The Far Horizons (1955)
Director: Rudolph Maté.
Starring: Fred MacMurray (Meriwether Lewis), Charlton Heston (William Clark), Donna Reedm (Sacajawea), Barbara Hale (Julia Hancock), William Demarest (Sgt. Cass), Alan Reed (Charboneau), Eduardo Noriega (Cameahwait), Larry Pennell (Wild Eagle), Herbert Heyes (President Jefferson), Lester Matthews (Mr. Hancock).
Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the west of the USA
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Virginia 1803. Meriwether Lewis is the personal secretary to President Thomas Jefferson. He attends a party at the home of the Hancocks. Lewis is in love with Julia Hancock, the daughter, and he wants to use the occasion to tell Julia that he loves her and wants to marry her. But he doesn't get a chance to because the Hancocks have a surprise for Lewis. Lt. Bill Clark is coming to the party. Lewis and Clark are old war buddies. News arrives that congress has approved the Louisiana Purchase of some 500,000 square miles, more than doubling the size of the United States. Then Lewis receives a message. President Jefferson wants him back at the White House. Clark arrives and Lewis introduces him to Julia. Clark seems very impressed with the looks of the young woman. The Hancocks invite Clark to spend a few days with them. Lewis leaves and Clark dances with Julia.
Jefferson has a talk with Lewis. For $15 million dollars the USA has acquired the land from the Mississippi River to the Continental divide. Jefferson wants the Missouri River explored to its headlands. He also wants the expedition to explore the continent to the Pacific Ocean. The head of the expedition will have to be a soldier, mapmaker, adventurer and diplomat. Diplomacy should be used rather than force whenever possible. And Jefferson wants Lewis to lead the expedition. Lewis asks that Lt. Bill Clark be made the co-leader of the expedition. The President agrees and says that both co-leaders will have the rank of captain in the army.
Lewis returns to the Hancock house. While speaking with Mr. Hancock, he sees Clark kiss Julia passionately. Mr. Hanock says he is sorry, but Clark has asked for Julia's hand in marriage. Lewis says that he understands now: "My feelings were never shared by Julia." Clark swears to Lewis that he did not know about his love for Julia. Lewis is sad but very magnanimous. He tells Clark: "We leave for Wood River."
At Wood River Sergeant Gass greets the two expedition leaders. All the men on the expedition are volunteers. Unfortunately, the paperwork did not go through in time and Clark did not receive his official promotion to captain. The men get on a river boat and head out on their great adventure.
The expedition runs into the Minnetare tribe. They meet with the tribe and there they are introduced to a grizzly Frenchman known as Charboneau who works for the Northwest Company. Lewis and Clark have to tell him that the USA now owns the land that France once owned. The leaders also meet a Shoshone maiden named Sacajawea. She was captured by the Minnetares and now is their slave. She wants to leave with Lewis and Clark and, to that end, tells them that she knows the way to a river that runs to the great salt water. But the leaders will not take her. So she gives them some plant seeds to give to her people when they run into them.
Chief Le Borgne tells Charboneau that he will give Sacajawea to him. The expedition leaves. The chief takes off the medal the white men gave him and throws it on the ground. The chief decides to sent his warriors to destroy the whites. The chief then tells Sacajawea that she will sleep in the hut of Charboneau, who will return tomorrow. Sacajawea does not want any part of Charboneau. She gets on a horse and rides out after the expedition. A warrior rides after her but a fellow slave gets in the way of his horse and he is thrown to the ground.
Sacajawea takes some short cuts and arrives ahead of the warriors. She tells the men that the Minnetares are coming to attack them. Lewis and Clark set up defensive positions in the hills. The Indians attack the camp only to find no one there. The men of the expedition open fire on them, killing quite a few. The Minnetare warriors head for home. The expedition starts off again. They do not take Sacajawea with them.
Soon they see buffalo and elk. The expedition comes to a fork in the river. Lewis wants to go one way, but Sacajawea says to take the other fork. Since they can't decide, they split the expedition in two and head up both forks. Since Sacajawea says there are falls within two days of their present position. both companies will proceed up river. The one that finds the water falls will stop and wait for the other company to join them. Sacajawea goes with Clark. Clark shows her his map surveying equipment. A rope breaks and the surveying equipment box goes into the river. Sacajawea jumps into the river and grabs it. Clarks jumps into the river to make sure Sacajawea survives the current. He catches up with her still holding the box and helps her get to shore.
Sacajawea puts on a dress after getting back on the boat and Clark compliments her. He then asks her if he can call her "Janey". She agrees to the new name. She asks him what the name means and he says it means "beautiful". He decides to shorten the long dress and takes the scissors to it. The men start watching the couple. The sergeant arrives and tells the men to break it up.
Clark and company reach the falls as Sacajawea said they would. They have to portage their boat up and around the falls and so they start building ramps for that purpose. Clark gets sick from his earlier swim in the cold river, but continues to work hard. One of the ropes attached to the boat to raise it up the ramp breaks and the men have to make a Herculean effort to stop the boat from heading all the way back into the river. After the boat is saved, Clark collapses. Lewis and company arrive to find Clark sick in bed. Sacajawea offers to be Clark's nurse and she uses some ancient native treatments on him. Charboneau arrives and does not like what he sees. He tells Sacajawea: "The chief has given you to me. Remember that if you want this American to get well."
Sacajawea nurses Clark back to health. She now refers to him as Chief Red Head for his auburn hair. The men decide to have a little celebration. Clark brings two jugs of whiskey, a fiddler plays his instrument and the men start to dance. Clark shows Sacajawea some simple dance steps and dances with her. Charboneau gets very angry when he sees the two dancing. He tells Clark: "Take your hands off my woman!" Soon they are in a knife fight. Lewis arrives to stop the fight. Sacajawea says: "I do not belong to him." Lewis sends Charboneau back down river.
Sacajawea tells Clark: "You have fought for me and you have won. I belong to you. That is the custom." But Clark tries to explain that this is not the white man's way. Sacajawea worries that he does not want her. She says: "I'm not married. I will wait." Clark decides to stay with Lewis in his tent for awhile. Clark names one fork of the river "Sacajawea", while Lewis names the other fork "Julia".
The expedition runs into more warriors and start to prepare themselves for battle. But Sacajawea tells them they are Shoshone warriors and the leader is her brother, Cameahwait. Back at the village, Lewis and Clark are thanked for bringing the plant seeds and for delivering Sacajawea out of slavery. Lewis and Clark ask them for horses to cross the mountains and someone to guide them. Cameahwait himself will take the white chiefs across the mountains. White Eagle says that Sacajawea was promised to him. But Sacajawea tells her brother that she belongs to Clark. So they put Clark in a tent with Sacajawea. Clark asks her why she lied. She replies: "I did not lie. I did not tell the truth but I did not lie." She said what she said because she was ashamed. Her brother would think that she did not please Clark. Clark then asks what will happen to her. She will be given to Wild Eagle. Clark doesn't like that option either.
Cameahwait takes the expedition over the mountains. He shows them a lake from which a river leads to the great salt water. The expedition trades food for canoes from the local tribe. Cameahwait sends a messenger to tell the Nez Perce tribe that the white men are coming and that no harm should come to them. The Shoshone go back to their village. That is, all except Wild Eagle. Sacajawea is going to go with the expedition. But Lewis is opposed to the idea. He tells Clark to tell her to go back to her people: "That's an order!"
Wild Eagle finds the messenger on the river and kills him. Clark has to leave Sacajawea behind. In twelve canoes, the expedition shoves off . But Sacajawea will not give up. She runs after them along the river. Clark keeps watching her and sees her fall many times. His heart finally melts enough where he stops to pick up the maiden. He runs to her and the two kiss. Lewis is not happy about this, but Clark is insistent. Down river the expedition finds the point canoe along with its two dead canoers. The men are on the verge of mutiny. They have had enough after eighteen months. They know they have gone beyond the Continental Divide and do not want to go any farther.
Lewis says that Sacajawea will not go forward with them, but Clark says: "If she goes, I go with her." Lewis responds by saying that Clark has been leading Sacajawea on, same as he did with Julia. Clark insists: "I'm going to marry Janey." Clark knocks Lewis to the ground. Lewis tells Clark that he will report this incident. The sergeant arrives carrying a dead man over his shoulder. He stops long enough to scold the two officers for not setting a good example for the men. "And the woods are crawling with Indians."
The expedition buries three of their men. Lewis explains to the men that if they go on, the United States will lay claim to the land and that one day the country would extend from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. He is doing what Thomas Jefferson ordered him to do. He adds: "I won't order you to follow. All I can promise you is a chance to serve your country well." The men agree to proceed.
Heading down river the expedition runs into an ambush led by White Eagle. He has put up a net in the river that they raise when the canoes approach the area. The Indians open fire on the expedition killing a few of the men. Clark shoots White Eagle dead. Lewis swims to the netting and cuts it. He tells the men to board their canoes and head down river. They do so and get away from the danger.
The expedition reaches the ocean. The American flag is raised. They claim for the USA all the land they have traveled. Clark tells Sacajawea: "If I go back to Washington, you go back with me."
In the White House, Jefferson is working on the 1807 budget. Lewis and Clark arrive to see the president. Jefferson apologizes for the delay in the paperwork, but now Clark is Captain Clark. Clark brings in a person who was responsible for a good deal of the expedition's success, Sacajawea. Lewis says: "We owe this girl a great deal." Julia comes into the room and meets Sacajawea. She is grateful to the maiden for saving the men's lives. Jefferson tells the expedition leaders that he will talk to them after he has read their reports.
Julia takes Sacajawea upstairs. She agrees with Sacajawea that Captain Clark will become a "chief". Sacajawea asks Julia a lot of questions about life in the white man's world. The more she thinks about it, the more she is convinced that she has to return to her home. She tells Julia: "I won't be going to the reception tonight."
After reading the reports, Jefferson talks with the expedition leaders. He is proud of the two men, but is curious why five pages are missing from the report. (These were the pages about the incident where Clark knocked Lewis down.) At the reception Clark wonders where is Sacajawea. When Julia sees him she tells him: "She's gone Bill." In a note dictated to Julia, Sacajawea says that she discussed the matter with Jefferson. She is impressed by the United States: "But it is not my country and they are not my people."
Sacajawea travels by coach toward the west.
Not a good movie. They made the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition into a love story between Clark and Sacajawea. The problem is that Sacajawea was the wife of Charboneau and she had his and her child with her on the expedition. There was no love affair between Clark and Sacajawea. All the real achievements of the expedition (the triumph over adversity, the great adventures faced in the fight for survival against nature, the value of the scientific part of the expedition, including botany and zoology, and the documentation of the beauty of the landscape), were secondary to the love story that never actually happened. And Sacajawea went back to her people without continuing on with the expedition. From west of the Rockies, the way down river was clear. They would not have needed Sacajawea. Sacajawea never met President Thomas Jefferson. So the movie pales in comparison to the truth of the expedition and is not really worth watching except for some little background information.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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