This is the story of Lord John Morgan, an honest earthy person who is captured by the Sioux in 1825. Abused and treated as an animal he comes to adapt to his life in order to survive. Enduring torture and oppression he must earn their respect in order to be accepted as part of their tribe.
The white man as part of a Sioux tribe story was given a major shot in the arm with Kevin Costner's Oscar bagger, Dances With Wolves in 1990. This picture came out some twenty years before Costner's stylish picture but the two films couldn't be further apart in terms of story telling. Here in Elliot Silverstein's picture, the scenery and scope is certainly lush, but the niceties stop there for this is a harsh, at times painful, story with realism dripping from each frame. Silverstein wanted to get as close as he could to the facts of the Sioux way of life, even bringing in a Sioux historian to oversee the production.
The Sioux are painted on both sides of the canvas, on one side we are shown them to be violent, even sadistic, but Silverstein also portrays them as an intelligent race driven on by intense loyalty to their ways and culture. Richard Harris plays our main protagonist and has a clear license to act with immense verve and vigour, it's a memorable turn that lingers long after the credits roll. Hurting the film is a twee romance between Morgan and the Chiefs daughter (Judith Anderson) and Jean Gascon's fluctuating accents start to grate entering the film's last quarter. But really the plus points far outweigh the little irritants in the piece. The editing from Philip W. Anderson & Michael Kahn is like a whirling paean to hallucinations, and some scenes are from the top draw, most notably the Vow To The Sun ritual that literally is painful to watch. A Man Called Horse may well be of its time, but it's certainly a very interesting and highly intelligent film. 7/10