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|Brigham Savage Journey|
Actor: Savage Journey
A band of wagon train pioneers struggle to survive as they are driven by angry mobs from one town to another. When they realize that no town will accept them, they brave Indian attacks and the untamed wilderness as they fo... more »
Lynching, Polygamy, And Election Year Politics Have Never Be
Robert I. Hedges | 09/23/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
""Savage Journey," presented by the Television Corporation of America, is the story of the founding of the Mormon Church, and the trials that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young endured for their faith. While technically in color, the film is really black and gray, and counts as one of the darkest, gloomiest viewing experiences in history: frequently it's difficult to even follow the action and the characters involved. The pacing is turgid and the film is too long by about fifty percent. (How many lynchings do we need to see?)
The early Mormons undergo the humiliation of being tarred and feathered, having their barns burned, being shot, and being insulted by gangs of bigoted idiots. My favorite insult was this sharp barb hurled at Brigham Young: "Do you think I look like a gorilla?" I guess the reflexive nature of that bon mot makes it highly offensive and witty, at least in theory. Non-LDS churchgoers are seen to behave in all sorts of unappealing ways: howling like dogs in church was a new one for me.
The Mormons are persecuted in the Midwest, and eventually Brigham Young has a meeting with President Martin Van Buren, who refuses to get involved to stop the harassment of Mormons by local militias. He can't help; it's an election year after all. Joseph gets the townspeople in an uproar by endorsing polygamy, and his wife goes for it in a big way. Joseph founds the town of Nauvoo, Illinois and becomes mayor. When his policies on polygamy are widely derided he makes a proclamation to shut down the paper and destroy the printing press. While the film tries to make Smith look like the victim of big government persecution in this case, there was an obvious freedom of speech issue involved. I'm not endorsing the ultimate fate of Smith as he gets tossed out a jailhouse window by another mob of heathens, but I had difficulty feeling sorry for his plight in this matter given the director's heavy-handed approach. Therein lies the central problem with this film: the "heroes" just aren't that heroic, or even likeable.
After Smith dies, Brigham Young sets the Mormon nation on course for Utah. Much of the film is devoted to the hardships intrinsic to taking Conestoga wagons over the Rocky mountains, but it's clear that the Salt Lake area is the promised land. They plant crops (this is a boring little stretch of film), but locusts come in a huge swarm to devour it. After endless closeups of grasshoppers eating foliage, Young prays for divine intervention and a huge flock of seagulls come to eat the locusts. There are other subplots about war with Mexico, about psychic predictions of the Civil War, and about conflict with Native Americans, but frankly they're all tedious and too boring to go into.
For so many dramatic things to happen in a film and have the final product be so relentlessly boring is a statement about both the script and the direction. Some of the acting was modestly strong, and an interesting casting decision definitely enlivened the proceedings: Richard Moll played Joseph Smith. Moll, best known as the not terribly bright "Bull" in the television series "Night Court" as the fiery polygamist in a hairpiece made apparently from yak fur, provides some unintentional comic relief. He struggles mightily with the role, but the stars didn't really seem to align, and it never really worked.
This is a terrible and terribly made movie, both of which are forgivable sins. What isn't forgivable is the horrifying boringness of the film: "Savage Journey" may well seem like the longest 96 minutes of your life."