This Tuesday, TCM is showing A Man Called Horse (1970).
Modern viewers will recognize most of the plot of Avatar herein. In the early 19th century, Richard Harris is captured by American Indians and becomes assimilated into their culture. Harris’ initiation into the tribe is one of cinema’s most cringe-worthy moments. The film still stands up well today.
A Man Called Horse fits into the subgenre of Westerns that are sympathetic to Native Americans, including Little Big Man (1970), Jeremiah Johnson (1972), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) and Dances With Wolves (1990). The trend became pronounced with Cheyenne Autumn in 1964 and has stayed healthy through the recent retelling of the Pocahontas story in The New Land.
Of course, even a worthy movie subgenre has its cliches. Why is it that when the white guy encounters a native girl – It’s always the chief’s beautiful, unattached, nubile daughter?