by Jack Nilan            EMail :

Return of a Man Called Horse (1976)

Jack   C+

IMDB    5.6

Tribe(s) : Sioux

Language : English / Sioux


"In 1821, English aristocrat Lord John Morgan, while on a hunting expedition in the Dakota territory of the American Wilderness, was captured and enslaved by the Yellow Hands, a branch of the Sioux Nation.
He was given the name, Shunkawakan, which means 'Horse'.
He showed such bravery in battle that he was freed and adapted as a member of the tribe. For five years, the man called Horse lived as a Yellow Hand and found fulfillment in their tribal and spiritual life."

   It is eight years since Lord John Morgan become Shunkawakan (i.e. Horse) and three years since he left the Yellow Hand tribe to return to England. The movie opens with a beautiful picture of a peaceful and tranquil Sioux camp on a small stream. The children are bringing in water and the women light the fires. The tranquility is broken by an attack of Arikaras led by a white trapper. The camp is destroyed and most of the Yellow Hands are captured or slain. The Yellow Hands had been "busting up" some of the trapper's traps, so they had to be removed. The Arikaras joined in to fight their traditional foes. The trappers pay the Riks (Arikaras) for the captured women who are to be used as slaves. The survivors of the attack back at camp, retreat up to the hills and mourn their losses.

   Meanwhile, back in England, Lord Morgan, although rich and secure, is not happy and longs to return to life among the Sioux. Chasing the fox is not quite the same as hunting down a buffalo. So he decides ti return to the Yellow Hand for one year. When he gets there he finds that the white trappers have moved in, have enslaved the women and removed them from their sacred ground.

   Lord Morgan returns to the survivors and sees how miserable things have become. Horse tries to encourage the Yellow Hands but they have given up hope. An evil spirit has descended on them. The medicine man Raven thinks the spirits still want more. Horse then goes through the Sun Vow Initiation ceremony which has Horse suspended in mid-air from ropes with bone daggers and eagle talons inserted in his pectorals. He then blows on a whistle as he dances around suspending himself from the rope. A teenage boy soon joins him and then others join in too.

   The Sun Ceremony was practiced by the Plains Indians, including the Sioux. A description from the 1800's of a Sioux ceremony said "Each young man presented himself to the medicine man, who took between his thumb and forefinger a fold of the loose skin of the breast-and then ran a very narrow-bladed but sharp knife through the skin-a stronger skewer of bone, about the size of a carpenter's pencil was inserted. This was tied to a long skin rope fastened, at its other extremity, to the top of the sun-pole in the center of the arena. The whole object of the devotee is to break loose from these fetters. To liberate himself he must tear the skewers through the skin, a horrible task that even with the most resolute may require many hours of torture."

   The tribe then goes out on a buffalo hunt. he Yellow Hands have become Plains Indians again. But then three Riks come but a teenage boy shoots one down. As another attacks him, Horse comes to the rescue. They make a captive of one of the Riks, and the children poke him with sticks while everyone else feasts on the buffalo.

   The Yellow Hands go to another band of Lakotas led by Red Cloud to ask for help. Red Clous says the whitem men are his brothers. Horse tells him the white man has come to own the land. Red Cloud says men can not own land. Red Cloud refuses the Yellow Hand plea for help saying "let your women fight." Horse then frees the captive Rik knowing he will soon return with friends.

   When the Riks return the Yellow Hands are waiting. Horse leads the Riks in to a trap. Woman, boys and old men shoot arrows and ambush the Riks. horse then takes the captured weapons and trains his people to use them. The Yellow Hands then go in the traders camp and they fight their way in, kill the traders and the Riks and free their people. The Yellow Hands are a free people again.

   The movie closes with the script "John Morgan remained a member of the Yellow hand tribe until his death in 1854. The story of a Man Called Horse is woven into the tapestry of Sioux legend and he continues to be honored as a noble enemy by the Blackfoot, Crow and Shoshone."

   The movie, like its predecessor, explores the Indian way of life and makes use of Native language, although since the last movie many of the Sioux have somehow learned English. This movie, like its predecessor, suffers from the Tarzan syndrome. The white man, John Moran, known to the Yellow Hand Sioux as Horse, returns from England to again save the tribe. It is up to a man called Horse to teach the Indians how to be Indians again and regain their pride. Give the white guy a few men, some women and some children and he can defeat a whole tribe of Arikara's and their trader friends.

   Overall, it was just fair as a movie. It shows how the Indians got tied up with the traders because they needed the goods that they could provide. It also showed how some Indians would team up with the white invaders to get back at their traditional enemies. If only the movie hadn't made Richard Harris, the English Lord, into such a super Indian it would have been much better. It's bad enough that the white man destroyed the Indians' culture, it's a little too much to try to take credit for trying to save it too.