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Alternate Universe Kansas
on March 29, 2001
This is a hard film to review. It's a pretty good movie, a good western... but as a film about the Jayhawkers in 1850's Kansas it's so wildly inaccurate and far from any resemblance to history that it almost defies belief.
Fess Parker is good as the brooding, undecided not-quite-outlaw, and the rest of the cast is fine as well. The moral ambiguity is well done too. It's just the scenario that's the problem. This stuff just didn't happen, and in places that didn't exist.
They have Fess Parker's character having been settled in Kansas before the Mexican War when Kansas wasn't really opened to settlement until years after. Then they have the army fighting the Jayhawkers for control of the kingdom of Kansas (which has a lot of astonishingly large, well-built towns in it). The Jayhawkers are a para-military band whose raids--in this movie--are entirely in Kansas, against Kansans. Missouri, which was the real target of the real Jayhawkers gets one token mention, then we're back to raids in Kansas. The real Jayhawkers were horsethieves who raided into Missouri, occassionally kidnapping a slave so they could claim to be abolitionists (to be fair, a few were genuine abolitionists). The movie's Jayhawkers wore "Redlegs" leggings but no mention of Jennison is made. There's also not a single African-American in the entire movie though there's a brief mention of--I think they called them--"Missouri Redlegs" killing a lady's husband after asking his opinion of slavery.
It's bizarre. It's like they had the script for a stock western then went through and inserted a few pre-Civil War Kansas-Missouri border war phrases without bothering to find out anything about them. The women's costumes were decidedly not 1850s--looked more like generic 1870's-80's Hollywood western outfits. And the weapons... I'm not an expert on 1850's weapons but it struck me as more than passingly odd that everyone had such very fine repeating rifles. Oh, and a big chunk of the plot relied on the very extensive railroad that existed in this universe's 1850's Kansas.
As a nice old western, this is a fine little adventure movie. The video was crisp and the colors bright. Good action. As an historically based movie... no.