The Pathfinder  (1996)




Director:     Donald Shebib.

Starring:     Kevin Dillon (Pathfinder/Hawkeye), Graham Greene (Chingachgook), Laurie Holden (Mabel Dunham), Stacy Keach (Compte du Leon), Ralph Kussmann (Guard on Ship), Christian Laurin (Capt. Sanglier), Russell Means (Arrowhead), Charles Edwin Powell (Lt. Zale), Charlotte Sullivan (May), Jaimz Woolvett (Ensign Jasper Weston).

James Fennimore Cooper's Pathfinder set during the French and Indian War



Spoiler Warning: 

Two children want their grandmother to tell them a story about the early days of America. She tells her grandchildren that she will tell them the legend of the Pathfinder.

Flashback.  The great Mohican warchief named Chingachgook found Pathfinder as a young boy and raised the child as his own.

A French fort. A Major comes to speak with his General Compte du Leon. The General says that dispatches tell him that the Kings Louie and George are fighting again. England and France are at war again like a recurring disease. The General says his orders are to attack the British forces immediately.

Into the new land came a young lady from Boston named Mabel Dunhan. With her was her Uncle Charles Taft. They were being guided by a treacherous Indian named Arrowhead. They were to meet Mabelís father, Sgt. Dunham, at Fort Oswego, located on Lake Ontario in north-central New York.

The French are to attack Fort Oswego. Nearby Fort Oswego was a French fort known as Fort Frontenac at the head of the St. Lawrence River. The French wanted to eliminate the threat posed by Fort Oswego.

Arrowhead tells his group that he is leaving them now and they will have to pay him more money for his services. The uncle becomes very angry and wants to confront Arrowhead, but at this time an Indian fires an arrow that comes close to Mabelís head. Her uncle fires his gun and knocks the Indian down.

Chingachgook and Pathfinder hear the rifle shot and start running toward the sound. Meanwhile, Mabel and her group move on. Chingachgook catches up with the group and Mabel screams when she sees another Indian. Uncle is going to shoot Chingachgook, but Pathfinder stops him by grabbing the manís pistol hand.

Pathfinder tells the group that they are walking in the wrong direction if they are going to Fort Oswego. Mabel asks who is the young man? He gives his name and then says her father sent them out to guide the group in, but the group is already a day late.

Pathfinder now speaks with Arrowhead, who tells Pathfinder that they must get away from the area because uncle killed a Mingo warrior. Mabel speaks up saying that Arrowhead was leading them away from the river because he was frightened of being killed by the Mingo warriors.

Arrowhead and a young Indian woman leave the group and go on, while Pathfinder leads the others back down to the river.

The Mingo learn of their dead warrior and now leave the French temporarily to hunt down the English. The French leader tried to stop them, but the Indians left anyway.

Pathfinder reaches the river and then whistles for a canoe. Ensign Jasper Weston rows his canoes over to the group. He quickly introduces himself to the pretty Mabel. Chingachgook will run downstream and arrive first at the designated meeting spot with the canoes.

Chingachgook spots the Mingo war party and signals to the canoeists that the war party of 10 braves will be blocking the portage area downstream. The Mingo are setting an ambush for the group.

The group has to change their river course to avoid the Mingo. Pathfinder pulls his canoe over to the riverbank. The other canoers have tipped over their canoe and are now trying to swim to the riverbank through very strong currents.

A Mingo is going to shoot one of the men, but Chingachgook hits that man in the back of his head with a club and knocks him out. Then the two Frenchmen try to shoot one of the men being rescued by Pathfinder with his rope. Chingachgook shoots the Frenchman with his raised gun.

Later Chingachgook meets the canoeists at Fort Oswego where the river spills into the Great Lake Ontario. Inside the fort, Mabel is united with her father, the Sgt. Major. The two hug each other.

A Lt. Muir is very taken by the beauty of Mabel. He even kisses her hand.

At the fort, they hold a shooting contest. Ensign Weston is the victor.

Mabel comes to sit by Pathfinder on the riverbank. Chingachgook arrives first and starts talking with Pathfinder. Later Pathfinder talks with Mabel for a short while. She is called away to have dinner with her father.

At night the soldiers hold a dance. The Ensign dances with Mabel. Later Mabel goes to Pathfinder and tells him she thinks he deliberately lost the shooting contest. She wants to know why? Because Jasper wanted to give the prize to Mabel.

The couple is interrupted with Pathfinderís next assignment. The army wants to take a relief column up to Fort Vincent. The men at the fort have been there for six months without a break. Mabel hears this talk and later she tells her father that she will go to Fort Vincent with him. Dad says no, but Mabel insists.

Someone sneaks a message under a doorway.

The relief force will be going to Fort Vincent by ship. The Major says that someone slipped a note under his door last night saying that Jasper is a spy for the French. Sgt. Mgr. says that canít be. He knows the lad and knows his good character. Pathfinder also vouches for Jasperís character.

On the ship headed to Fort Vincent is Lt. Muir, who is delighted to be sailing with Mabel aboard.

The ship sails for Fort Vincent. Mabel goes over to speak with Pathfinder. He says the Delaware Indians call him Hawkeye, while others call him Nathaniel or Deer Slayer.

Pathfinder decides the should stop Arrowhead who is on the river in a canoe. Lt. Muir says they will not bother with this Arrowhead fellow.  But as captain of the ship, Jasper overrules the Lt.  Pathfinder throws a grappling hook that hooks onto the canoe and he and his father pull the canoe over to the ship.

Arrowhead and the woman cut themselves loose from the grappling hook and get away. Lt. Muir wants to know who cut the rope and one of the crew says that the knife he has in his hand is probably the one that cut the rope. The knife belongs to Jasper, so Muir arrests Jasper and puts him in the brig, despite Jasper telling the lieutenant that he did not cut the line.

Now thereís no captain for the ship and a storm is brewing over Lake Ontario. Uncle is made the temporary captain, despite his protests that he is a deep sea captain and not a river captain. During the night the storm hits the British ship.

Uncle calls for help and Pathfinder goes and lets Jasper out of his irons, so he can help Uncle. One of the crew is swinging from a rope around his ankle. Pathfinder gets the man down to safety.

The French will soon be sailing for the attack on Fort Oswego.

The British relief force arrives at Fort Vincent. Jasper shows Mabel the land he owns where he hopes to establish a farm.

The French around Fort Vincent are laying a trap for the British stationed at the fort.

Jasper has to sail back to Fort Oswego. He asks Pathfinder to keep an eye out for Mabel and also keep an eye on Lt. Muir.

Lt. Muir runs to meet up with the French and their Indian allies. He is working with the French to set up an ambush of the British.

Pathfinder helps Mabel cook in the kitchen. Again the two are interrupted by the Sgt. Major. Mabelís father tells Pathfinder that his daughter has eyes for the young man. Pathfinder says Mabel has eyes for Jasper, not him.

Pathfinder does admit he has a liking for Mabel, but he doesnít like being walled in. He loves life in the woods, but he then admits that he does love Mabel.

The Lieutenant takes out most of the men from the fort into the woods. Chingachgook finds the footsteps of Lt. Muir. Also with those footsteps, Chingachgook sees French footsteps. He tells Pathfinder that Lt. Muir was with the French.

A corporal grabs the Indian woman who was with Arrowhead in the canoe on the St. Lawrence River. Mabel sees the woman being brought in and she goes over to talk with her. The Indian woman tells Mabel that the French have set up an ambush for the British soldiers in the woods. Then Mabel informs the soldiers in the fort.

Meanwhile, the British soldiers are just about to step into the ambush zone when Pathfinder fires his pistol and warns the men that he are falling into a trap. The fight begins and Lt. Muir sneaks away from the fighting.

The Sgt. Major gives the order for his men to retreat.

As the fighting continues in the woods, the French and their Indian allies row their large canoes up to Fort Oswego.

Arrowhead is with them. The Indians climb up the fortís walls to get inside the fort. The corporal is telling Mabel that he doesnít believe the Indian woman because the Indians canít be trusted. Just then a warrior fires his weapon and the corporal is hit right between the eyes.

Uncle runs into a room carrying one of the shipís small cannons with him. Later he is joined by his niece and the Indian woman.

Pathfinder and his father tell the Sgt. Major that Lt. Muir is working with and for the French. Meanwhile, the Indians are finishing off more of the soldiers. Mabel and the Indian woman kill one of the Indian warriors with a rifle.

The French and Indians now control the grounds of the fort. The British soldiers return to the fort and walk right into another trap. From the third floor of a fort building, uncle fires the shipís cannon and kills a number of Indians.

Lt. Muir kills one of his own soldiers and then wounds the Sgt. Major. Mabel sees her father go down and screams out in anguish. Pathfinder helps the Sgt Major into the block house where Mabel is.

The French commander is going to ask the British to surrender to prevent any more bloodshed. Pathfinder answers that they need time to think about it. So the commander gives the people in the block house until tomorrow morning to decide.

In the morning, the ship returns and fires on the fort with its cannon, killing many of the Indian raiders. Lt. Muir makes a run for it and Pathfinder follows him. In the fight between the two men, Pathfinder wins, killing the Lieutenant.

Arrowhead saves the life of Pathfinder, but is killed himself. The British reinforcements off the ship arrive.  Jasper asks Pathfinder if Mabel is alright? Yes. Jasper rushes over to Mabel when he sees her. The two hug each other.

Pathfinder bends away from the bed and lets Jasper take the hand of fair Mabel. The Sgt. Major dies.

Next morning Pathfinder and Mabel talk. She says she understands how Pathfinder wants to remain a man of the woods and nature. She will marry Jasper and come to love him with time, but Pathfinder will always be her one true love. She tells him goodbye and walks away.

Pathfinder goes on about his business, accompanied by his father Chingachgook. Dad says they will go west to Kentucky and try to live their lives there.

Grandmother finishes up with her story and the children fall off to sleep.

Back to the present.  Pathfinder comes to the home of the children and grandmother and leaves a bunch of animal pelts for grandmother.



During the French and Indian War, in 1756 the French under General Montcalm captured and destroyed Fort Oswego under the command of General Mercer, who was killed in the battle.  This French victory caused the Oneida and the Seneca tribes to switch to the French side of the war.  So now we know the film is not faithful to the actual true events.  Nonetheless, the film is a good one with plenty of action and intrigue.  The acting was not great but still good.  It keeps your interest throughout. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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