Saturday, May 14, 2016

Pillars of the Sky: A Crazy Mess of a Historical Film

I hesitate to share this at all, but it is one of only two films I know of that are based on the 19th-century white-native conflicts on the Columbia Plateau. (The other is I Will Fight No More Forever, a 1975 TV movie about the Nez Perce War of 1877.)

Pillars of the Sky is a 1956 B-movie western, based on a 1953 novel, To Follow a Flag, by Henry Wilson Allen. Though ostensibly set in 1868 (apparently so the characters can reminisce about how they fought together in the Civil War) it is loosely based on the Yakima War (1855) and the Steptoe Expedition (1858).

The film is a classic western of the time, with an outlandish plot, a conflicted, hard-drinking western hero, the fallen woman who loves him, and some stereotypical Indians. Some of the native characters are quite loosely based on real historical individuals--Kamiakin (the film's villain), Timothy (a U.S. Indian scout in uniform!), a couple others. Two of the white characters are based on real folks, Dr. Joseph Holden is roughly Marcus Whitman (with no Narcissa in sight) and Col. Edson Stedlow = Col. Edward Steptoe. Most of the film is invented from whole cloth, but there is a climactic battle scene based on the Battle of Steptoe Butte. I am so surprised I'd never heard of this movie.

Dear Reader, I watched the whole thing so you would not have to. If you want to skip to the more interesting parts, I would fast forward to 1) 23:48, where Kamiakin storms into a gathering of chiefs and has an epic argument with Timothy about how the Indians should deal with the white men, 2) 56:00, the start of the Battle of Steptoe Butte sequence, and maybe 3) the ridiculous ending starting at 1:23:00 where Dr. Holden (Marcus Whitman) is murdered by Kamiakin (!) who in turn is slain by Couer D'Alene chief Isaiah (!!). It is to be noted that none of that last bit actually happened.

Here you go:

1956 - Pillars of the Sky - Jeff Chandler; Ward... by westerns_only


Polly Kaczmarek said...

I just can't bring myself to watch this!

keti said...
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