Cheyenne Warrior

Director: Mark Griffiths                            
Kelly Preston, Pato Hoffman, Bo Hopkins

Since Roger Corman sold New World Pictures and went on to found Concorde and New Horizons Pictures, his output has generally been focused on product primarily aimed at the video market, and usually focused on sex and/or violence. Every so often, however, he produces a movie that's different from his usual output. Sometimes it's a family movie like Stepmonster, or a comedy like the upcoming parody of Air Force One (Vatican Air Two). In 1994 he produced Cheyenne Warrior, a western that really stands out from the majority of made-for-video movies. Not just that it's a rare new western, but it's a made-for-video movie that does not rely on large amounts of sex, violence, and language. Although there is some of that material here, it's nowhere near the amount you'll find in a typical made-for-video (the movie is rated PG-13), and the material comes as a natural consequence of events involving the characters. And because these characters are three-dimensional, it makes everything else about the movie more believable.

Near winter, sometime around the Civil War, married couple Matthew and Rebecca (Preston) are heading out west to Oregon to get away from the possibility of Matthew's conscription. Stopping at a trading post for the night (the proprietor played by Grizzly Adams' Dan Haggerty), the two of them encounter a couple of untrustworthy buffalo hunters who soon leave. That night, several Cheyenne braves who are friendly to the proprietor visit the trading post, raising fear in Rebecca and racist feelings in Matthew. Early in the morning, Matthew rides out to warn the hunters about the "threat", and in tragic circumstances everyone is soon dead except for Rebecca and a badly wounded Cheyenne brave named Hawk (Hoffman). Worse, Rebecca is carrying Matthew's child and winter is quickly approaching. Remembering the proprietor's words earlier - "You better change your ways or you'll die," - Rebecca realizes that the two of them need each other to survive the next while, alone together on the prairie.

Rebecca nurses Hawk back to health, and this is where the movie starts to become special. Credit screenwriter Michael B. Druxman for writing an exceptional script where characters actually talk to each other. The characters not only talk about what's relevant at hand, but also incidental topics, making them realistic people. It's nice to see Haggerty out of dreck like Elves and in a brief but meaty role that shows that he can indeed act. Preston generally is adequate, but she has some unconvincing scenes - she has a monologue at her husband's grave that, although very well written, becomes unconvincing by her performance. However, the star of this movie is Hoffman, who gives an excellent performance as Hawk. Not only does he play his role with conviction, he is fortunate to have been written as a Native American person, not a stereotype. He does not have the "symbolism" dialogue unfortunately given to many Native American characters in movies; he has wants, needs, and fears like any ordinary man. Best of all, he even has a sense of humor - witness the scene where he tells Rebecca that he and his tribe eat dogs. When she walks off in disgust, he treats himself to a big grin.

Of course, Rebecca and Hawk eventually fall in love. In most movies, that would be the end. But Cheyenne Warrior realizes that in real life things wouldn't be as cut and dried as that, either in the relationship or the characters' position in their culture. Both Rebecca and Hawk also feel pulls from their respective cultures, which is only natural when you've spent all your life in one environment and all of a sudden you aren't in it anymore. They feel some sort of obligation to their society even if it has bad as well as good people, and they also talk about this with each other. (It's interesting to note that the Cheyenne in this movie are shown to have narrow-minded and bigoted members as well as the more noble.) The ending of the movie again emphasizes this, yet staying true to the two characters and their feelings to their society as well as to each other. It's a satisfying ending to everything that has previously happened.

Mark Griffiths, previously making movies like Heroes Stand Alone and Hardbodies 1 and 2 does a commendable directorial effort here, bringing in a good level of professionalism without the mistake of making the movie too slick or polished. The locations are both well chosen and well shot. There is occasionally signs of budget constraints - one scene involving a burning wagon train shows only one burning wagon and five or six people running around - but as it is with shooting in the wilderness, it's hard to make Mother Nature look cheap. And with any other flaws, they are never ragged enough to be annoying or distracting to viewers. Cheyenne Warrior is a real sleeper waiting to be discovered. Look for it in your video store.

Check for availability on Amazon (DVD)
Check for original screenplay with author commentary on Amazon

See also: Against A Crooked Sky, Bad Company, The Stalking Moon