Richard Harris, Judith Anderson. Sioux Indians capture an English nobleman, who tries to prove himself by agreeing to undergo the torturous rituals the Indians must endure themselves before they are recognized as men. 1970/color/115 min/PG/widescreen.
American Indians were a "cool" factor in 1970 cinema, the year A Man Called Horse
made its vigorous, feverishly real, and occasionally shocking debut alongside Little Big Man
and Soldier Blue
. Unlike the latter two films, however, Horse
is less an allegory for Vietnam-era America and more of a vision quest for historical identity. In one of his defining roles, Richard Harris plays an English aristocrat captured by Dakota Sioux in 1825. Over time, he adopts their way of life and eventually becomes tribal leader--but not before undergoing savage initiation rituals, the most famous of which involves being suspended by blades inserted beneath Harris's pectoral muscles. Horse
looks clunky, quaint, and inadvertently demeaning in some respects today, but the film's Native American milieu is at least defined on its own terms, i.e., whole cloth and apart from familiar Western conventions. The real draw is Harris, whose performance has a soulful integrity. --Tom Keogh