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Winners of the Wilderness

1927

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MGM Silent. 68 minutes. US release: 1/15/27.
Not available on VHS or DVD.

Cast: Tim McCoy, Joan Crawford (as "Rene Contrecoeur"), Edward Connelly, Frank Currier, Roy D'Arcy, Louise Lorraine, Edward Hearn, Will R. Walling, Tom O'Brien, Chief Big Tree, Lionel Belmore.

Credits:  Story by John Thomas Neville. Director: W.S. Van Dyke. Camera: Clyde De Vinna. Titles: Marian Ainslee. Editor: Conrad A. Nervig. Costumes: Lucia Coulter. Sets: David Townsend.

 

Plot Summary: The Tim McCoy western Winners of the Wilderness was shot simultaneously with McCoy's War Paint, using the same locations for both. Boasting a larger budget than the average "B"-western, the film casts McCoy as a courageous Indian scout, determined to negotiate an honorable peace between the white settlers and his Native American friends. Though his efforts are undercut by various villains pursuing their own agendae, our hero finally prevails. The film's most startling sequence finds a nude male prisoner being burned at the stake by hostile tribesmen -- hardly the sort of thing one might expect in a film essentially designed for preteen moviegoers. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

 

Box Office Total Gross: $283,000. (Profit of $74,000.)

 

Notes:

•  Winners of the Wilderness was shot simultaneously with Tim McCoy's War Paint, using the same locations for both. (All Movie Guide)

•  McCoy, a stickler for authenticity, insisted on having genuine Cherokees in the picture. (Ultimate Star)

•  McCoy was "not at all pleased" when MGM put out publicity stills showing Joan teaching Chief Big Tree to Charleston. (Ultimate Star)

 

American Film Institute page

IMDb page

Silent Era page

Wikipedia page

 


 

Critics' Reviews:

 

Film Daily (1927):

Colonel Tim McCoy, a handsome soldier and a fine actor, mostly because he doesn't act. He is natural at all times. Joan Crawford the lady sought and Roy D'Arcy up to his usual deviltry.

 

Motion Picture News (April 8, 1927):

Colonel O'Hara (Tim McCoy) dashing young officer of Braddock's staff is aided to escape from the French by Rene (Joan), daughter of commandant whom he worships. When the positions are reversed and she is his prisoner of war she willingly consents to become his prisoner for life. The costumes of the period offer a pleasing contrast to the interesting sequences ... in which are seen such historical figures as Washington and Braddock. The latter's disastrous defeat is the film's highlight and it is carried out with realism.

 

 


 

Our Reviews:

If you've seen Winners of the Wilderness and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. Feel free to include a picture of yourself to accompany your review, as well as a star-rating (with 5 stars the best) and any of your favorite titles from the film.

 

 

Stephanie Jones, site creator.Stephanie Jones  (October 2019)

Rating:  star02_pink.gifstar02_pink.gifstar02_pink.gif of 5

 

I grew up with the Films of Joan Crawford summary of this film, which describes it in terms of the "admirable wilderness fighter" Colonel O'Hara (Tim McCoy---billed as "Col. Tim McCoy," since he'd fought in WWI) battling Indians ("who constitute an increasing menace to the white men") while romancing the French general's daughter Renee Contrecouer (Joan), who is at some point captured by said Indians.

 

After finally seeing a print of the actual movie, though, it turns out that the Indians are partly noble, the French are wicked, the British are stupid, and the Colonials (represented by McCoy and General George Washington himself) are the most noble of all! (And Joan's Renee is never captured by Indians; they're on her father's French side.) The overt social messaging that I find so annoying today is, to me, sociologically fascinating when looking at a 1927 film!

 

The 68-minute silent film opens with titles explaining that 20 years before the American Revolutionary War, the French and English are fighting over North America. At this time, the Brits and Colonials are allied against the French and Indians (led by Pontiac, chief of the Six Nations). The first shot we see post-titles is of a masked spy (Tim McCoy) peering in the window of a French Quebec mansion where a treaty is being signed by French General Contrecouer (Joan's father) and the Indians. McCoy bursts in and steals the papers and, while being chased, takes refuge in the bedroom of the general's daughter, Renee (Joan). We first see Joan as a bewigged reflection in her mirror as she prepares for that evening's ball. When McCoy demands her silence, she rebelliously, and flirtatiously, reveals his presence (shades of similar scenes in "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney" and "Strange Cargo").

 

As McCoy is subsequently chased by French soldiers, Renee and her lady-in-waiting Mimi (Louise Lorraine) look after him longingly, accompanied by Mimi's funny title: "Oh mistress -- what manners -- what daring, what wit -- what LEGS!" (Mimi and her subsequent brief interactions with McCoy's aide-de-camp Timothy provide the "common touch" humor of the film, as in their exchanging of earthy sweet nothings such as "you beautiful cabbage" interspersed during Renee and McCoy's more-genteely-romantic interactions at the ball that follows).

 

After McCoy's masked escape from Renee's bedroom, he reappears that evening, unmasked, at the ball as an officially invited British officer, Colonel O'Hara. Renee recognizes him but this time hides his identity from her father and soldiers, although he is soon outed by the treacherous French Captain Dumas (Roy D'Arcy) and has to again escape. As he runs into the surrounding woods, he's attacked by an Indian who turns out to be Chief Pontiac. The two tussle, with many somersaults, and McCoy is finally the victor. Feeling mellow because he's in love, McCoy grants mercy to Pontiac, asking the chief to remember his kindness...

 

While the first and last thirds of the film are devoted to such action/romance shenanigans, the middle portion pauses for a nearly half-hour history lesson about the battle of Fort Duquesne (in Pennsylvania). First, we see McCoy back in Virginia meeting with British General Braddock and a young George Washington, who, according to a title card wink-winking to the audience, "has the makings of a great soldier." As it turns out, this Washington fellow has been warning Braddock all along about the fighting power of the Indians. After some battle scenes, a subsequent title card informs us: "So, on the fateful July 9th, 1755 -- heedless of Washington's warnings -- Braddock's proud command marched to its doom in the massacre known to history as 'Braddock's Defeat' ----" Another title reveals Braddock's last words: "We will know better how to deal with them next time, boys."

 

During, and after, this battle interlude, we get not-so-subtle inklings of what the filmmakers want us to feel: The French, led by the smarmy D'Arcy, insist on a massacre although their working-class French Canadian trapper allies chastise them for it (throwing their fur caps down in disgust) and their Indian allies, too, refuse to pursue the defeated. When the evil D'Arcy presents the fallen Braddock's sword to Renee's father, General Contrecouer, the latter somberly proclaims enemy Braddock "a brave soldier and a gallant gentleman." The Indians are also later determined to be good guys. The earlier scrap between O'Hara and Pontiac proves helpful because "Red man never forget."

 

Post-battle, more machinations. And, a final cut to the state of Virginia, with happy couple Renee and O'Hara emerging from a carriage. Says one snobbish attendee: "She is French -- you are British. What will the children be?"

 

Poor O'Hara looks confused until THE George Washington whispers in his ear, and then O'Hara repeats: "They will be --- AMERICANS!"

 

Renee cutely wrinkles her nose at the questioner as the happy couple departs. THE END.

 

Oh, yes, JOAN: Her early mildly defiant bewigged scenes are good. Her various looks of longing are good. Her final wrinkling of the nose is good. There's a horse chase, and she's also good at hanging on there.

 

And the film is pretty good, too. Some complicated history successfully sandwiched by stunts and romance, plus overt pointers about what the dimwitted viewer is supposed to take away about the good guys and bad guys in US history.

 

 


 

Shane Estes.Shane Estes  (June 2011)

Rating:  star02_pink.gifstar02_pink.gifstar02_pink.gifstar02_pink.gif of 5

 

I found this film from a man in Pittsburgh who bought it on VHS 18 years ago and transferred it to DVD for me. The fact that it exists at all is amazing. The quality is rather poor. It is really bright in parts to the point where you can’t see actual faces sometimes, and the sound is high pitched and squeaky, but it’s all there. I actually expected it to be worse, so I was pleasantly surprised. I would wager that the quality of some of these “lost silents” is what keeps them from being released to DVD.

 

The film is a period piece starring Tim McCoy and Joan Crawford in the first of two collaborations between them. I was expecting it to have a “B-Western” kind of feel to it, but that’s not what this is at all. There are many Western elements in the film (guns, horses, Indians, etc.) but it is definitely not a Western. The film looks like it actually had a pretty high budget. Apparently Tim McCoy insisted that all the Native Americans portrayed in the film would be played by actual Cherokee Indians, and they do look authentic to me. They definitely aren’t white guys in make-up, which was very common for that time. A publicity photo for the film showing Joan teaching the Cherokees how to do the Charleston is pretty amusing, although Tim McCoy reputedly wasn’t too fond of it. I think he was going for authenticity.

 

Winners has a comedic feel to it, with Tim McCoy having a lot of charisma and humor that I was not expecting at all. He’s kind of a swashbuckler in this role, very akin to a Douglas Fairbanks character. He’s a lover, a soldier, a hero, a gentleman, and a rebel. It’s certainly not all comedy though. There are many very serious moments in the film. One scene in particular really caught me off guard. There is a moment in the film where the Cherokees tie up a naked prisoner to a post and burn him at the stake while riding around him on horses and slapping his buttocks with whips. I’ve seen female nudity from time to time in films made before the Hays Code went into full effect in 1934, but this is the first instance of male nudity that I have seen.

 

Joan Crawford plays the female lead in this film and is a major part of the plot from beginning to end. Her role in Winners is more significant than any other film she appeared in before this (that I have seen). She’s not just a prop like she is in films like Tramp, Tramp, Tramp, and she’s not just “the girl” like she is in films like The Boob. Her character is integral to the progression of the story. She plays the romantic interest of Tim McCoy and is the motivation for all of his actions in the film, similar to the role she played in The Unknown. I really liked her in this. I’m usually not a big fan of Joan in period pieces (like The Gorgeous Hussy), because she always comes off as too modern to be believable, but she works really well in this for some reason.

 

The film’s setting is the French and Indians wars that took place in the middle of the 18th century. Crawford plays a French society woman (Rene) living in what is now Canada, and McCoy plays an English soldier (Colonel O’Hara) from Virginia fighting on the side on the Indians. Of course he falls in love with her, and it turns into a forbidden romance, somewhere along the lines of Romeo and Juliet, but without all the suicide. After much ado, they end up together by the end and joke whether they should raise their children as French or English. “She is French – you are British. What will the children be? They will be – AMERICANS!

 

I was highly entertained by this film. Crawford’s performance is flawless. It is definitely a fast-paced and action-filled film from beginning to end. There’s never a dull moment! There’s a really cute chase scene with Joan on a horse toward the end of the film that is a must-see. The scene where the two meet each other on a balcony is quite humorous as well. Joan says to McCoy, “In Quebec, the moon is usually in the sky.” To which he replies,” That’s strange – the stars are in your eyes. What’s up with lovers meeting on balconies in these 1920s films? I enjoyed this film a lot and would recommend it to any fan of Joan’s silent film performances.

 

 


 

Movie Posters:

 

US poster.         US poster.

 

 


 

Lobby Cards:

US lobby.

   US lobby.

 Above:  US lobby cards.

 


 

Misc. Images:

 

US herald cover.   US herald centerfold.

 

  


 

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