Sunday, April 18, 2010

Depression Western: The Wild Girl

Even during the Great Depression, white America was irredeemable. Such seems to be the message of the latest remake of Dances with Wolves. Based on the novel by Jim Fergus (best known for One Thousand White Women), the Hallmark Movie Channel original The Wild Girl (trailer here) offers respectable production values and plenty of guilt to those tuning in for its premiere this coming Saturday night.

It is 1932, and the upper classes are pulling together. The son of a wealthy Mexican rancher has been kidnapped by a renegade band of Apaches and the idiot sons of America’s richest families have volunteered for the rescue mission. Of course, the hunting and fishing in the Sierra Madres is hard to beat. Not interested in phony heroics, wastrel Tolley Phillips’s one virtue is his lack of pretense. However, he is convinced by Ned Giles, an aspiring photo-journalist working as a waiter in his father’s private club, to sign up for the fool’s errand and to take him along as his valet.

As soon as he arrives, Giles accepts a freelance offer, ditching the good-sported Phillips. No longer employer and employee, they find themselves pseudo-rivals for the attentions of Margaret Hawkins, an anthropologist in training attached to the mission. Naturally, the Americans and Mexicans are dead set on some killing, so when Giles stumbles across a wounded Apache girl, Hawkins suggests offering to trade her for the boy, in an attempt to avoid bloodshed. Together with Tolley, his new gentleman’s gentleman, a former Apache Army scout and his resentful son, they head off a step ahead of the vigilante posse.

Wild ups the ante on Dances by adding class based resentment to its white racial guilt. However, the Depression era details give some film some character, setting it apart from other revisionist westerns. In fact, it looks quite well produced by non-premium cable standards and moves along at a decent clip.

Though he probably would have been voted least likely to succeed after 90210, Brian Austin Green follows up his surprisingly cool turn on The Sarah Connor Chronicles with reasonably likable work as Giles. Kathleen Munroe is also quite an engaging rooting interest as the determined Hawkins. As usual, Graham Greene projects wounded nobility as the former scout, while the rest of the cast is largely handcuffed by their clich├ęd characters.

While it might constitute damning with faint praise, Wild is at least watchable. Though the constant politically correct recriminations get tiresome, it features some nice performances along the way. Wild airs on the Hallmark Movie Channel this Saturday (4/24).