Glory and Honor (1998)  

 

 

 



Director:    Kevin Hooks.

Starring:    Delroy Lindo (Mathew Hensen), Henry Czerny (Robert Peary), Bronwen Booth.(Josephine Peary), David Ferry (John Verhoeff),  Richard Fitzpatrick (Dr. Draper).

Made for TV movie.

The first black man to conquer the North Pole (with Peary) receives a very different treatment than his white partner upon returning home.

 

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Lt. Robert Peary speaks to an audience at the Diplomat Hotel about an expedition to the North Pole.  He tells them that 756 men have perished trying to get to the North Pole.  With him are his wife Josephine and his loyal servant Mathew Henson.  Mathew will be sailing tomorrow along with Peary on the expedition.  They are first headed to Greenland.   

The provisions are being loaded on the ship.  Kentuckian John Verhoeff comes aboard hooting and hollering and carrying a Confederate flag with him.  Dr. Draper doesn't know if he can trust Mathew to store medical supplies securely. 

June 12, 1891.  The ship sails along the coast of Greenland.  Langdon Gibson is one of the expedition crew.  Another crew member includes the blonde Eivind Astrup.  The ship hits a large piece of ice and shakes the crew around.  Peary starts heading up the stairs to see what the ship hit and the ship strikes into the ice again.  A barrel stacked on other barrels on the wall of the stairway comes loose and smashes into Peary's left leg, breaking it.   Mathew holds the leg while the doctor pushes the bones together.  As narrator, Mathew remarks that Peary had an amazing ability to endure pain. 

Peary says he will convalesce in winter camp on Greenland.  The doctor has no plaster for a cast, so Mathew fixes up a box to fit around the leg to hold it in place.  Peary's wife tells him that she is pregnant and will have the baby in late summer. 

While constructing a headquarters building on Greenland, Verhoeff refers to Mathew as a nigger, but Mathew shows no outward sign of taking offense.  The local Inuit Eskimos arrive to welcome the group.  They had never seen a black man before and they thought for sure that Mathew was an Inuit stolen as a baby.  They hug him and welcome him back home. 

In camp the men experiment with skis as a means of getting to the North Pole.  Mathew wishes he can go with the men to the Pole. 

Verhoeff comes to a formal dinner intoxicated and still dressed in his workman's clothes.  He orders Mathew around referring to him as "boy".  Peary demands that the lout apologize to his wife, Mathew and the dinner guests.  He does so and leaves. 

Mathew returns a dog to its owner.  The Inuits start calling Mathew a word meaning "the kind one".  Iqwah takes Mathew under his wing and starts teaching him the Inuit way of life.  Mathew even learns their language.  They teach him how to deal with the dogs and how to drive a dog sled.  Peary takes note of Mathew's sledding skills and decides to let Mathew drive the sled.  And that's just what Mathew wanted to hear.  He gets a huge smile on his face.  The team will go on an expedition to find out if Greenland is an island or an entry point to the North Pole.  Mathew now wears Inuit clothes.  The Inuits see Mathew off on the journey.  Josephine does the same for her husband. 

All but Mathew use their skis.  The skis really tire the men out.  This is especially true when they have to go uphill.  Meanwhile, Matthew is not exhausted at all.  And the Inuit clothes are so warm that, as he says, he is sweating like a pig. 

Verhoeff falls into a crevice.  Mathew grabs him, but with the thick gloves he can't hold him.  Verhoeff falls away from Mathew's grasp, taking one of Mathew's gloves with him.   Verhoeff is lost to the expedition. 

At night Peary is so cold that he orders Mathew and his personal dog close to him to provide him with greater warmth.  Mathew suggests that from now on they build igloos.  In the morning Mathew learns that without the glove his right hand has developed frostbite.  Mathew is sent back to headquarters.  Josephine is surprised to see Mathew and is afraid for her husband.  Mathew assure her that her husband is all right.  They only lost Verhoeff.  The Inuit welcome Mathew back.  They also teach Mathew more about their way of life so he can earn his white pants made from the hides of the polar bear.  Mathew has to kill a polar bear to get the pants.  Mr. Henson gets to shoot his bear. 

Peary is back home speaking to an audience about his experiences in Greenland.  Mathew in his white pants impresses the audience when he brings in some of the dogs used to pull the sledge.  After the speech, Mathew asks to come along on the next expedition, but as a crew member, not a personal valet.    Peary makes him his official assistant on the North Pole expedition.

Peary learns that the Norwegians have proved Greenland is an island.  He says that it's a damn lie, but his financial backers don't think so.  They say that Peary made a mistake.  Peary dismisses it and focuses attention on the real goal:  the North Pole.  Mr. Jessup gives him a check, but also says he hopes that Peary knows what he is doing. 

They are now off for the North Pole.  They are going in between the east coast of Elsmere Island and the west coast of Greenland.  They will set up winter base south of Ft. Conger and when spring arrives move on to Ft. Conger some 250 miles to the north.  The men stay aboard the ship.  The Inuit come to tell Mathew that they saw a Norwegian ship 50 miles south of here.  Peary says the Norwegians are trying to beat him to Ft. Conger.  So, he decides they will leave tomorrow for Ft. Conger.  The doctor and Gibson are shocked and tell Peary that the present storm may last another week or so.  They believe it foolhardy to try to move to Ft. Conger.  Peary agrees that the mission is dangerous, so he will not command them to go with him.  He is hoping they will volunteer to go with him.  Mathew stands up and is joined by the Inuits. 

This time all the men use dog sledges.  But the going is very rough.  Peary can't use his instruments to gauge where they are because the winds are so strong.  He tells Mathew that they are a bit off course.  Mathew begs Peary to let him examine his feet for frostbite, but Peary refuses.  Soon enough Peary is so bad off that he has to be carried by sledge.  Mathew tells Peary to stay behind and he will walk on to Ft. Conger by himself.  He says he'll be back in two days.  The going is extremely rough for Mathew, but he perseveres and reaches Ft. Conger. 

Peary and the others are now brought up to Ft. Conger.  Matthew finally gets to look at Peary's feet.  The toes are frozen and he loses eight of them.  They have to stay at Ft. Confer for 47 days for Peary to recuperate.  Then they return to their ship.  After he returns, Peary takes on an Inuit woman, named Aleqasina, who takes care of him.  The Inuit start calling Peary "crazy". 

With the arrival of spring, the men are moving north with the dogs.  The supply ship arrives.  Josephine and her daughter Marie come aboard the expedition vessel.  Gibson gives them a tour of the ship.  He takes them to Peary's cabin where Mrs. Peary sees a very pregnant Aleqasina  with only a towel wrapped around her body.  She is very shocked. 

When Peary returns, he is shocked to learn his wife and child are aboard ship.  He apologizes to his wife, but she will not listen to his explanations.  She tells him she was pregnant again and gave birth to the child, but the little baby girl only lived for eight months.  Peary says he is so sorry and asks her not to hate him.  Josephine wants him to come back with her and forget all this North Pole madness.  Peary says he can't give it up.  He begs her to let him continue. 

Alone Josephine and Marie leave with the supply ship. 

They leave Elsmere Island for the polar sea.  They carry a few supplies with them.   The men cannot see any of their food caches.  The Inuits are afraid and are going home.  Peary tries to get Mathew to tell them to stay, but Mathew tells him the Inuits are here only by their own free will.  So Peary tells his staff they will go on without them.  The doctor objects that without the food caches, they will starve out there.  Peary starts talking morally about the importance of the resoluteness of character.  Only the four expedition members go on and the two Inuits go home.  Mathew says they are out of their last pemmican.  So Peary tells Mathew to kill a dog.  The men don't like it, but Mathew has to do it. 

Less than 200 miles to the North Pole, the men are forced to turn back.  Peary, as usual, weakens and has to ride back.  The doctor is left behind as well as another expedition member.  With the last of the dogs gone, Mathew has to abandon the sledge.  On his back Mathew carries Peary back home.   The Inuits take care of Mathew and nurse him back to health. 

Perry can't go back empty-handed, so he convinces the Inuits on Greenland to give up their only source of metal, the meteorites.  The meteors and four of the Inuit men come back with Peary.  Within six months all four of the Inuits die of white man diseases.  Mathew feels very guilty about their deaths, thinking himself at least partly to blame for what happened.  While looking at the waxed statues of the four men in the natural history museum, Mathew is feeling bad.  A little black boy asks him if he new the four men and Mathew says they were his friends.  The mother of the boy realizes that she is looking at the "Negro explorer".  She tells Mr. Henson that people "are right proud" of him.  This is welcome medicine for Mathew, but he still apologizes to the statues of the four Inuits. 

Mathew attends a dinner party given by his brother-in-law.  There he meets a black woman named Lucy and they like each other almost immediately.   A dinner guest starts in on Mathew about how the expedition money would have been better spend right here in Harlem.  This upsets Mathew, who says he and Peary did something that no one else has done.  He excuses himself and goes outside for a walk.  Lucy follows him and asks if she can walk with him.  She supports his position and encourages him to continue.  Mathew deeply thanks her for her support. 

Mathew and Lucy start going out together.  A little later Lucy gives him a birthday present, a glass knick-knack of a polar bear.  Mathew says this is the first birthday present he has ever received.  He also tells her that Peary wants him to go on another expedition to the North Pole.  Lucy is very supportive of his going.  He then asks his young woman to marry him?  She says yes, as long as he swears he will go on the expedition.

Six months later, Mathew is on board the ship Roosevelt heading north.  Peary explains to his crew how, as they head to the pole, they will drop off supplies at intervals for Peary's return trip from the North Pole.  Henson is a bit upset because Peary says one man will make it with him to the pole, but did not specify who.  Mathew had taken it for granted that it would be him.  He goes to speak with Peary.  The commander asks Mathew if he hates him.  Henson closes the door and says when he remembers his four dead Inuit friends, he sometimes hates him.  He adds that sometimes he is ashamed of himself.   

March 1, 1909.  North along the Cape Columbia shore.  They make good time, but are suddenly stopped by an unfrozen patch of water.  The men set up camp until the water freezes over.  As soon as it does, the men head onward. 

At camp, Mathew overhears Peary tell naval Captain Bartlett that he won't be the one that will go with him to the pole.  He is going on ahead with Mr. Henson.  Then it hurts Mathew to hear Peary add:  "But in the end, he simply doesn't possess the character necessary for him to get himself and his team back to the Roosevelt safely, due to racial inheritance, I'm afraid." 

Later Peary speaks with Mathew.  They are only 30 miles from the pole and he will go first and then after an hour, Mathew will head out with a team and set up camp ten miles from here..  Mathew says that Peary is intending to go to the pole alone.  Peary says he deserves to get the honor by himself.  Henson asks Peary:  "How have you earned it any more than any of the rest of us, sir?  I froze with you, starved with you, carried you on my back when all I wanted to do was lay down and die.  I saved your life, sir.  Now how do you repay me for that? "    He brings up the term "racial inheritance to throw it in Peary's face.  Peary replies to Henson:  "Don't be a fool.  That was to appease Bartlett's pride.  He needed a reason for my decision, not I."  He ends by saying that in time he hopes Mathew will come to understand and appreciate his reasons for doing this. 

The next morning Peary wakes up and asks where Henson is?  He has already gone north.  Shocked, Peary gives the order to break camp.  He is going after Henson. 

Henson stops moving forward and thinks of his Inuit friends and of Peary and his wife.   He stands still until Peary catches up with him.  Henson says he stopped, because he realized that he could make it to the pole, alone, but he realized also that he wanted to share the joy and excitement.  He goes on:  "But where's the man who wanted to share his dream with me?"  Peary tells Mathew that they stand two hours from the pole, that is, unless one of them, gets there in less time.  They go on together. 

The men stand on what they think is the North Pole. 

Peary returns home and is greatly applauded.  Henson is there at the ceremony.  Henson, as narrator, says:  "So Admiral Peary found his glory and, I hope, some of the honor he'd lost along the way.  For myself, I found what I needed to find and there is certainly honor in that for me."

"Peary at last overcame critics who frequently cited his 'ignorant colored assistant' as reason to doubt his claim to the Pole.  He was showered with glory and fame. He died in 1920 at the age of  64."

"During his lifetime Mathew Henderson received almost no public recognition for his accomplishments, but lived a long, happy life with Lucy and died at the age of 88." 

"On April 6, 1988 Matthew Henson finally received his due when his body was removed from a small cemetery in the Bronx and reinterred with full honors next to Robert Peary in Arlington National Cemetery."

(Today it is widely doubted that Peary actually reach the North Pole, but his claim was believed for most of the 20th century.)

 

Good movie.  It was great seeing a deliberately forgotten black man brought back to life in as sense and given credit for helping Peary reach the North Pole.  My wife and I both liked the film.  We felt good at the end of the film when we learned he finally was recognized and reinterred next to Peary in Arlington National Cemetery.  Delroy Lindo as Mathew Henson was great.   I read in Wikipedia that explorers to the poles often had relationships with native women.  Perry had a son by his native woman.  He grew up with the Inuits.  He went to the United States and it took him a long time before he could get back to the far north.

Patrick Louis Cooney,  Ph. D. 

 

 

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