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Motion pictures often go through a number of names during production before settling on the final release title, but The Far Horizons (1955), an epic of the landmark expedition by Lewis and Clark and their Native American guide Sacajawea, takes the cake. At various points it was known as "Beyond the Blue Horizon," "Blue Horizons," "Lewis and Clark," "Two Captains West," and "Sacajawea of the Shoshones" (the name of the book on which it was based). When it was re-released in 1961 it was called The Untamed West.
Surprisingly, this was the first time the famous duo and their exploits on behalf of the U.S. government were put on screen, albeit in a highly romanticized and less than historically accurate form. Perhaps earlier filmmakers felt that there wasn't much in the way of action or drama in the real-life expedition, despite its importance in mapping the continent to the Pacific and setting the stage for what has become known as America's "Manifest Destiny." The producers of The Far Horizons probably felt the same way, because the story is skewed to highlight undocumented romantic rivalries and betrayals in order to add some narrative tension.
In reality, Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) was an Army captain who became secretary to President Thomas Jefferson in 1801. After the Louisiana Purchase (Jefferson's acquisition from the French of a vast tract of Western land), Lewis, an avid naturalist, enlisted his close friend William Clark (1770-1838), an expert mapmaker, in an 18-month trip from Missouri to the Pacific Northwest. They were aided immeasurably by Shoshone tribe member Sacajawea (sometimes translated as "Birdwoman"), who not only guided them but acted as ambassador to some 50 tribes encountered along the way. After another 10-month trek home, Lewis was rewarded with the governorship of the Louisiana Territory, but approximately two years later, the unmarried explorer died, victim of either murder or suicide. It was left to Clark to publish the expedition's journals, assuring them both immortality. For her part, Sacajawea was finally given recognition with a one-dollar coin minted in her honor in 1998. Although there are no official records, her birth date is usually given by most historians around 1790; some accounts say she died around 1813, but Shoshone tradition suggests she lived a longer life and possibly into the 1880s.
Since collecting plant specimens and drawing maps weren't quite exciting enough for an adventure film, the producers added in not one but two love triangles. The first, according to scenarists Winston Miller and Edmund North, begins prior to the trip when Clark becomes engaged to a woman Lewis loves. The expedition leader's jealous nature becomes further pronounced along the way as it becomes obvious that a romantic bond is forming between Clark and Sacajawea. In the film, she is depicted as single, although in fact she was already married to Canadian trapper Toussaint Charboneau, and in real life bore him a child during the expedition. Charboneau's character is made the villain here, plotting with a tribal chief to lead the duo into an ambush (from which they are saved by Sacajawea). If those dramatic devices weren't enough to spice up the tale, more Indian attacks were thrown in for good measure.
Reportedly Gary Cooper and John Wayne were considered for leads but neither panned out. The part of Lewis was given to Fred MacMurray, already 12 years older than his character at his untimely death. Clark is played by Charlton Heston, then a quickly rising star with a number of top credits, although not yet the Moses and Ben-Hur of film history. A Los Angeles Times article from April 1953 claimed French actress Leslie Caron, fresh off her success in An American in Paris (1951) and Lili (1953), was being sought for the role of Sacajawea. Perhaps the producers could not negotiate successfully with Caron's home studio MGM, because the part went to Donna Reed, recent winner of a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance in From Here to Eternity (1953). Although cast as an unlikely Native American, Reed actually got the best reviews of any aspect of the production. A July 1954 news item in the Hollywood Reporter noted that during location filming, Reed was rushed by plane from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to Salt Lake City for emergency surgery but was back on the set two days later. The nature of the emergency was not reported.
Character actor Alan Reed (no relation to his co-star) played the part of Charboneau. Reed appeared in many movies for such directors as William Wyler, Raoul Walsh, and Douglas Sirk, and in episodes of many television shows, including Donna Reed's hit family comedy series. Still, his lasting impact on show business was as the voice of Fred Flintstone.
The Far Horizons was directed by Rudolph Mat, far better known as the cinematographer of Dodsworth (1936), To Be or Not to Be (1942), and The Lady from Shanghai (1947), among nearly 60 other films dating back to the start of his career in silents as the man who shot the films of landmark Danish director Carl Dreyer. Mat's own filmography as director (over 30 features) was less distinguished than his justly famous camera work.
The cast of The Far Horizons also features Barbara Hale, best known as valued secretary Della Street on the long-running TV series Perry Mason, and veteran character actor William Demarest, who later had a recurring role in MacMurray's television sitcom My Three Sons.
Director: Rudolph Mat
Producers: William H. Pine, William C. Thomas
Screenplay: Winston Miller, Edmund H. North, based on the novel Sacajawea of the Shoshones by Della Gould Emmons
Cinematography: Daniel L. Fapp
Editing: Frank Bracht
Art Direction: A. Earl Hedrick, Hal Pereira
Original Music: Hans Salter
Cast: Fred MacMurray (Lewis), Charlton Heston (Clark), Donna Reed (Sacajawea), Barbara Hale (Julia), Alan Reed (Charboneau), William Demarest (Sgt. Gass).
C-108m. Letterboxed. Closed Captioning.
by Rob Nixon