Michael Wilmington is right in pointing out that “Dances With Wolves” is not unique in depicting sympathy for Indians on the screen. However, I’d like to add two films to the list by which he supports his claim.
In 1932, Columbia indulged its Western star, Col. Tim McCoy, and let him make “End of the Trail.” An authority on Indians--he was the adjutant general of Wyoming when he was hired as an adviser for the making of “The Covered Wagon” (1923)--McCoy laid it on the line in this obscure little Western. At one point in a long speech he says (and the words were his own): “From the time this government began dealing with the Indians it has never kept a single treaty it has made with them.”
The other film is the well known “They Died With Their Boots On,” starring Errol Flynn as Custer. While it’s a storybook glorification of that flamboyant soldier it does allow for Indian dignity, bravery and intelligence. Anthony Quinn’s portrayal of Crazy Horse belongs on Wilmington’s list.
I quibble with Wilmington on only one point--his admiration for Arthur Penn’s “Little Big Man,” to my mind a ludicrous account of the Indian Wars. Penn’s depiction of Custer as a cowardly lunatic is disgraceful. Custer was many things, some far from admirable, but he was not a lunatic nor a coward. And neither were all soldiers brutal and stupid, as Kevin Costner seems to suggest in his otherwise splendid film.