Cast & Crew
As Hiawatha and other members of the Ojibway tribe hunt for deer, they come across a hunting party of Illinois in their territory. Hiawatha removes his bow and arrow to talk to them in peace and the Illinois group leader begins to do the same, but Pau Puk Keewis, a hot-headed Ojibway, shoots the Illinois group leader, precipitating a battle. After the Illinois are run off, Pau Puk argues that he saved Hiawatha's life. At a village meeting, Pau Puk contends that the Illinois and Dakota are planning a war. He is chosen to lead a scouting party to Illinois territory, but objects to being accompanied by Hiawatha, because he is not experienced or pure in Ojibway blood. Megissogwon, the chief, sends Hiawatha, who is puzzled by Pau Puk's remark, to scout Dakota territory. Before he leaves, Hiawatha's grandmother Nokomis reveals that his father was a stranger from another tribe, whom his mother Winona chose to marry. After living together happily, Hiawatha's father left Winona while she was pregnant to return temporarily to his own people because his father, the chief, died. Winona died of grief while waiting for his return. Hiawatha now decides to kill his father, but Nokomis warns him to forget about vengeance. On the scouting trip, Hiawatha is attacked by a bear and rescued by Lakku, an arrow maker of the Dakota. Lakku's beautiful daughter Minnehaha, obeying her father, nurses Hiawatha and they fall in love, despite her initial suspicions that he is a spy. After Lakku tells Hiawatha that the Dakota have no plans for war and gives him arrows as a gift for his chief, Hiawatha promises Minnehaha he will return before the leaves fall. On his way home, Hiawatha sees a war party of Illinois heading to Ojibway territory to avenge killings committed by Pau Puk. After killing an Illinois scout, Hiawatha warns his people, and the Ojibway repel the Illinois attack. Soon after, Hiawatha is welcomed to a place among the chieftains. When Hiawatha relates that he intends to marry a Dakota maiden, Pau Puk, now also a tribal leader, encourages the council to ban him. Hiawatha vows to marry Minnehaha even if they have to live alone without a tribe, but the council gives their consent. Hiawatha returns for his bride and they build a lodge together in Dakota territory, then return to Hiawatha's village for the marriage feast. The feast is disrupted when the body of Hiawatha's dear friend Kwasind is brought in. Pau Puk charges that he was killed by the Dakotas, but Hiawatha refuses to blame the entire Dakota Nation. Minnehaha is shunned by the Ojibway women, but convinces Nokomis of her love for Hiawatha. As winter approaches, Pau Puk blames the poor corn harvest on the fact that Kwasind's murder has not been avenged. He encourages his people to raid the Dakota buffalo and dried meat stores, but Minnehaha protests that her people would give the Ojibways food if they knew it was needed. Hiawatha proposes they send his friend Chibiabos to arrange a meeting between the two peoples, and Megissogwon agrees. On the way, however, Chibiabos is killed by Pau Puk with an arrow made by Lakku. The Ojibway now prepare for war, and when Hiawatha still does not give his consent, Nokomis reveals that the Dakota chief, Mudjekeewis, is his father. Hiawatha then goes to kill his father. Brandishing a knife, Hiawatha awakens Mudjekeewis and they fight. The chief gets hold of the knife and prepares to kill Hiawatha, when Hiawatha reveals his identity and accuses him of killing his mother. Mudjekeewis explains that when he was made chief, the council would not permit him to return. He resolved to find a way, but gave up after learning of Winona's death. Mudjekeewis denies that his people killed Kwasind or Chibiabos and promises to give the Ojibway food. Hiawatha now realizes that Pau Puk killed his friends. As Pau Puk leads the Ojibway to attack, Hiawatha and the Dakota approach unarmed. To prove Pau Puk's guilt, Hiawatha asks Pau Puk for the arrows he brought back from Lakku, and after Pau Puk says they were lost while hunting, they fight. Hiawatha kills Pau Puk with a knife and peace is achieved.
Gary Lee Jackson
Edward Morey Jr.
Allen K. Wood
Lines from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem are read at the end of the film. The film contains only Indian characters, but several reviews complained that the film's portrayals were inauthentic. The Los Angeles Catholic newspaper The Tidings complained that the film "presents Hollywood Boulevard Indians, who, despite marked physical and historical attributes, never pass for redskin braves," and Los Angeles Examiner criticized the stilted dialogue and commented that "makeup for the virtually non-Indian cast is applied too heavily and is obvious in the color film." Hiawatha was actor Vince Edwards' first major film role. According to Christian Science Monitor, producer Walter Mirisch prepared the original outline for the film. Location shooting was done at Bass Lake in California, and, according to an April 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, in Missoula, MO. A June 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item adds Tony Russell to the cast, but his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed.
In September 1950, according to Time, Monogram announced that the project was being shelved, as the pacifism advocated by the character "Hiawatha" was "too close, for current U.S. taste, to the Communist 'peace' line." Monogram president Steve Broidy, quoted in Los Angeles Daily News, stated, "Because of the tremendous influence that the motion picture industry exerts internationally, producers are being extremely cautious in preventing any subject matter to [sic] reach the screen which might possibly be interpreted as Communistic propaganda to [sic] even the slightest degree. The Hiawatha screenplay, written by a scenarist (Arthur Strawn) whose Americanism is unquestioned, still left us with the feeling that Communistic elements might conceivably misinterpret the theme of our picture, despite its American origin, and that is why we have postponed its production."
In January 1951, the film was put back on the production roster. At that time, president Broidy, as quoted in Variety, explained that "the avalanche of editorial comment which greeted our announcement convinced us unquestionably that the American public would not be dupes for any Communist line, and that our Hiawatha picture could only serve the highest ends of education and entertainment." Another screen adaptation of Longfellow's poem was produced in 1913 by Frank E. Moore, and featured an all-Indian cast. For more information on that film, see entry for Hiawatha in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20.