Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier

Adventures of the Wooden Woodsman.

Please note: I reviewed this film once before, but I'm giving it the "modern" treatment.

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier" (Disney, 1955).

"Gosh Davy, I wish I were as good as you at everything, including expression." "Yep, George."

Davy Crockett (Fess Parker) is the penultimate frontiersman: He's wise beyond his years, always right, the best in a fight, the best with a gun, he makes his woman swoon, and has the fear and respect of his enemies.
Not shown: Picking the splinters out of her teeth after this scene where she's making out with a wooden post.

"I don't like him, but he has my respect!"

The film follows Davy as he and his partner George Russel (Buddy Ebsen) are scouts in the employ of the United States Army, under the eye of the lovable and likable (and totally historically accurate #sarcasm ) General Andrew Jackson (Basil Ruysdael) and his by-the-book, ineffective, bumbling right-hand man Major Tobias Norton (William Bakewell).

"Why, I respect all people despite their race, color, or creed. Now let me call my TOTALLY PAID BLACK MANSERVANT to serve us drinks."

"I may be a detestable, bumbling coward, but I sure will stab you in the back later in the movie, Davy (wait, why did I say that out loud?)"

"You ever think about the slow, inevitable creeping approach of the frozen hand of death, Davy?" "Yep, George."

We follow his adventures as he fights a bear, and almost single-handedly defeats the army of indigenous warriors (referred to in the film as "Injuns").
"Only Davy Crockett can solve Injun' problems!"

After that we follow his exploits in law enforcement and politics, as he becomes the last honest politician in Washington, D.C., whose career is cut short by… Defeating a bill that he was opposed to… Somehow.
"I don't know nothin' about how them politickies is supposed to work, but even though I am 100% effective my career is over!"

The film ends with Davy and his troupe of friends heading to Texas to defend its independence at the Alamo mission in San Antonio. This does not end well.
Pictured: 100% historical accuracy. Probably. Maybe. Okay, not at all.

A bit of backstory

This film is a partial compilation of several made-for-television movies aired by Disney in the 1950s. It was quite popular at the time, in part because the film was in color and the television presentation was not. It has a rather soft and painterly feel to the color, an unmistakable hallmark of 1950s film production. This film and the television programs that it spawned from were a phenomenon in the 1950s, even having a version of its theme song chart number one on the Billboard top 10. The popularity of this film later landed Fess Parker a role as Daniel Boone, largely playing the exact same character in the exact same costume and leading to the average American's inability to distinguish between either historical character.

"Look Daniel, alligators!" "Yep, George -- wait, what did you call me?"

Good for all the bad reasons

I love this movie, but not because it's good; in actuality, it's quite bad. Fess Parker has all of the charisma of a block of wood, and this is accentuated by Buddy Ebsen's equally deadpan performance. Every scene has the same amount of emotion from Fess Parker, from his victory against the Native Americans, to the death of his wife, to his anger at the American political system, and that amount is NONE. All of the fights are badly choreographed, which really isn't out of step for the era of cinema that it was produced in, but it's still funny to see characters fall down seconds after the killing blow is delivered.

So thrilling! No, wait, that's not the word... Awkward. So awkward.

The biggest natural dangers in the movie are presented as badly shot stock film that doesn't even begin to match the tone of the rest of the production, which never ceases to be funny; basically it boils down to, "Look Davy -- alligators," then cut to a totally disconnected alligator video).
"Look Davy, baby alligators!"


The film's historic events are skewed through the lens of 1950s American Patriotism, meaning that only a red-blooded American like Davy Crockett is able solve the nation's problems and every fight he takes up is on the right side, even the highly dubious prospect of Texas independence is presented as a heroic act fought by patriots with none of that pesky historical accuracy or context.
"I totally lived till the end of this standoff. Yep. No reason to doubt the movie, I'm a hero!"

This is one of the most epically expansive bad films I have ever watched, and it is gloriously terrible.

Not necessarily good for kids

To reiterate, there is a lot of questionable history, overt racism (without it being acknowledged as such), casual (but bloodless) death, and badly aged cinematography in this production, so you might want to reconsider if you're watching with kids.

It's also odd to see well-known voice actors like Hans Conried acting in real life, but modern kids won't recognize his work.

Where can you find it?

"Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier" is currently streaming on Disney+.

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