Tonka (1958)

We’ve done it!  We’ve reached the end of the Westerns!  Of course, there are a few more after this but they’re actually spaced out instead of making me watch the same movie like fifteen times.  But will this particularly weird period of Disney history go out with a bang or a fizzle?  And will I be able to get information that isn’t about toy trucks?

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I am really tired of Westerns. Have I mentioned I’m tired of Westerns? Because I’m incredibly tired of Westerns. Honestly, Disney, just because Davy Crockett was good doesn’t mean you make the same movie fifteen times in a row. However, this is the point where they finally started to realize that so let’s jump over one last hurdle. Tonka, also known as The Horse Named Comanche, is based on a book called Comanche: The Story of America’s Most Heroic Horse by David Appel. I couldn’t find it and after The Light in the Forest, I wasn’t particularly bothered by not being able to find it, but it’s all about the only horse in the U.S. Calvary to survive the Battle of Little Big Horn. Oh, good. Can’t wait for more U.S. soldiers versus Native Americans. That always ends well.

Actually, my fears are probably unfounded. This movie received a lot of praise for being one of the earliest films to show Native American characters in an unequivocally positive light. They don’t aim for nuance like The Light in the Forest. No, the Sioux are the good guys and the white American soldiers are the villains. General Custer, who American history usually paints as a tragic hero, is shown to be the genocidal maniac he was in real life. There’s no ambiguity. So that’ll be nice to see, even if almost all of the Native characters are still played by white guys. Baby steps. We’re getting somewhere. Critics also really liked the action sequences and tight, witty writing. It still has a 77% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is higher than almost all of these Westerns except Old Yeller and the Davy Crockett films.  So maybe this weird phase will go out on a high note!

STORY

Our story begins with a Sioux hunting party running down a herd of wild horses. Two teenage boys, White Bull and Strong Bear, are meant to be guarding the supplies but they’re enamored watching the older warriors do their thing.  They imagine what it would be like to have a horse of their own and decide which of the horses they like best.  White Bull has his eye on the big, powerful chestnut stallion that’s lingering back to help the younger horses escape.  He snatches a rope off one of the horses hitched behind them and decides he really is going to catch that horse. Strong Bear tries to talk sense in him because that rope belongs to the local bully Yellow Bull, but White Bull is determined. He creeps down into the canyon, raises his lasso, and actually manages to get the rope around the horse’s neck… but it pulls the end out of his hands and he loses the rope.

At the worst possible moment, Yellow Bull himself comes up and sees White Bull not guarding the supplies. White Bull tries to play innocent but Yellow Bull pressures the truth out of him. Furious that this kid stole his prized rope, Yellow Bull whips him and orders him to walk back to camp with the women and dogs.  White Bull walking home instead of riding doesn’t go unnoticed by the rest of the tribe. The other boys laugh at him and make fun of him, and White Bull runs home in shame. His mother, Prairie Flower, tries to get him to eat but he refuses because horses are more important than food. As are scalps. Because we have to throw that little nugget in here, even when we’re trying to be fair and kind to our Native American friends. He also lies to his mom when she asks why he was walking, telling her Yellow Bull stole his horse. He doesn’t get to hide behind that excuse for long. Strong Bear runs in, saying that the chief wants to see him. News of his actions will travel fast, so White Bull is visibly nervous, but it can’t be helped.

That moment when you know you’re screwed.

Chief Sitting Bull, because everyone in this movie is a bull of some description, scolds White Bull for losing a rope that wasn’t his. However, he’s a fair chief, and he gives his nephew the chance to tell his side of the story. It’s not much help because he did lose it, but it was an accident and Yellow Bull shouldn’t have left the supplies unattended when he was supposed to be showing White Bull how to hunt. Yellow Bull smugly retorts that White Bull was supposed to be the one attending it. Prairie Flower steps in to remind Sitting Bull that Yellow Bull was supposed to be teaching White Bull how to fight, but the chief reminds her that Yellow Bull’s high rank means he can do basically whatever he wants. Yellow Bull sneers that White Bull is too young and immature to be a hunter, and adds that he lost the bow and arrows the chief gave him recently. That’s enough for Sitting Bull to pass his judgment. White Bull is forbidden from hunting again until he earns back the Chief’s trust. Which is Bull.

White Bull runs back to his mother and vows revenge. Prairie Flower actually keeps a level head and comes up with a better idea: find the stuff and earn back everyone’s trust. He agrees, but not without acting all insolent and blaming Yellow Bull. He continues on, gushing about how great the horse he was trying to catch was and how it was worth all this trouble. Prairie Flower gives some Mom advice about how colts are always clumsy screw-ups and so are teenage boys, and somehow this gets White Bull to stop being a brat. The next day, White Bull searches the tall grass and finds the bow and arrows lying at the bottom of a canyon. There’s no sign of the horse, though, and the kid has his priorities.

Who cares that you’ve completed part of the task you were given, right?

 

He finds his beautiful chestnut colt in a clearing, hopelessly tangled in Yellow Bull’s rope. Seeing the colt is scrabbling for a nearby stream, White Bull shucks off his shirt, lays it in a hole, fills his waterskin from the stream, and pours it into the makeshift pool. While the horse drinks its fill, White Bull gets to work building a barricade so it can’t get out of here. Once that’s done, he muses out loud about how he can’t just cut the rope because that would really upset Yellow Bull, and also there’s a lot of gushing about how pretty the horse is. He declares that he’s his horse now, slips the rope off his neck, and gets ready to ride… but the horse throws him immediately. At least he got the rope back? But it’s not enough that he has the lost items. He hides everything in a cave until he can capture the horse and really prove himself. Just then, the horse charges. White Bull dodges just in time, swearing to anything that will listen that he’ll prove he’s the horse’s master. The horse runs frantically around the clearing, trying in vain to escape, but White Bull has him shut up good. Confident that the horse is trapped, White Bull returns to the village.

Prairie Flower is disappointed that White Bull seems to have failed his task, but she decides he can always try again. Knowing he’s already gotten everything, White Bull starts bragging that he’s not only going to get it back but he’s going to tame that wild horse and name it Tonka Wakon (“the Great One” in the Sioux language). All this will make him a man for sure. Prairie Flower is skeptical but he’s very stubborn. Late that night, White Bull hears a coyote howling near Tonka’s clearing and goes to protect him. He makes camp and settles in to ensure the coyote doesn’t get too close (or something). Tonka scoots in close and White Bull drifts off, pleased that his beloved horse finally trusts him. The next morning, White Bull cuts him some grass and orders Tonka to come get it. For him to do so, he has to step into a snare that White Bull has rigged up. When he finally does, White Bull yanks the snare around his neck as a makeshift bridle and hangs on tight while Tonka freaks out. White Bull tells the bucking horse that he wants to be friends but he understands that he’s angry at being captured.

Do you often claim ownership of your friends?

Later on, White Bull notices some signs of trouble while mending a tipi. A whole bunch of white guys charge through the woods, laughing about how they missed their chance to attack a Native tribe because they lost the element of surprise. They were charging very loudly, after all. White Bull hides in the trees just in time, searching for a way to escape. He fails at stealth and startles one of the guards into firing off a warning shot. A fight ensues. White Bull subdues the guard and cuts loose some of the white soldiers’ horses. Most of them run off but White Bull rides a pretty white mare back to Tonka’s clearing. She’s supposed to be Tonka’s role model, the one he has to watch to learn how to be a good, tame horse. Finally, he’s able to successfully mount Tonka and ride off into the wilderness, which will mean a lot to the Chief and the tribe. Now that he has a horse, becoming a man will be easy. All he needs to do is hunt down a buffalo and scalp a white man in battle. Oh, the ‘50s. I’m so ready to be done with this decade.

The white army rides over the plain and spots the Sioux boy who stole their horses last night. They give chase for a while but eventually, they give up. Their captain, Myles Keough, admires how fast this chestnut stallion rides. They don’t have a hope of catching a horse that fast, after all. He’s just too good. White Bull makes it safely back to camp, riding Tonka and leading the mare, to everyone’s astonishment. He greets Sitting Bull and shows that he got everything back and got the horse besides. He even asks Yellow Bull’s forgiveness for stealing the rope. The chief is proud of him but he’s got to wonder where these horses came from. White Bull sees an opportunity to brag while introducing everyone to Tonka and Prairie Bird, but Yellow Bull is convinced he’s lying. After all, he didn’t scalp the white guys so he can’t have been successful. Because that’s what Native Americans do. They scalp white people. White Bull didn’t need to, though. He’s got a saber and, you know, a whole flipping horse to prove it. That’s enough to impress Sitting Bull into giving him a talisman of protection and permission to hunt. For just a moment, everything is gravy.  And then that moment ends.

Is that a smile?  Well, we can’t have that.

Yellow Bull shows up just to ruin everything because he is the worst.  He declares that Tonka is his horse now because a loser like White Bull doesn’t deserve such a great stallion.  Recognizing that this is grossly unfair, Strong Bear and Prairie Flower step in but Yellow Bull pulls rank.  Being a great warrior means he can get away with anything, apparently.  And what’s worse, Chief Sitting Bull agrees.  White Bull is just an untested youth and Yellow Bull has a whole bunch of feathers in his war bonnet so he has carte blanche to bully the children.  Yellow Bull is incredibly smug about this, so smug that the Chief has to warn him to treat Tonka nicely because he knows this was a mistake.  And yes.  Yes, it was.

Yellow Bull does not treat Tonka nicely.  In fact, he and his cronies lash ropes around him and whip him mercilessly, screaming abuse all the while.  Eventually, they wrestle the poor horse to the ground to force a bit into his mouth.  White Bull rushes in to stop the cruelty but Yellow Bull refuses, prompting White Bull and Strong Bear to decide to kill him.  Prairie Flower puts a stop to that nonsense and Yellow Bull tries to mount the viciously bucking colt.  Unable to take any more of this, White Bull flees.  Prairie Flower tries to comfort him, but he’s too distraught for that to be much use.  That whole night, he’s plagued by nightmares of Yellow Bull’s whip and his snarls of “I’ll break you!  I’ll break you!”

He’s having a rough week.

Enough is enough. White Bull sneaks out of the tipi to set Tonka free. After all, Yellow Bull can’t hurt him if he’s out in the wilderness. He leaves his talisman with Tonka and hugs his beloved horse goodbye, urging him to run and never come back. It would be an emotional moment if it didn’t go on forever. But my God does it outstay its welcome. Finally, Tonka tears off through the woods and finds a herd of wild horses being pursued by white ranchers. Tonka and a black horse fight, giving the ranchers the chance to nab the whole herd. After all, “a horse like that can bring in 90 dollars!” ….it’s the way he says it, guys. Anyway, the ranchers ride their prizes to a settlement called Remount Station, current home to the Union Cavalry.

One of the soldiers from before, Captain Myles Keough, comes to look at the newly captured horses. He’s immediately impressed by Tonka’s fierce spirit and, somehow, incredibly, recognizes him as the mount of the Sioux boy who stole their horses last autumn. Dude! I can barely remember what I had for lunch today and you can remember what a horse looked like that you saw once? It’s a horse. They tend to look kinda samey. Holy plot contrivance, Batman. Anyway, the soldiers shove a bit into Tonka’s mouth, then blind and saddle him with way more force than is strictly necessary. Keough is not pleased about this, but the corporal instigating this poor horse’s mistreatment is quickly thrown by the bucking horse and dragged all over the paddock.

Serve him right.

Keough steps in, stopping his rampage by petting his snout. As the soldiers get the injured corporal to a doctor, Keough decides then and there he’s going to buy the horse and name him Comanche. He mounts him and rides easy as anything, without getting thrown once. Kindness is more effective than abuse. Who would have thought? Keough and his right-hand-man Nowlan admire how well-trained Comanche is, thanks to the Sioux boy, and how it was done without any of those torture devices. Keough happily announces to Comanche that he belongs to him now, and I’m just really wondering why everyone is having such long, drawn-out conversations with the horse. He even tries to tell him verbally that it’s very important to stay put when Keough asks him, too, but Comanche wants to stay with his person. It’s very cute.

Back at the Sioux camp, the chiefs and highest-ranking warriors of all the local tribes discuss what to do about the looming white threat. Yellow Bull is all for straight-up murdering all of them, but Sitting Bull has some sense in his head and decides to see how many there are before they do anything rash. He sends out a scouting party to spy on the fort. White Bull is among them, and he spots Keough riding Tonka. He decides he’s going to prove himself (read: show off) by sneaking into the fort alone. Strong Bear recognizes that this is idiotic but White Bull shuts him down. Down in the settlement, Keough reaches his destination: the cabin of one General George Armstrong Custer, the worst strategist the American army has ever seen. He compliments Keough’s lovely horse and that’s about the last time he’s likable because from then on he is bound and determined to wrest control of the country from its Native Peoples at any cost. His insane rambling makes Keough visibly uncomfortable because the dude is intense.

The exact line is: “It’s important that we teach those red savages who’s running this country.  They must learn quickly or be exterminated.”  Woah, dude.

Night falls and the scouting party gets ready to make their move. White Bull announces that he’ll signal how many soldiers are at the camp by throwing a rock over the fence. The bigger the rock, the more soldiers there are. This seems like a flawed plan but all right I guess. Instead of doing recon like he should be doing, he goes right for the stables and finds Tonka. The horse has a little scrape on his leg, and White Bull clicks his tongue at how the white doctors took care of it. He goes to patch him up the Sioux way… which basically consists of smashing mud into the open wound. Not sure how that’s in the general area of helping but sure. Keough creeps into the stable, so White Bull dives to the ground to hide. Unfortunately, the motion leaves a big old muddy handprint all over the stable door, so Keough takes like 0.02 seconds to spot him sitting there.

Native-white relations being what they are, Keough’s first instinct is to grab a pitchfork and pin the Sioux boy to the wall to prevent White Bull from acting on his first instinct, to stab the white guy. He gets White Bull to spit out his name and tribe, and White Bull defiantly snaps that Tonka Wakon is his horse. This gets Keough to drop the pitchfork in astonishment. This was the Native boy who trained his horse so beautifully and with such kindness? He is, of course, and Keough’s newfound gentleness opens White Bull up enough to tell the whole story of why he let Tonka go. He even responds to Keough’s question of what he’s doing there, saying that he just wanted to see Tonka but not steal him. He can’t bring him back to Yellow Bull’s clutches, after all. This leaves Keough with a dilemma. The kid obviously means well, so he doesn’t want his insane genocidal boss to hurt him, but he’s got his orders and he can’t just let him walk free. On the way to take him to his C.O., White Bull hurls a random rock over the fence, prompting a bemused Keough to ask what that was about. And that’s the end of that.

What, you thought that might be important?

Custer, being terrible, very loudly and aggressively pumps White Bull for information on the Sioux troops and their battle plans. White Bull is only an unranked youth, so he plays dumb. This infuriates Custer, who starts shaking him violently until Keough and Nowlan get him to chill out. Kind of. He starts spewing threats to massacre the entire Sioux nation unless they sit down on their reservations and shut up. Somehow, I don’t see how that’s going to stop them from making war but hey. Try it. I dare you. The next morning, Keough is tasked with escorting White Bull back to his village. Because he’s such a good dude, he even lets him ride Tonka until they get there. They say their goodbyes, with their hopes that neither side will cause trouble for the other. Tempting fate, much?

And anyway, the village has already started their war dance, complete with questionable whooping. They’re all ready to bust some white heads, which they do with relish, riding through settlements and burning everything in sight. The white army is forced to mobilize, too, and with Custer in command nothing good is going to come out of this. He and his guys are talking strategy: at the fork between the Little and Big Horn Rivers, one party will go left, the other will go right, and the two will meet in the middle. Keough isn’t really a fan of the idea of slaughtering innocent Native peoples when it’s only a few making trouble but of course Custer starts raving about how the only good Native is a dead Native and man I cannot wait for this guy to get his tail kicked. Another General warns Custer to wait for everyone to convene before he starts spraying bullets everywhere, Nowlan and Keough, who will be in different parties, wish each other luck, and the meeting is adjourned.

Also everyone makes a big deal of Custer cutting his hair but I don’t care.

The army makes camp outside the Sioux village. Custer invites Keough and some other guys to meet with a journalist, because he’s so convinced of his own greatness he’s already hired a guy to make the public stroke his ego. Oh, and he’s got a new secret plan now that he’s out of earshot of his superiors: sneak down to the village while they’re asleep and murderize everyone. This is directly against orders and rather alarming so Keough tries again to get Custer to cool his jets. Of course, Custer doesn’t listen and orders Keough and the other soldiers to get down there. They’re not even allowed to bring their sabers for fear that the noise will alert the enemy to their presence. Custer’s scout, a white guy pretending to be a Native traitor by wearing some extremely unfortunate makeup, also reminds him that the white soldiers are grossly outnumbered but Custer just tells him to shut up. A soldier bursts in to warn the deranged general that a Sioux sentry has spotted them, but Custer’s cool with it. They’ll just murder him before he can report. So off rides the army once again.

One company has already engaged the enemy, but Custer is convinced they can still just blindly slaughter their way to victory. Because he is not an idiot, Keough points out that the Sioux are already attacking them, which means they’ve so lost the element of surprise that Custer was counting on. And indeed, a large party of Sioux is advancing, including White Bull, Yellow Bull, and Strong Bear. In case you’ve forgotten this was a movie about Native Americans made in the 50s, Strong Bear is really gun-ho about scalping white guys and earning feathers for his and White Bull’s war bonnets. Custer only sees the three Natives, so he’s convinced all is still going according to plan. But then the boys look back at their reinforcements.

Those odds.  They are not great.

Approximately a bajillion more Sioux and their allies cascade down the mountainside. The army is incredibly outnumbered and incredibly screwed, but they try their best. In the chaos, White Bull spots Keough and tells Strong Bear that was his friend but Strong Bear is blind with bloodlust. He’s white, so he’s just a scalp waiting to be hacked off. Custer’s horse gets cut down, leaving the idiot responsible for all this helpless on the ground. There is no music, just questionable whooping. Keough gets shot in the leg and blood sprays everywhere, which has happened several times in these older films and it never fails to be surprising. Knowing he’s done for, he instructs Comanche to lay down so he won’t be hurt, then spots Comanche’s original owner.

He’s determined to touch a dead soldier to earn his first feather… but the soldier’s not quite dead. He shoots White Bull in the stomach at the same moment Strong Bear takes a stray arrow to the back. Strong Bear congratulates his friend for earning his feather and then dies right beside him. Somewhere in this Comanche takes an arrow, and Keough struggles to pull it out while defending himself. Custer drops dead, leaving Keough the last white man standing. But not for long. Yellow Bull rides up with his gun and a nasty smile and shoots him. Several times. A lot. In revenge, Comanche overcomes his wounds and kicks Yellow Bull off his horse. And he keeps kicking him. It’s very gory. But it’s been a minute since we’ve seen a villain get such nice comeuppance.

Rip in pieces.

The American flag falls and the Sioux are victorious! But at what cost? White Bull cries at his dead best friend’s side, then drags himself across the battlefield in search of his beloved horse. He finds him lying motionless and sobs that his talisman didn’t protect him after all. Or did it? The horse is alive! The other party of the US soldiers arrives to look at the carnage caused by their leader’s homicidal incompetence. White Bull plays dead for fear that they’re coming to take revenge, but they don’t pay much attention to the Sioux in favor of their own deceased. Nowlan finds Keough, his best friend, and kneels to pay his respects. Then Comanche sits up, alive but so injured one of the other soldiers is ready to shoot him to put him out of his misery. We have had quite enough good animals being shot for illness and injury, thank you very much, so Nowlan calls for a medic to prevent another Old Yeller. You’re a good dude, Nowlan.

Sometime later, the US Army does this whole ceremony honoring Comanche for being the only survivor of the massacre at Little Big Horn. They declare that Comanche will be taken care of for the rest of his life and never ridden or asked to work, which sounds like a terrible way to care for a horse but hey what do I know. For some undisclosed reason White Bull is his stable boy all of a sudden. Did he forget their enmity or what? Whatever. It’s a thing. In the middle of the ceremony, Tonka spots his rightful owner and goes to nuzzle him. Nowlan hurries over to get him and waves off White Bull’s apologies. After all, heroes like Comanche can do whatever they want. Nowlan even gives White Bull special permission to ride Tonka whenever he wants, despite the general’s orders. After all, the guy clearly has no idea how to care for a horse. The movie ends with White Bull doing just that, racing on Tonka’s back through the open forest while the Tonka theme song plays in the background.

But seriously.  What?

I do think this was a marked improvement over the rest of the Western phase. The character motivations still made no sense and you really need some background in US History to understand most of what’s going on. I mean, it’s not even clear that the hot guy with the pretty hair and crazy genocide speeches is supposed to be the General Custer. And boy and his horse movies tend to be kinda samey, in a sea of movies that are really samey. But what elevates this is the climax. Battle scenes can get really dull to me because they’re usually just guys running around and shooting each other. This one, though, let each character have a little moment before they die or are injured. Having little perspective changes like that captures my attention way more easily than just endless violence. And speaking of character, this film does a much better job than The Light in the Forest at showing the nuances of good and bad on both the Native and white sides of things. Both Yellow Bull and Custer are punished by death, unlike Uncle Wilse who gets a hearty handshake and Niskitoon who gets nothing. Likewise, Keough and White Bull are both equally heroic and interesting enough to be worth rooting for them, unlike the incredibly bland True Son and Del. All in all, not a bad film but I’m quite glad we’re done doing the same thing a million times.

CHARACTERS

White Bull is an early example of a character type we’ll start seeing a lot of relatively shortly. He’s a teenager on the cusp of manhood desperate to prove himself by doing something great. Sadly for him, things tend to go sideways when he tries. His characterization gets a little weird later in the film, when he suddenly gets really bloodthirsty during the fight and then is suddenly A-OK working for the white people he was just trying to kill. Don’t know what’s up with that. As nice as it is to have a Native American character who is unquestionably the protagonist, he’s still played by a white guy in a spray tan that would make the Annoying Orange jealous and a wig that I’m pretty sure I saw at Party City for twenty bucks. So that’s disappointing. Said white guy is Sal Mineo, best known for playing Plato in Rebel Without a Cause. Baby steps, I guess. That wig’s still really bad.

Strong Bear is played by Rafael Campos, who was also Half Arrow in The Light in the Forest. I’m mentioning this first because they’re basically the same character. They’re both the main character’s super enthusiastic and slightly homicidal best friend and that’s about it. He’s still not even hiding the Dominican accent.

Yellow Bull is White Bull’s mean, bullying cousin.  He doesn’t even have a motivation for being such a jerk.  I mean, yeah, he’s mad about his cousin stealing his rope, but that’s no excuse for whipping him and humiliating him in front of the whole tribe.  And then he steals and abuses the horse for no reason!  Like, what is your damage, man?  Sure, he’s an awesome warrior, but it has so gone to his head.  He’s played by H.M. Wyant who is also not even trying to hide his thick Brooklyn accent.

Captain Myles Keough is brave, strong, and friendly towards the Natives when no one else is. He’s here to impress upon the viewer the value of kindness and gentleness, both to people and to animals. That’s right, it’s the role Fess Parker would have gotten if he hadn’t left the company! I’m glad the role went to Philip Carey, though. He’s a lot more sincere in the role than I think Parker would be, and I honestly think he was a better actor. Yeah, I said it. He was more genuine and he didn’t squint at White Bull like a fourth grader who can’t see the chalkboard.

General George Armstrong Custer, on the other hand, is cruel, fanatical, and bloodthirsty to further show that “goodness” isn’t limited to white people no matter what bigoted 50’s society would suggest.  He was a real person who, through his impulsiveness and terrible tactical skills, really did lead the US Army to one of their most terrible defeats ever.  And yet, despite the fact that he got wrecked because he was so gung-ho about murdering innocent people, history remembers him as a tragic hero for… some reason.  Anyway, he’s very scary here as a villain because he’s got the charisma he needs to make people follow him but he clearly has no idea how to lead with anything other than blind hatred.  That said, Britt Lomond is a gorgeous, gorgeous man.

MUSIC

Tonka is another score brought to us by Oliver Wallace.  When it’s there, the score does a fine job of emphasizing the adventure of the wilderness and the emotion behind White Bull’s relationship with Tonka.  But only when it’s there.  There are a lot of moments with nothing at all, notably and strangely the final battle.  What kind of climactic fight scene has no music at all?

Tonka is our theme song, because all these credit sequences have theme songs.  Musically, it reminds me a lot of What Makes the Red Man Red which is a little cringey because they’re clearly trying very hard to mimic the sound of traditional Native American music.  Some of the lyrics aren’t really any better, like “braver than the bravest brave”.  Still, I’ve got to give it points for being catchy.  Like The Light in the Forest, Tonka’s theme music plays in instrumental form at several key moments.  Some of the dialogue even quotes the lyrics, like when White Bull tells the tribe about how great this horse is.

ARTISTRY

Tonka was filmed in Bend, Oregon with cinematography headed by Loyal Griggs.  Other than that, what is there to say that I haven’t already said about every other Western I’ve done?  Everything is very dusty and brown and the day-for-night scenes are nearly impossible to see.  I’m very tired of looking at the same thing.  Have I mentioned that?

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’ve got to say, the Western phase went out on a higher note than expected.  Sure, the movie was pretty boring and disjointed.  I couldn’t tell if it wanted to tell the story of this one Native boy or the Battle of Little Big Horn because they really didn’t feel connected at all.  But the nuances and tensions between the two races are at the best they’ve been, and for once there was a protagonist I could connect to and villains who actually got punished for being terrible.  Of course, the portrayals of the Native characters were still not great but they were incredibly progressive for the late ’50s, so I have to give them a hand for that.

Those wigs are still awful, though.

Favorite scene: Keough and White Bull bonding over their love of Tonka in the stable.  So heartwarming.

Final rating: 6/10.  I’ve been hating on these Westerns a lot but this one was pretty okay.  Not great.  But okay.

We’ve made it to the light at the end of the tunnel!  And that light looks a whole lot like epically awesome green fire!  And this tunnel sure has a lot of sharp thorns around it… and is that a dragon?!

4 thoughts on “Tonka (1958)

  1. Oh, so that’s what “Custer’s Last Stand” was about! (Well, sort of).

    Well done for getting through the westerns! Can’t wait for the next one, it’s one of my favourites too, with its badass middle-aged fairies kicking everyone’s asses and its thirsty fifties princess…
    “But when will I see you again?”
    “Oh never, never!”
    “Never!?”
    “Well… maybe someday!”
    “When, tomorrow?”
    “Oh no! THIS EVENING!” (Never ain’t as long as it used to be ey Rose)

    Like

    1. I added that bit in Custer’s character bio specifically for your benefit 🙂

      I thought they’d never end but there is one heck of a reward for them. Ugh, I love this movie so much. My girl knows what she wants and she’s not going to let her aunts stop her getting him haha!

      Liked by 1 person

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