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When the Redskins Rode

or

How George Washington Won the Battle of Fort Necessity


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Only once during Hollywood 's Golden Era did any studio ever try to tell the story of George Washington's first battles as a soldier, and when they did, they gave it Cold War overtones and chose not to let the facts stand in the way of grand entertainment!

In 1951 Columbia Pictures was a minor studio in decline. At this time, as television sets became common in households across America, Columbia made a living by reissuing its prestige films of bygone days. These included such titles as Platinum Blonde, It Happened One Night, The Awful Truth, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, My Sister Eileen, and Gilda. Columbia also was cranking out B-westerns, shorts by the Three Stooges, serials, and assorted “programmers.” Among them was an oddity entitled When the Redskins Rode, now a lost film shot in a complicated process used by the minor studios called Supercinecolor. The film starred a fading leading man named Jon Hall, who had appeared in the 1937 classic Hurricane with Dorothy Lamour and later served as half of a romantic movie team with Maria Montez at Universal Studios.

Hall was cast in When the Redskins Rode as a Native American of the Delaware tribe named Prince Hannoc, son of Chief Shingiss. No matter the immediate mangling of history, that Shingiss was a Seneca and had no son named Hannoc. And no matter that Hall looked like a beefy white guy too fond of his pasta. Hall sat outside and got a tan, wardrobe outfitted him with a sleeveless buckskin vest and a leather headband and voila! He became the head “Redskin” who rode.

Half-Cuban, half-French character actor Pedro de Cordoba portrayed Chief Shingiss and rather looked the part with his chiseled, if gaunt, features. This was his last of 118 film appearances, which included work in some of the most important films in Hollywood history. His credits included Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Mark of Zorro, and Samson and Delilah among many other classics. In truth, de Cordoba is the best thing about When the Redskins Rode.

Also notable in the cast was John Ridgely as Christopher Gist. Ridgely had been an up-and-coming star in the Warner Brothers stable, appearing in several movies with Ronald Reagan and also in some of the biggest pictures of the 1940s with such stars as Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, and Errol Flynn. By 1951 Ridgely's day had come and gone; he could have made a decent Gist, but the script limited him to lines like, “What do you think, George?” And, “I don't like it, George!” And, “It's quiet, George...Too quiet.”

This brings us to GW himself, played by a veteran freelance actor named James Seay, who appeared in nearly 200 movies and television shows, many of them forgotten. One of his most enduring roles was a small one—kindly Dr. Pierce, steadfast friend of Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street. (“Kris, the State of New York has declared you to be Santa Claus, and personally and professionally, I agree.”)

Rounding out the starring cast was Mary Castle as the devious Elizabeth Leeds, supposed Williamsburg society dame who is in reality a Russian, er, French, spy. Columbia lit and shot Mary Castle as if she were Rita Hayworth, who was also a Columbia player. Hayworth had just married Prince Aly Khan and was off honeymooning and having kids, much to the chagrin of Columbia boss Harry Cohn. Cohn took his revenge by grooming Mary Castle to be Rita Hayworth's replacement. Hayworth was a great movie star but a rotten actress--Mary Castle was just the latter.

Directing the film was Lew Landers, veteran of 100 feature films, beginning with the Universal Horror classic, The Raven (1935) starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Landers had started at the top and had nowhere to go but down. When the Redskins Rode was the bottom.

For this Eastern-Western, Columbia availed itself of a western fort set that looked nothing like the Allegheny Mountains. It featured dusty mountain exteriors and sagebrush, along with stock teepees, ponies, and braves. Gist and his “rangers” (very much a military unit that didn't really exist in 1753), were placed in Western Costume Company uniforms left over from the Rogers' Rangers epic, Northwest Passage, and Columbia acquired a minimal amount of Northwest Passage stock footage from 20th Century Fox.

 

 

 

 

One of the bad guys (right of center, blue coat) bars the way as Hannoc (center) tries to climb the stairs to Elizabeth's room. Christopher Gist (above, green fatigue hat) and George Washington (left center) restrain Hannoc.

 

 

 

 

 

OK, the plot. Are you ready?

In 1753 Virginia is one happenin' colony, party central, even though the English are being threatened by a dastardly, subversive, evil, and downright sneaky foreign power bent on expansion and probably stockpiling nuclear weapons—yes, that's right, the French. George Washington and Christopher Gist are minding their own business in Williamsburg, where they introduce their protege, Delaware Prince Hannoc, to the society guys and gals. They've taught Hannoc to walk, talk, fight, and—son of a gun—look like a European. An Italian to be exact. Believing that Hannoc is key to securing the Ohio Country, a French spy ring led by hottie Elizabeth Leeds tries various methods to lure Hannoc away from his fast friends, Washington and Gist. Thinking Hannoc a sucker, Liz puts the moves on, and he sure does like kissing the white society dame. Still, Hannoc isn't quite convinced to turn on his pals, even though he's in love with Elizabeth.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Leeds puts the moves on Hannoc.

 

 

 

 

 

In the worsening geo-political situation, Virginia Governor Dinwiddie decides GW is the only fellow to take a letter to the expansionists at Fort LeBoeuf to order them off British lands. Gist assembles his company of heavily armed rangers, who march off through the dusty, piney mountains of California, er, Virginia, led by Hannoc. Tipped off by devious spy Elizabeth Leeds, the wily French know GW is coming, so they plan to attack the Virginians' camp and murder them all in their sleep. But Hannoc and Gist quickly size up the situation. It's quiet … too quiet. They suspect trouble lurking out there amongst the cactus and devise a plan that easily foils the attack.

Soon the hearty band reaches the Delaware camp of Shingiss, where Hannoc is pounced upon by the bootylicious Morna, an Indian squaw of 22 who has been saving herself for Hannoc's return for many, many moons. (The math doesn't really add up—Hannoc has been gone for what, a decade and a half?) It turns out that Morna has spent this considerable time perfecting her really quite lovely makeup. But Hannoc just wants to be friends because he's under the spell of dastardly Russian, er, French spy Elizabeth Leeds.

Meanwhile, George has headaches of his own. He wants to sign Shingiss to come play for the Williamsburg Rangers, but Shingiss doesn't trust white men for what they've done to sissify his boy Hannoc. He insists on remaining a free agent. GW, Gist, Hannoc, and green-clad crew depart the Delaware camp without Shingiss's X on the dotted line.

 

 

 

 

 

Captain St. Pierre (center, white uniform) "welcomes" George Washington and his hardy band of rangers to Fort LeBoeuf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally GW and the boys arrive at Fort LeBoeuf, a strange kind of post that looks a lot like Fort Apache, complete with a brick headquarters building, a larger stucco structure, big stockade walls, and plenty of sagebrush for all. There, GW hands over Dinwiddie's letter at tea to Captain St. Pierre, who sounds a lot like Count Dracula. St. Pierre promptly places all the Virginians under house arrest. It turns out that St. Pierre and his Wyandot cohorts are about to visit the camp of Shingiss and issue an ultimatum: either the Senecas agree that their lands belong to the French, or else.

Armed with this critical information about the impending Lead Curtain that's about to be dropped over the Ohio Country, GW and gang shoot their way out of Fort LeBoeuf, igniting the powder magazine as they exit. They hurry to the Delaware camp just in time to witness a confrontation between Shingiss and the Frenchman Jumonville, who sounds a lot like Boris Badenov. A tremendous firefight breaks out in the dusty, rock-strewn terrain of California--I mean Virginia. Plains Indians wrestle with Mohawks, Frenchmen get shot full of arrows, boats are overturned (cue that Northwest Passage stock footage), and finally the good guys win the day. But son of a gun! Jumonville is killed in the process, which is really apropos of nothing.

Shingiss now sees the French for who they really are: iron-fisted expansionists bent on stealing Indian lands. GW makes a speech about the oppressive lead boot of the snail-eaters, and compares them unfavorably with the freedom-loving Virginians. Shingiss agrees to go on a tour of Williamsburg with GW and the rangers to secure peace in their time.

 

 

 

 

George Washington (seated, burgendy coat) informs Governor Dinwiddie (gold coat) of the trip to Fort LeBoeuf.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So they do just that. GW holds a grand meeting with Gov. Dinwiddie and others, at which time the governor announces that Fort Necessity has been completed (somehow it wasn't important for GW to actually be there for construction)—just as news arrives that the French are massing troops at Fort LeBoeuf for a push toward the new Virginia post. Dinwiddie orders GW out to Fort What's Its Name to make a stand.

Weeks later, with GW and Gist offscreen, Elizabeth Leeds and her French spy ring engage in a little film noir action, murdering Chief Shingiss in his bed in Williamsburg. The spies attempt to frame Dinwiddie for the murder, but the frame-up doesn't hold. Morna tracks the baddies to their lair, and a very angry Hannoc (whose dad has just been waxed) sees his beloved Elizabeth kiss her real love, another French spy. A fistfight erupts in which Hannoc throttles the boy spies and Morna throttles the girl spy. Then Hannoc and Morna ride hell-for-leather to save GW at the fort.

 

 

 

Fort Necessity (formerly Fort LeBoeuf) is under attack.

 

 

 

 

 

In the last reel, Fort LeBoeuf (read: Fort Apache), which has been minimally repropped as Fort Necessity, is the setting for big, climactic action. Enormous siege guns on both sides tear hell out of everything. Then the bad French Indians shoot flaming arrows into the giant fort and set the buildings and some incendiary wagons afire. Indians scale the walls by the score, and GW curses the British for being lazy so-and-so's and not coming to the rescue. Would that they were more like the freedom-loving Virginians, he thinks aloud. Gist says above the fray, “George, I don't think we can hold out much longer!” And before you can turn the page in the script, HERE COME THE INDIANS RIDING TO THE RESCUE! Hannoc and his mounted Delawares--or were they Senecas?--rout the French and Indians, and yes, George Washington thus wins the battle of Fort Necessity.

 

 

 

Hannoc leads his Delaware cavalry to rescue
Washington at Fort Necessity (hence the title,
When the Redskins Rode
).

 

 

 

 

 

In the last scene, Hannoc swears his love to Morna and promises to return one day from the wars. GW and Gist laugh lustily and slap each other's backs, and the sun sets on the British empire.

FADE OUT on one interesting film. And rest assured that any resemblance between the people and events in this picture and anything that ever really happened is entirely coincidental.

One time, Beaver Cleaver was supposed to write a book report on The Three Musketeers. One of his friends convinced him to forget all the work of reading a big thick book and just to watch the movie. Unfortunately for the Beav, he watched the Ritz Brothers version, where the musketeers were really cowardly imposters and spent a lot of time doing prat falls and running away. The poor Beav reported all this to the class.

Let's hope that no kid ever watched When the Redskins Rode and tried to validate this particular version of the opening of the French and Indian War.

Prince Hannoc ............................................................. Jon Hall

Elizabeth Leeds ...................................................... Mary Castle

Col. George Washington ......................................... James Seay

Christopher Gist .................................................... John Ridgely

Morna ............................................................. Sherry Moreland

Chief Shingiss ............................................... Pedro de Cordoba

John Delmont ....................................................... John Dehner

Gov. Dinwiddie .................................................. Lewis L. Russell

Appleby .......................................................... William Bakewell

Commandant St. Pierre ........................................... Gregory Gay

Columbia Pictures, 1951, Supercinecolor, 78 minutes

 

 

 

 

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