The War, The West And The Wilderness

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by Kevin Brownlow Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 608 pages, 350 photographs, $25.00

This lively, anecdotal book describes what happened when early silent-film makers, beginning in about 1905, ventured from their studios into the outdoors to make films about the wilderness, and historical war movies and Westerns. Sometimes a movie was shot so close on the heels of the actual event it depicted that real participants were hired to participate again. Such was the case in a movie about the Sioux that Buffalo Bill Cody made with the cooperation of the War and Interior departments. Officers who had once fought Indians and three troops of cavalry were borrowed for the picture. Its final scene, the “battle” at Wounded Knee, was tactlessly shot exactly where it all had happened, which so infuriated the hundreds of Sioux in the cast that it looked as though actual fighting might erupt again. Yet apparently the government found the movie too hard on the Army. For it was banned, and the only print “decomposed”—or so they said.

Lavishly illustrated with photographs, most of which have not been published before, this fine mélange of history and film making is great fun.