The Scalphunters


1h 42m 1968

Brief Synopsis

A trapper and his educated slave track an outlaw band.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Adventure
Western
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
New York opening: 2 Apr 1968
Production Company
Bristol Pictures; Norlan Productions
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

Trapper Joe Bass confronts a party of Kiowa Indians. Led by Two Crows, the band compels Bass to exchange mule and furs for fugitive slave Joseph Winfield Lee. Hoping for an opportunity to retrieve his possessions, Bass follows them. While imbibing Bass' whiskey the Kiowas are ambushed by scalphunters. Only Two Crows escapes. As Bass stalks the whites, Lee is captured. The black quickly becomes the favorite of Kate, mistress to leader Jim Howie, and is given freedom of the camp. Aware that the gang's destination is Mexico, where slavery is illegal, Lee has little motivation to escape. Bereft of slave, mule, and furs, Bass launches a campaign of attrition, causing rockfalls, feeding the band's mounts loco weed, and slaying the marauders one by one. Under the pretense of returning the trapper's property Howie plans an ambush, but is himself slain by the black. Although Lee has saved Bass, the two immediately quarrel. As the pair grapple, vengeful Kiowa braves descend upon the remaining scalphunters, appropriating their women and sparing only slave and trapper. Together Lee and Bass scheme to recover the pelts.

Film Details

Genre
Comedy
Adventure
Western
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
New York opening: 2 Apr 1968
Production Company
Bristol Pictures; Norlan Productions
Distribution Company
United Artists
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 42m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Scalphunters


Director Sydney Pollack once remarked that one cannot claim to be a "real movie director" in Hollywood until one has a Western under his belt. He had a chance to prove his mettle with The Scalphunters (1968), a Western action-comedy with social-commentary overtones that fit the context of the times well, as well as meshing with the progressive politics of its two principals and Pollack himself.

Lancaster plays Joe Bass, an ignorant white trapper in the Old West whose furs are hijacked by a band of Kiowa Indians. The Kiowas trade a freed slave, Joseph Lee (Davis), for the furs but are soon attacked by a band of scalphunters led by Jim Howie (Savalas). Lee joins Howie's band with the idea of a subterfuge to reclaim the furs, but is caught and held captive by the scalphunters. Eventually the Kiowas track down Howie and his crew, and Bass and Lee are reunited by the film's climax.

American society was in a state of transition in the Sixties, and The Scalphunters is rich in metaphors about racism and violence. Joseph Lee is an educated, cultured man who is more used to reason than brute force; Joe Bass is illiterate and prone to using his fists to settle things. Both men are convinced of their superiority over the other until a climactic fight in a mud hole, where both rise covered with beige muck that makes their skin color identical. Pollack uses Callaghan's camera throughout the film to point out the relationships between characters through framing and camera angles (a distinctly Sixties stylization), not placing Lee and Bass on an equal visual plane with each other until toward the film's end. The casting proved to be a perfect fit, considering Lancaster's and Davis' involvement in the civil rights movement and other issues of the day. Still, the movie's social commentary is leavened with generous amounts of action and comic relief, to counteract any heavy-handed message mongering.

During production, stories abounded about Lancaster's volatile temperament and his dealings with former flame Shelley Winters and director Pollack, but probably the most troublesome aspect of the shoot was the blazing heat of the Torreon, Mexico locations. A special arrangement had to be made with the unions for the crew to start shooting at 5 am and knock off by l pm in the afternoon, before the temperatures became too unbearable.

As for that climactic knock-down-drag-out fight between Lancaster and Davis in a pool of mud, Gary Fishgall in his Burt Lancaster biography, Against Type, wrote "It was shot on a mesa high in the mountains in temperatures of 110 degrees. 'In order to get the mudhole,' Davis remembered, 'they had to pipe in water from much further down, and it was absolutely chilling.' When the actors came out, they were so cold they had to be wrapped in blankets, despite the sizzling heat. But to Davis at least, the result far outweighed the effort. In 1967 terms, he noted, the 'issue was how are we going to have a top box-office white fighting with somebody who was not his equal and black. It really wasn't done.' Then he added with a chuckle, 'Of course, Burt's response was, 'Bullsh#t.'"

Producer: Arthur Gardner, Roland Kibbee (uncredited), Burt Lancaster (uncredited), Arnold Laven, Jules Levy
Director: Sydney Pollack
Screenplay: William W. Norton (also story)
Cinematography: Duke Callaghan, Richard Moore
Costume Design: Joe Drury
Film Editing: John Woodcock
Original Music: Elmer Bernstein
Principal Cast: Burt Lancaster (Joe Bass), Shelley Winters (Kate), Telly Savalas (Jim Howie), Ossie Davis (Joseph Winfield Lee), Dabney Coleman (Jed), Nick Cravat (Yancy).
C-104m. Letterboxed.

by Jerry Renshaw

The Scalphunters

The Scalphunters

Director Sydney Pollack once remarked that one cannot claim to be a "real movie director" in Hollywood until one has a Western under his belt. He had a chance to prove his mettle with The Scalphunters (1968), a Western action-comedy with social-commentary overtones that fit the context of the times well, as well as meshing with the progressive politics of its two principals and Pollack himself. Lancaster plays Joe Bass, an ignorant white trapper in the Old West whose furs are hijacked by a band of Kiowa Indians. The Kiowas trade a freed slave, Joseph Lee (Davis), for the furs but are soon attacked by a band of scalphunters led by Jim Howie (Savalas). Lee joins Howie's band with the idea of a subterfuge to reclaim the furs, but is caught and held captive by the scalphunters. Eventually the Kiowas track down Howie and his crew, and Bass and Lee are reunited by the film's climax. American society was in a state of transition in the Sixties, and The Scalphunters is rich in metaphors about racism and violence. Joseph Lee is an educated, cultured man who is more used to reason than brute force; Joe Bass is illiterate and prone to using his fists to settle things. Both men are convinced of their superiority over the other until a climactic fight in a mud hole, where both rise covered with beige muck that makes their skin color identical. Pollack uses Callaghan's camera throughout the film to point out the relationships between characters through framing and camera angles (a distinctly Sixties stylization), not placing Lee and Bass on an equal visual plane with each other until toward the film's end. The casting proved to be a perfect fit, considering Lancaster's and Davis' involvement in the civil rights movement and other issues of the day. Still, the movie's social commentary is leavened with generous amounts of action and comic relief, to counteract any heavy-handed message mongering. During production, stories abounded about Lancaster's volatile temperament and his dealings with former flame Shelley Winters and director Pollack, but probably the most troublesome aspect of the shoot was the blazing heat of the Torreon, Mexico locations. A special arrangement had to be made with the unions for the crew to start shooting at 5 am and knock off by l pm in the afternoon, before the temperatures became too unbearable. As for that climactic knock-down-drag-out fight between Lancaster and Davis in a pool of mud, Gary Fishgall in his Burt Lancaster biography, Against Type, wrote "It was shot on a mesa high in the mountains in temperatures of 110 degrees. 'In order to get the mudhole,' Davis remembered, 'they had to pipe in water from much further down, and it was absolutely chilling.' When the actors came out, they were so cold they had to be wrapped in blankets, despite the sizzling heat. But to Davis at least, the result far outweighed the effort. In 1967 terms, he noted, the 'issue was how are we going to have a top box-office white fighting with somebody who was not his equal and black. It really wasn't done.' Then he added with a chuckle, 'Of course, Burt's response was, 'Bullsh#t.'" Producer: Arthur Gardner, Roland Kibbee (uncredited), Burt Lancaster (uncredited), Arnold Laven, Jules Levy Director: Sydney Pollack Screenplay: William W. Norton (also story) Cinematography: Duke Callaghan, Richard Moore Costume Design: Joe Drury Film Editing: John Woodcock Original Music: Elmer Bernstein Principal Cast: Burt Lancaster (Joe Bass), Shelley Winters (Kate), Telly Savalas (Jim Howie), Ossie Davis (Joseph Winfield Lee), Dabney Coleman (Jed), Nick Cravat (Yancy). C-104m. Letterboxed. by Jerry Renshaw

Ossie Davis (1917-2005)


Ossie Davis, the distinguished African-American character actor, director and civil rights activist, died of natural causes on February 4 in Miami Beach, where he was filming a movie. He was 87.

He was born Raiford Chatman Davis on December 18, 1917 in Cogdell, Georgia. His parents called him "R.C." When his mother registered his birth, the county clerk misunderstood her and thought she said "Ossie" instead of "R.C.," and the name stuck. He graduated high school in 1936 and was offered two scholarships: one to Savannah State College in Georgia and the other to the famed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, but he could not afford the tuition and turned them down. He eventually saved enough money to hitchhike to Washington, D.C., where he lived with relatives while attending Howard University and studied drama.

As much as he enjoyed studying dramatics, Davis had a hunger to practice the trade professionally and in 1939, he left Howard University and headed to Harlem to work in the Rose McClendon Players, a highly respected, all-black theater ensemble in its day.

Davis' good looks and deep voice were impressive from the beginning, and he quickly joined the company and remained for three years. With the onset of World War II, Davis spent nearly four years in service, mainly as a surgical technician in an all-black Army hospital in Liberia, serving both wounded troops and local inhabitants before being transferred to Special Services to write and produce stage shows for the troops.

Back in New York in 1946, Davis debuted on Broadway in Jeb, a play about a returning black soldier who runs afoul of the Ku Klux Klan in the deep south. His co-star was Ruby Dee, an attractive leading lady who was one of the leading lights of black theater and film. Their initial romance soon developed into a lasting bond, and the two were married on December 9, 1948.

With Hollywood making much more socially conscious, adult films, particularly those that tackled themes of race (Lonely Are The Brave, Pinky, Lost Boundaries all 1949), it wasn't long before Hollywood came calling for Davis. His first film, with which he co-starred with his wife Dee, was a tense Joseph L. Mankiewicz's prison drama with strong racial overtones No Way Out (1950). He followed that up with a role as a cab driver in Henry Hathaway's Fourteen Hours (1951). Yet for the most part, Davis and Dee were primarily stage actors, and made few film appearances throughout the decade.

However, in should be noted that much of Davis time in the '50s was spent in social causes. Among them, a vocal protest against the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and an alignment with singer and black activist Paul Robeson. Davis remained loyal to Robeson even after he was denounced by other black political, sports and show business figures for his openly communist and pro-Soviet sympathies. Such affiliation led them to suspicions in the anti-Communist witch hunts of the early '50s, but Davis, nor his wife Dee, were never openly accused of any wrongdoing.

If there was ever a decade that Ossie Davis was destined for greatness, it was undoubtly the '60s. He began with a hit Broadway show, A Raisin in the Sun in 1960, and followed that up a year later with his debut as a playwright - the satire, Purlie Victorious. In it, Davis starred as Purlie, a roustabout preacher who returns to southern Georgia with a plan to buy his former master's plantation barn and turn it into a racially integrated church.

Although not an initial success, the play would be adapted into a Tony-award winning musical, Purlie years later. Yet just as important as his stage success, was the fact that Davis' film roles became much more rich and varied: a liberal priest in John Huston's The Cardinal (1963); an unflinching tough performance as a black soldier who won't break against a sadistic sergeant's racial taunts in Sidney Lumet's searing war drama The Hill (1965); and a shrewd, evil butler who turns the tables on his employer in Rod Serling's Night Gallery (1969).

In 1970, he tried his hand at film directing, and scored a hit with Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), a sharp urban action comedy with Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques as two black cops trying to stop a con artist from stealing Harlem's poor. It's generally considered the first major crossover film for the black market that was a hit with white audiences. Elsewhere, he found roles in some popular television mini-series such as King, and Roots: The Next Generation (both 1978), but for the most part, was committed to the theater.

Happily, along came Spike Lee, who revived his film career when he cast him in School Daze (1988). Davis followed that up with two more Lee films: Do the Right Thing (1989), and Jungle Fever (1991), which also co-starred his wife Dee. From there, Davis found himself in demand for senior character parts in many films throughtout the '90s: Grumpy Old Men (1993), The Client (1994), I'm Not Rappaport (1996), and HBO's remake of 12 Angry Men (1997).

Davis and Dee celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998 with the publication of a dual autobiography, In This Life Together, and in 2004, they were among the artists selected to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. Davis had been in Miami filming an independent movie called Retirement with co-stars George Segal, Rip Torn and Peter Falk.

In addition to his widow Dee, Davis is survived by three children, Nora Day, Hasna Muhammad and Guy Davis; and seven grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Ossie Davis (1917-2005)

Ossie Davis, the distinguished African-American character actor, director and civil rights activist, died of natural causes on February 4 in Miami Beach, where he was filming a movie. He was 87. He was born Raiford Chatman Davis on December 18, 1917 in Cogdell, Georgia. His parents called him "R.C." When his mother registered his birth, the county clerk misunderstood her and thought she said "Ossie" instead of "R.C.," and the name stuck. He graduated high school in 1936 and was offered two scholarships: one to Savannah State College in Georgia and the other to the famed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, but he could not afford the tuition and turned them down. He eventually saved enough money to hitchhike to Washington, D.C., where he lived with relatives while attending Howard University and studied drama. As much as he enjoyed studying dramatics, Davis had a hunger to practice the trade professionally and in 1939, he left Howard University and headed to Harlem to work in the Rose McClendon Players, a highly respected, all-black theater ensemble in its day. Davis' good looks and deep voice were impressive from the beginning, and he quickly joined the company and remained for three years. With the onset of World War II, Davis spent nearly four years in service, mainly as a surgical technician in an all-black Army hospital in Liberia, serving both wounded troops and local inhabitants before being transferred to Special Services to write and produce stage shows for the troops. Back in New York in 1946, Davis debuted on Broadway in Jeb, a play about a returning black soldier who runs afoul of the Ku Klux Klan in the deep south. His co-star was Ruby Dee, an attractive leading lady who was one of the leading lights of black theater and film. Their initial romance soon developed into a lasting bond, and the two were married on December 9, 1948. With Hollywood making much more socially conscious, adult films, particularly those that tackled themes of race (Lonely Are The Brave, Pinky, Lost Boundaries all 1949), it wasn't long before Hollywood came calling for Davis. His first film, with which he co-starred with his wife Dee, was a tense Joseph L. Mankiewicz's prison drama with strong racial overtones No Way Out (1950). He followed that up with a role as a cab driver in Henry Hathaway's Fourteen Hours (1951). Yet for the most part, Davis and Dee were primarily stage actors, and made few film appearances throughout the decade. However, in should be noted that much of Davis time in the '50s was spent in social causes. Among them, a vocal protest against the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and an alignment with singer and black activist Paul Robeson. Davis remained loyal to Robeson even after he was denounced by other black political, sports and show business figures for his openly communist and pro-Soviet sympathies. Such affiliation led them to suspicions in the anti-Communist witch hunts of the early '50s, but Davis, nor his wife Dee, were never openly accused of any wrongdoing. If there was ever a decade that Ossie Davis was destined for greatness, it was undoubtly the '60s. He began with a hit Broadway show, A Raisin in the Sun in 1960, and followed that up a year later with his debut as a playwright - the satire, Purlie Victorious. In it, Davis starred as Purlie, a roustabout preacher who returns to southern Georgia with a plan to buy his former master's plantation barn and turn it into a racially integrated church. Although not an initial success, the play would be adapted into a Tony-award winning musical, Purlie years later. Yet just as important as his stage success, was the fact that Davis' film roles became much more rich and varied: a liberal priest in John Huston's The Cardinal (1963); an unflinching tough performance as a black soldier who won't break against a sadistic sergeant's racial taunts in Sidney Lumet's searing war drama The Hill (1965); and a shrewd, evil butler who turns the tables on his employer in Rod Serling's Night Gallery (1969). In 1970, he tried his hand at film directing, and scored a hit with Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970), a sharp urban action comedy with Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques as two black cops trying to stop a con artist from stealing Harlem's poor. It's generally considered the first major crossover film for the black market that was a hit with white audiences. Elsewhere, he found roles in some popular television mini-series such as King, and Roots: The Next Generation (both 1978), but for the most part, was committed to the theater. Happily, along came Spike Lee, who revived his film career when he cast him in School Daze (1988). Davis followed that up with two more Lee films: Do the Right Thing (1989), and Jungle Fever (1991), which also co-starred his wife Dee. From there, Davis found himself in demand for senior character parts in many films throughtout the '90s: Grumpy Old Men (1993), The Client (1994), I'm Not Rappaport (1996), and HBO's remake of 12 Angry Men (1997). Davis and Dee celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998 with the publication of a dual autobiography, In This Life Together, and in 2004, they were among the artists selected to receive the Kennedy Center Honors. Davis had been in Miami filming an independent movie called Retirement with co-stars George Segal, Rip Torn and Peter Falk. In addition to his widow Dee, Davis is survived by three children, Nora Day, Hasna Muhammad and Guy Davis; and seven grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed in Mexico.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Spring April 1968

Released in United States Spring April 1968