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Captain John Smith and Pocahontas
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by Charles Tatum

"It's a white man's New World"
1 stars

This film is a very swift seventy-five minutes, but the film makers cram in enough misogyny and racism to make it feel like twice its running time.

Captain John Smith (an awkward Anthony Dexter) is recounting his adventures to the king, and the film serves as a flashback to his time in the new Virginia colony of Jamestown. The screenwriters paint Smith as a lovable rogue, a brilliant military mind who gets into all sorts of shenanigans and hijinks. He finds himself in charge of the settlement and butts heads with butthead villain Wingfield (an awkward James Seay). After slaying a bunch of Indians in a confused battle, Smith decides to go make piece with Powhatan (an awkward Douglas Dumbrille), the Chief of the local tribe. Smith happens upon Pocahontas (an awkward Jody Lawrence) when he is stumbling around the forest, and the two take a shine to each other.

Smith, Charlie (an awkward Alan Hale, Jr.), and John Rolfe (an awkward Robert Clarke) are captured and threatened with execution by ruffian Opechanco (an awkward Stuart Randall). Pocahontas throws herself on Smith, saving his life, and the settlers and Indians fall into an uneasy friendship. Pocahontas must marry Smith, and Wingfield connives for his own personal gain.

I suppose this may have started life as an action epic, but this film is a B movie to be sure. The locations, the costuming, and the special effects are all second rate. Many of the lines are unintentionally hysterical ("I a roving adventurer, she an Indian princess"), I haven't laughed this hard at a 1950's historical epic since John Wayne in "The Conqueror." I am not kidding, the words "Captain John Smith" are uttered no less than a dozen times in the opening ten minutes of the film.

While the English of 1607 had some pretty quaint ideas about the role of the female in the settlement, and back in London, these scenes pale compared to the blatant racism against Native Americans. I haven't been this stunned by how they are portrayed onscreen since "Annie Get Your Gun." White actors obviously slathered with brown makeup and black wigs, lots of tomahawks and threats to scalp, dancing around big fires and banging drums, the sheer stupidity of the "naturals" scenes is overwhelming.

Lew Landers directs on a small scale, with only one memorable shot- a fight set against some orange flames near the end of the film. The cast flounders, trying to deliver their unnatural lines naturally. The Native Americans talk like all movie Indians talked back then- unconvincing poetry, third person self-references, and even a "forked tongue" line. The real issue of the Native Americans dying from diseases brought by European settlers is lost in the ineptitude.

I am pretty sure the Disney cartoon from a few years back got more right historically than this film, and "The New World" probably serves as the definitive version of the Smith/Pocahontas story (which seems to be a combination of bravado and myth on Smith's part). "Captain John Smith and Pocahontas" is as awkward as its title, a silly effort that isn't worth your time.

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originally posted: 05/08/13 23:09:58
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  20-Nov-1953 (NR)
  DVD: 25-Oct-2005



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