Wednesday, March 7, 2012

One Little Indian (1973)

          In a strange little career blip between his big-screen heyday in the late ’60s and his return to television with The Rockford Files, beloved leading man James Garner headlined a pair of inconsequential Disney movies. One Little Indian is darker and deeper than the company’s usual fare, telling the story of how a condemned man becomes the surrogate father for an orphaned child, and the feather-light The Castaway Cowboy is an offbeat romance. Were it not for the presence of colorful animal scenes in both flicks, it would be difficult to realize these titles came from the Mouse House.
          Written and directed, respectively, by old hands Harry Spalding and Bernard McEveety, One Little Indian is surprisingly respectable given the slightness of its storyline. Garner plays Keyes, a post-Civil War cavalryman sentenced to hang for treason. As we discover late in the story, Keyes tried to prevent fellow soldiers from conducting a Sand Creek-type massacre on an Indian village. Meanwhile, Mark (Clay O’Brien) is a white youth who has been raised by Indians. When a cavalry unit rounds up Mark’s tribe for relocation to a reservation, Mark tries repeatedly to escape. Through the magic of Disney coincidence, Keyes and Mark discover each other and become traveling companions.
          Adding novelty to their journey is the fact that their steeds are camels rather than horses; the animals are leftovers from an Army experiment in using dromedaries for desert transportation. Over the course of their journey together, man and boy bond with a frontier widow (Vera Miles) and her young daughter (Jodie Foster). They also engage in high jinks and shoot-outs as they evade capture. Excepting some silliness with the camels, One Little Indian is basically a straight drama, and rather a somber one, so Garner is able to sink his teeth into a few solid dramatic scenes. (He and Miles, who reteamed in The Castaway Cowboy, make an attractive screen couple.) O’Brien is a passable child actor, neither greatly adding to nor detracting from scenes, and reliable supporting players like Pat Hingle, Andrew Prine, and Morgan Woodward fill out the rest of the story. One Little Indian won’t linger very long in your memory, but it’s pleasant viewing.

One Little Indian: FUNKY

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