Friday, May 7, 2010

Native American Images on Film in "Jim Thorpe: All American" (1951)

As part of TCM's on-going exploration of Race and Hollywood, Native American Images on Film are being explored with 30 films every Tuesday and Thursday this May. The films are being introduced by Robert Osborne and Professor Hanay Geiogamaheach, the director of the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA who will discuss how movies changed perceptions of this continent's native people over time. A list of the upcoming programming for this event may be seen by clicking on the title of this blog. The TCM's Movie Morlocks each contributed their individual look at how Native Americans were depicted on screen in a blogathon this week.

My focus was on the fascinating story of Jim Thorpe (1887-1953), a member of the Sac and Fox tribe, who become an internationally famous athlete after he won both the decathlon and the pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Sweden, only to have his Gold Medals revoked after an unfair accusation that he had played professional baseball one summer while attending Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania where he had led his teammates to a remarkable number of  upset victories against much larger, better funded schools.  Looking at the imperfect but heartfelt version of this man's life was a pleasure, since it made me think about the legacy of Thorpe, as well as director Michael Curtiz and actor Burt Lancaster, each of whom helped to craft Jim Thorpe, All American (1951). This piece begins below, followed by a slide show of images related to this topic.:

Jim Thorpe, All American (1951) is a biopic that is too easily dismissed as a mass of clichés about race, sports, and the elusive nature of the American Dream for Native Americans. Some might argue that it was old fashioned, even in its day. You can’t help cringing at lines such as “Indian boy got much to learn,” illnesses that are foreshadowed by a beloved character’s mild cough, and trouble in paradise being signaled by a wife who shrinks away when her hubby tries to steal a kiss, but the child-like broken heart at this movie’s center somehow still ticks away on a visceral level, evoking some complex feelings of guilt, empathy and even vicarious pride as a viewer gets caught up in this version of the great Native American athlete’s simultaneously triumphant and troubled life...More on the Movie Morlocks


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