney’s latest draw inspiration from one of the most lauded publications of the day – Dee Brown’s 1970 treatise BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE.  While actually taking it's lead from Helen Hunt Jackson's A CENTURY OF DISHONOR (originally published in 1881, then briefly reprinted in 1964), WOUNDED KNEE - a comprehensive history of Native Americans in the American West of the 19th century, would, for all intents and purposes, come to be regarded by the modern world as that which for the first time told the history of the "American Indian Wars" from the Native American perspective.

     A social and political powderkeg, it's publication, coinciding with the American Civil Rights and Black Panther movements, would fly in the face of decades of “James Fennimore Cooper”-esque film and TV depictions of American Indians as “savage, barbaric raiders” in need of Christian conversion (that conversion often coming at the end of a gun barrel), throw fuel onto the already smoldering discontent of a younger generation's mistrust of it's leaders, and help balance the scales of public opinion by bringing to light the (hitherto unknown to many) injustices inflicted upon America’s original indigenous citizens by an ever encroaching invading populace which firmly believed in it’s self-fulfilling prophecy of “Manifest Destiny”.

     Published three years after the founding of AIM (the American Indian Movement) – established to address American Indian sovereignty and leadership, as well as issues of racism and police brutality against Native Americans, WOUNDED KNEE (both the book and the 1890 massacre which inspired it’s title) would in turn inspire the near two and a half month “Occupation of Wounded Knee” standoff in early 1973 between members of AIM and U.S. Marshalls: the occupation in protest of the failure to impeach Pine Ridge Indian Reservation President Richard Wilson.  Wilson was accused of corruption and the violent mafia-like “silencing” of political opponents.  And members of AIM felt their protests to the U.S. government, concerning Wilson’s abuses, had fallen upon deaf ears.

Wounded Knee, South Dakota: (Left) December, 1890 (Right) April, 1973

     Rallying in support behind AIM’s occupation were public figures as varied as Johnny Cash, Marlon Brando, ACLU Civil Rights lawyer William Kunstler, and political activist / feminist Angela Davis.  In fact, Brando – the Oscar favorite to take home the Best Actor trophy for THE GODFATHER, in protest refused to attend the 45th Academy Awards ceremony in March of that year; he instead giving his invite to Apache actress Sacheen Littlefeather, who, while collecting his award, gave an impassioned speech in favor of AIM, and against Hollywood’s, mostly up to that time, depiction of Native Americans in popular film and television. 

45th Academy Awards / March 27th, 1973

     Three months after both the end of the Wounded Knee standoff and Sacheen Littlefeather’s Oscar speech, the already completed ONE LITTLE INDIAN, with its serendipitous and up to date analogies to WOUNDED KNEE and Vietnam, debuted on June 20th, 1973.  More serendipitous than perhaps intended as, at the time of the 1970 publication of BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, the parallels between the atrocities carried out by some military personnel during the “Plains Indian Wars” and those by American military in Vietnam were brought to the fore of the evening news during the court-martial trials of 14 U.S. officers convicted in the premeditated mass killings of 350 – 500 unarmed Vietnamese women and children in what has come to be called the “My Lai Massacre”.

     Of the 14 officers tried, only one, 2LT William L. Calley Jr., was convicted.  His original “life sentence” was commuted to “house arrest” two days later by then U.S. President Richard Nixon, and he was later granted parole on the grounds that he was “merely following orders” in the "My Lai" actions in which he was involved.  Telford Taylor, an American military lawyer involved in the WWII Nuremburg trials, and who also opposed Senator Joseph McCarthy, stated that paroling Calley based on the defense that he was “following orders” flew in the face of precedents firmly established during both the Nuremburg and Tokyo War Crimes tribunals.

     This same “My Lai” double standard would be examined in the 1974 film sequel THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK, wherein Billy, a “conscientious objector” soldier of the same Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd Infantry Division at "My Lai", exactly like Clinton Keyes in 1973’s ONE LITTLE INDIAN, turns on his own platoon then later faces military charges because of his actions.  In an era where it was surrounded by more innocuous Disney releases such as THE BAREFOOT EXECUTIVE (1971), NOW YOU SEE HIM, NOW YOU DON’T (’72), THE WORLD’S GREATEST ATHLETE (’73 - a wonderful film, by the way!), HERBIE RIDES AGAIN (’74) and THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD (’75), ONE LITTLE INDIAN would stand out as arguably the studio’s (while perhaps thematically cloaked behind western pulp adventure) most socio-politically daring offering before or since;  it to this day remaining a fascinating, and fascinatingly good, head-scratcher of a “How did this ever get made?” piece of film making.

Vietnam's "My Lai" Massacre and it's fallout revisited in the early 70s Western: LITTLE BIG MAN / SOLDIER BLUE (both 1970)

     Born into a dynasty of classic Hollywood film makers, ONE LITTLE INDIAN’s director, Bernard McEveety (1924 – 2004), was the brother of Emmy winning director Vincent McEveety (tv’s THE UNTOUCHABLES, STAR TREK, GUNSMOKE, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., MURDER SHE WROTE) and 2nd Unit Director Joseph McEveety (SON OF FLUBBER, MARY POPPINS, THAT DARN CAT!), as well as the uncle of producer Steve McEveety (IMMORTAL BELOVED, BRAVEHEART, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST).  Primarily known as a TV director on shows such as CHARLIE’S ANGELS, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, EIGHT IS ENOUGH, KNIGHT RIDER, and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, he’s perhaps best remembered as one of western tv’s most prolific helmers on classics such as THE BIG VALLEY, BONANAZA, RAWHIDE, WILD WILD WEST and GUNSMOKE – a background which would serve him well when making the leap to the big screen on films such as Walt Disney’s live action animal adventure NAPOLEON AND SAMANTHA (starring a young Michael Douglas and child star Jodie Foster) then ONE LITTLE INDIAN. 

       Vietnam's "My Lai" Massacre and fallout revisited in the early 70s Western: THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK (1974),      THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976)

     After the earlier mentioned industry wide “paradigm shift” - where the smash successes of lower budgeted youth and urban oriented films signaled (what many at the time believed to be) the “death knell” for practitioner / artists of “old school” cinema, a few small studio based “reservations” (if you will) for the newly displaced populace of older actors, directors, writers and composers began to spring up.  The two most popular “grazing grounds” of the day were 1) Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson’s “American International Pictures” - producers of, among many genres, the lush period set Roger Corman / Edgar Allen Poe films starring elder statesmen Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Vincent Price alongside young Turk “method” actors like Jack Nicholson and Mark Damon.  

     And 2) Walt Disney Pictures, which, in addition to providing non-TV work for displaced stars such as James Garner and Vera Miles (who’d co-star with Garner a second time in Disney’s THE CASTAWAY COWBOY – 1974), also became a 70s era film industry roosting place of a sort for others such as Ray Milland (ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN), David Niven (CANDLESHOE), Harry Morgan (THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG) and Bette Davis (RETURN TO WITCH MOUNTAIN)The "Mouse House" would also prove a haven for classically trained and award winning music composers, who, elsewhere, now found their brand of orchestral accompaniment supplanted by pop tune soundtracks, and themselves often forced back into the realm of television - where many of them had originally begun their careers.

Young Jodie Foster (center) and Vera Miles (far right)

     While the bulk of Disney film scores during the 70s (and into the very early 80s) were the estimable results of studio music department “Go-to Guys” George Bruns (101 DALMATIONS, THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR, THE JUNGLE BOOK, THE LOVE BUG) and Buddy Baker (THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG, THE SHAGGY D.A.,THE FOX AND THE HOUND), a handful of features would “step outside the gene pool” in search of a more edgy tone and vibe not usually associated with the Disney banner.  

     At a time when Oscar winning composer Maurice Jarre (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO)’s most prestigious work was for TV on mini-series such as JESUS OF NAZARETH and SHOGUN, Disney would seek his “grand escape to other civilizations” sound for their lost world saga ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD (1974) and Robinson Crusoe-like update / retrofit THE LAST FLIGHT OF NOAH’S ARK (1980).  The legendary stylings of PINK PANTHER, PETER GUNN, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S maestro Henry Mancini would lend an air of sophistication to the spy spoof CONDORMAN (’81). And composer Wendy Carlos (A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE SHINING) would give an “electro classical” sense of otherworldliness to 1982’s trendsetting adventure TRON.

Jerry Goldsmith (1929 - 2004)
     One of the most distinctive cine-musical voices to emerge from the 1960s was that of composer Jerry Goldsmith (1929 – 2004).  Known amongst both film music aficionados and “casual” movie fans for classic scores such as PATTON, PLANET OF THE APES, CHINATOWN, COMA, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, ALIEN, POLTERGEIST, GREMLINS, HOOSIERS, RUDY and AIR FORCE ONE, he began his career with the early TV series CLIMAX, PLAYHOUSE 90, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, DR. KILDARE, PERRY MASON and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., then became particularly renowned throughout the decade of the 60s for a series of scores to popular westerns the likes of RIO CONCHOS, HOUR OF THE GUN, BANDOLERO!, 100 RIFLES and the 1966 remake of STAGECOACH.  As did Maurice Jarre, so did Goldsmith, during the days of 70s era “youth oriented cinema”, find his most prestigious work to be in the new idiom of the mini-series (or “novel for television” as they were originally called) on projects such as QB-VII and MASADA.
Pat Hingle
     Seeking that more “edgy tone” removed from the standard Disney sound of Buddy Baker (who was actually one of Goldsmith’s music professors at L.A. City College), ONE LITTLE INDIAN’s producer Winston Hibler (KING OF THE GRIZZLIES, ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD) and director Bernard McEveety (who’d teamed earlier with the composer on the 1971 Peter Falk / Vic Morrow TV movie caper film A STEP OUT OF LINE) brought Goldsmith on board INDIAN in the hope of capturing a rawness, less like the Copland-esque vibe Elmer Bernstein had given to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and TRUE GRIT, and more akin to the jagged, sun-blasted energy with which Goldsmith had infused RIO CONCHOS, RIO LOBO and LONELY ARE THE BRAVE.

Morgan Woodward
     Not only would ONE LITTLE INDIAN become a “reservation” for old school talents such as Goldsmith – who within a few short years would return to big screen glory with THE OMEN, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL, THE SECRET OF N.I.M.H., STAR TREK, and FIRST BLOOD, but also for acclaimed Director of Photography Charles Wheeler (DUEL AT DIABLO, SILENT RUNNING), Production Designer LeRoy Deane (ROBIN AND THE 7 HOODS, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER), and a powerhouse cast.  

     Joining acting stalwarts Garner, Miles and Woodward, ONE LITTLE INDIAN features performances by character actor favorites Pat Hingle (HANG ‘EM HIGH, THE GAUNTLET, NORMA RAE, Tim Burton’s BATMAN) as Fort Dorado’s world weary commanding officer Gapt. Stewart, John Doucette (TRUE GRIT, PATTON) as Sgt. Waller, Bruce Glover (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, CHINATOWN) as Schrader, and THE LONE RANGER’s Tonto himself, Jay Silverheels, as tracker Jimmy Wolf 

Jay Silverheels

     Andrew Prine (GUNSMOKE, WAGON TRAIN, BANDOLERO!) would appear as Chaplin John Kaplan. Budding child star Jodie Foster (Disney’s NAPOLEON AND SAMANTHA, FREAKY FRIDAY and CANDLESHOE) would make one of her earliest appearances as Martha McIver, daughter of Vera Miles’ widow character, Doris McIver.  And Clay O’Brien (THE COWBOYS, CAHILL: U.S. MARSHAL) would star as the titular “One Little Indian” himself, Mark. An actual cowboy since childhood, O’Brien would eventually leave film to return to that first love.  To date he continues to hold the unbroken record of most Team-Roping Championship wins.

     Shot by D.P. Charles Wheeler mostly on location in Kanab, Utah, in a gorgeously encompassing 1:85:1 apsect ratio (one wonders what the exteriors would look like converted to today’s IMAX), ONE LITTLE INDIAN is (with the exception of a few seconds of embarrassingly dated processed “close ups” of Garner and Woodward at high gallop) a technical tour de force.  While esthetically not as violently “revisionist” as that era’s Peckinpah outings - THE WILD BUNCH and PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID, or Ralph Nelson’s SOLDIER BLUE (it is a Disney family film after all), INDIAN is thematically, and impressively, very much of a kind with Arthur Penn’s earlier LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) and Clint Eastwood’s later THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, often erroneously cited as two of the first major Hollywood studio films to take a more fair handed look at America’s historical treatment of its indigenous citizenry. More correctly they were amongst THREE of the first, with the release of ONE LITTLE INDIAN sandwiched between them in 1973.

Andrew Prine
     Released on June 20th, 1973, and surrounded on all sides by box office behemoths such as THE EXORCIST, LIVE AND LET DIE, PAPER MOON and DEATH WISH, the modestly promoted ONE LITTLE INDIAN didn’t make as much noise as hoped at theater cash registers that summer.  Three years later it would be split into two parts and aired over consecutive weeks as part of the WALT DISNEY’S WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR tv series.  Then it would disappear, not showing up on any home video medium until it’s “pan & scan” VHS debut in 2000 courtesy of the Starz! / Anchor Bay label.  Over the next few years, while occasionally airing late nights on the newly rebranded basic cable “Disney Channel” of the day, the only way to catch a commercial free / widescreen broadcast of the film was via airings on Showtime Networks’ “The Movie Channel”, which at the time had recently cemented a deal with Disney for “sub-runs” - the airing of theatrical versions of films which had already experienced standard network or syndicated play. Via a DVD recorder this is how we obtained our copy of what was then an unobtainable Buried Treasure.

     In 2004 however, Disney released a digitally remastered series of “first time on DVD” titles – among them SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS, ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD, THE BLACK HOLE, and ONE LITTLE INDIAN.  And while not “frame by frame” restored, they were taken from the best film and audio elements available and transferred into stunningly realized presentations.  Some Blu-rays don’t look as good.  Many of those same titles, INDIAN among them, have also very recently been made available for streaming (both in standard and HD versions) via Amazon Instant Video and other outlets.


     Between 1982 – ’83, under Ron Miller’s leadership, Disney’s first official “breakthrough” films in its evolution towards capturing older audiences via more mature thematic content, were TRON, TEX, NEVER CRY WOLF, RUNNING BRAVE, SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES, and the comedic mystery TRENCHCOAT.  And it’s corporate (and creative) evolution and rebranding would be officially cemented with the 1984 founding of the studio’s Touchstone Pictures distribution arm with titles such as SPLASH and RUTHLESS PEOPLE.  Unofficially however, its first foray into “mature territory” was over a decade prior with the still impressive western adventure / drama ONE LITTLE INDIAN.

     Now, don’t get us wrong, don’t come away from this thinking ONE LITTLE INDIAN is a dark, dour, uber serious and self-important socio-political treatise on Native American relations in post-Civil War America. It isn’t at all. It’s rather a light hearted, engagingly pulpish, family friendly outdoor adventure with a handful of laughs and just as many heart tugging moments. You might say, it’s “tried and true Disney fare”.  And this "creative subterfuge" is, to us at least, what sets it apart from other actual “tried and true Disney fare” of the day.  

     In the same way say the original PLANET OF THE APES can simultaneously be viewed by a child as an enjoyably fanciful sci fi adventure, yet also by an adult as an intriguingly clever commentary on the current state of social affairs, so does ONE LITTLE INDIAN carry off this same act of cinematic / thematic sleight of hand.  With each viewing one discovers more and more hidden subtext, until one day you watch it while cooking dinner, and when Woodward stands before Capt. Stewart, and gives as his excuse for his obsessive actions in hunting down Keyes that he “… was merely following orders”, you suddenly realize, … “Good Lord! It’s the 'My Lai' court martial!”.

     That sort of thing is what takes a merely “fun” film and transplants it to the land of the true cinematic Buried Treasure.  Well worth the effort to find and unearth, ONE LITTLE INDIAN, is no longer the "missing" (and forgotten) link in the Disney studio's evolution to filmic maturity. It's an important part of the studio's cinematic genome. Give a look-see. We think you'll agree.         


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