Unconquered (1947)

 

 

Director:     Cecil B. DeMille. 

Starring:     Gary Cooper (Capt. Christopher Holden),  Paulette Goddard (Abigail 'Abby' Martha Hale),  Howard Da Silva (Martin Garth),  Boris Karloff (Chief Guyasuta),  Cecil Kellaway (Jeremy Love - Abby's 'guardian'),  Ward Bond (John Fraser - blacksmith),  Virginia Campbell (Mrs. John Fraser ('Half-Pint")),  Katherine DeMille (Hannah - Garth's wife),  Henry Wilcoxon (Capt. Steele - Ecuyer's deputy),  C. Aubrey Smith (Lord Chief Justice (Old Bailey)),  Victor Varconi (Capt. Ecuyer - Ft. Pitt commander),  Virginia Grey (Diana - Chris's fiancee),  Mike Mazurki (Dave Bone - Garth's henchman),  Porter Hall (Leach - slave auctioneer),  Richard Gaines (Col. George Washington), 

Captain Holden and Abbey try to save Fort Pitt (in future Pittsburg) during Pontiac's War

 

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

Not so long ago Pittsburgh was the location of a frontier fort called Fort Pitt.  "It was one of a line of forts that ran from Virginia to the Great Lakes, marking the end of the known and the beginning of the unknown.  Civilization was east of the Allegheny Mountains.  Conquest, opportunity and death lay to the west.  . . . to the Indian all men came as invaders.  Wars for survival between red men and white threatened to sweep away these little forts.  Yet men kept coming west.  Some to build their own fortunes, even at the price of Indian wars.  Others to build a nation, even at the price of their own lives.  These are the unconquered, who push ever forward the frontiers of man's freedom." 

Old Bailey, London, England, 1763.   Abigail Martha Hale has been found guilty of murder.  Abby speaks up for herself trying to explain she was only trying to protect her brother who was very ill when the press-gang broke into their house to take him.  The judge, however, says that in the fight that followed an impressing officer of the Royal Navy was killed.  Abby says her brother was also killed.  The judge says she is to be hanged by the neck until she is dead.  But the judge tells her that instead of death she may be transported to His Majesty's colonies in North America.  She will serve fourteen years as an indentured slave.   Obviously, Abby chooses slavery rather than death. 

On board ship Abby gets her morning exercise with the rest of the slaves by being walked around the deck in circles.  Jeremy and Abby have becomes friends.  Jeremy gets in trouble when he steals a tomahawk from the ship.  Captain Martin Garth demands that Jeremy return the tomahawk  The punishment for the offense is thirty lashes.  Jeremy says he will play a game of cards with the Captain to forgo the punishment.  The Captain says he wants a kiss from Abby if he wins.  Jeremy does his little trick, but the Captain knows the trick.  It's thirty lashes.  To get Jeremy out of trouble Abby gives the Captain a quick kiss.  The Captain, however, is not satisfied.  He grabs her and gives her a big kiss.  Abby slaps him for it.  The Captain tells the slave auctioneer that he wants to buy Abby.  The auctioneer holds an auction right on the deck of the ship.   

The bidding starts at 20 pounds.  No one bids higher so it's going once, twice, thrice and then a voice says:  "And sixpence."  The auctioneer checks with the man who said it Captain Christopher Holden and he says, yes, he said sixpence.  The Captain says Mr. Holden was only joking, but Holden insists that was his bid.  The captain offers 50 pounds and Holden says:  "And sixpence."    The Captain goes up to 65 pounds.  "And sixpence."  Holden opens a package on board to show that the Captain is smuggling muskets to the Indians.  The Captain takes out all the money he has, 103 pounds.  "And sixpence."  Abbey is sold to Holden.  Holden's friend Fergus can't understand why he purchased the red head.  His promised bride Diana is not going to like it. 

The boat comes into harbor.  Holden gets a note from his friend the blacksmith John Fraser in Pittsburgh.  The note says there is big trouble in the area and to meet him at the Peakestown Fair.  Holden gets ready to leave.  He tells Abby that she is free, but she refuses to leave him until she has paid off the 103 pounds and six pence he paid for her services.  But Diana is in the long boat below and Holden says he can't take Abby on his honeymoon.  He is to be married in a week.  Holden is lowered into the boat. 

A big fellow named Bone talks with the Captain.  He just came from Pittsburgh and tells Garth that the Indian Commissioner has stopped the gun trade in the area.  He wants the Captain to meet him in Peakestown.  Garth wants to know what Pontiac will do.  Bone tells him that Pontiac says the Delawares, the Shawnees and the Chippewas will join him, but he's not sure about the Wyandots. 

Captain Garth tells the auctioneer Leach to double-sell Abby to him.  He says no one will know.  Indeed, he will buy all his bond slaves for 400 pounds.  Leach says that's a hanging offense.  Abby comes in to get her papers.  But Garth tells her that Holden was just joking about buying her.  He says that Bone has bought her.  He will sell all the bond slaves in Peakestown, but not Abby.  She's not for sale. 

Rowers row Holden and Diana up a river.  It seems that Diana has taken a liking to Holden's brother Harold.  Diana says that Chris belongs on the frontier.  And, in fact, she and Harold are already married.  Chris is so mad that he immediately has the boat rowed to shore and gets off just past Blount's Landing.  He gives her a big kiss and then gets off the boat. 

In Peakestown the fair is on.  John Fraser is just about to go in to see the mermaid in the side-show when Chris Holden stops him.  Fraser is very pleased to see his old friend.  Chris gives him a ride on his wagon.  Fraser says there's big trouble brewing. 

At the bond slave auction Abby and Jeremy see Chris Holden going into the local tavern.  Chris sees Abby.  At this moment Captain Garth comes by and says soon after Chris purchased her, Abby came to him.  Now he uses her to draw crowds.  Chris comments:  "And I only thought she was a thief."  Colonel Washington comes by and greet Chris.  He introduces the Indian Commissioner Sir William Johnson to Chris.  Washington says he hasn't seen Chris since the Indians chased them off Braddock's Field. 

Bone tries to sell a man away from his wife, but Abby intervenes to stop it.  For this Bone decides to lash Abby.  Garth, however, stops Bone. 

Garth tells Abby he's sorry about that incident.  He wants her to be with him, but she doesn't want that.  An Indian woman named Hannah arrives with a brave named Mamaultee.  Mamaultee tells Garth that Chief Guyasuta says that Pontiac will be at Wolf Creek.  Garth tells Hannah to look after Abby and then leaves with the brave.  Hannah tells Abby that she is Garth's wife. 

Sir William Johnson at the tavern tells the men that there is load of trouble coming down the Ohio River.  He says when old enemies like the Ottawas, the Shawnees and the Senecas come together, there's something definitely wrong.  Washington says that Mr. Mason and Mr. Dixon, London astronomers, almost caused a war.  They have been doing a survey to settle Pennsylvania's boundary line and her claim to Pittsburgh and the Ohio country.  Mr. Garth comes in to say that he owns the Ohio Territory.  He has deeds from the Indians.  Washington tells Garth that the Indians cannot deed lands.  Garth still insists it is he who rules the land.  Washington says no one rules the land until the survey is completed.  The land survey was stopped at Dunkard's Creek by a band of Indians. 

Chris gets up to say that the Indians stopped the survey because they wanted to keep hidden the movement of their war parties.  This creates a stir among the men at the meeting, but Sir William backs Chris up.  Chris next accuses Garth of gun running to the Indians.  Garth tries to laugh it off but Chris asks him, if there was an Indian war, what side would he be on.  Garth gets up to hit Chris, but he is stopped by the other men.    

Sir William tells Holden to leave the control of the Indians to Garth.  Holden scoffs at this saying that no one can control the Indians once the war belt has been passed around.  Chris then unrolls the war belt given to him by John Fraser.  The men are scared that many frontier families will be wiped out by the Indians.  Chris offers the idea of taking peace belts to the different tribes.  Garth says it's a good idea and Holden should be the man to do it.  And, says Garth, he will supply the scouts for Holden.  Holden says he will get his own scouts.  The idea is accepted. 

Garth now goes to see Guyasuta and Pontiac at Wolf Creek.  Chris will be taking Nemacolin's Path into Indian territory.   Two scouts go with him: Joe and Dan.  Joe is quickly killed by an arrow to the heart.  Chris and the remaining scout take off and the Indians give chase.  They hide up in a tree.  The Indians race right past them.  One Indian sees the powder horn and goes to the tree to check it out.  Chris kills him with a knife throw.  It's an Ottawa Indian in Senceca country and he has a Garth tomahawk. 

The two white men will split up.   Dan will go over Chestnut Ridge.  Chris will cross Turkey Foot to the Old Braddock Road and on to Pittsburgh.  He'll meet up with Dan at Coal Hill above Ft. Pitt. 

Chris hears military drums beating.  At the Gilded Beaver Tavern in Pittsburgh British soldiers mix with civilians and Indians.  Abby works as a waitress there.  She is still under Garth's thumb and gets pushed around like the slave she is.  Hannah tells her that Garth will come for her tonight.  Jeremy is also working at the tavern run by Bone.  Chris comes into the tavern.  Abby sees him.  Chris demands to know if Garth trades here and where he is now.  Bone won't tell him.  Chris tells him that the Ottawa Indian in the tavern killed Dan McCoy to get his leather pouch.  (He knows because the Indian also has Dan's powder horn.)  Bone says he doesn't have the pouch.  Abby asks Chris if this is the leather pouch he is looking for?  Bone had hid it in her wash bucket. 

Chris learns from Abby that she is still a slave.  He tells Abby to come with him.  Bone and some others try to stop him, but Chris has two guns in his hands.  The Ottawa Indian tries to throw a knife at Chris, but Chris shoots him dead.   Chris and Abby get away.  They go over to John Fraser's place.  He tells Mrs. Fraser that he wants Abby to have a bath.  He says he wants to take her to the King's birthday ball.  Abby learns that Chris didn't get married and she is very happy about that. 

Abby and Chris go to the ball.  John and his wife also come.  In a bright green gown, Abby is the big fashion hit.  Chris introduces Abby to Captain Ecuyer, Commandant of Fort Pitt.  She also meets Captain Steele, Ecuyer's second in command.   He thinks he has met Abby before.  Abby say no. 

Abby and Chris sit and talk.  Chris starts out well giving her a lot of compliments, but when she tells him that she likes him, he blows it.  He tells her that he got her free from the tavern in order to kill Garth.  Now Abby is mad at him, insulted and hurt that he is only using her as bait in a trap.  She leaves in spite of his attempts to keep her there. 

Garth comes in looking for "his" property.  Captain Ecuyer calls Abby forward.  Garth tells everyone that she is a runaway bond slave.  Chris comes in to save the damsel once again.  The two men will duel tomorrow morning.  But Captain Ecuyer intervenes and gives Abby to Garth because he has a bill of sale for her.  Abby goes back to the tavern with Garth.  Garth makes a move on her, while Hannah watches.  The bastard kisses Abby, but is stopped by the appearance of five Indian warriors.  One of the warriors is Guyasuta.  Abby suddenly realizes that Garth is with the Indians. 

At the ball Chris tries to escape but a guard blocks his way.  A woman with her dead little girl comes in to say that the Indians killed her daughter.  She says the Indians killed everyone in her town of Claphan.  The mother walked twenty miles to Fort Pitt.  The Captain tells everyone to bring their families and livestock into the fort.  The Captain sends Chris to town to take what's of value in the town and then dismantle everything.  Chris with troops goes to the tavern.  He learns Abby is gone with Garth and the Indians.  He hands over command to Fraser and leaves to go after Garth and Abby. 

Garth confers with Hannah's father Guyasuta.  Garth talks to him about the forces they will defeat, some white, some Indian.  Garth leaves and Hannah goes with him.  Abby stays behind with the Indians.  Hannah stops to tell Abby that she will be killed. 

Chris comes to a huge waterfall.  He leaves his rifle and powder behind and climbs up to the top of the cliff.  Meanwhile, the squaws fight over Abby's green dress.  Abby in her petticoats is tied between two trees.  Chris can hear her screams.  An Indian with a burning branch approaches Abby.  Chris sets off some gunpowder which frightens the superstitious Indians. Then he steps through the smoke to confront them.  Abby shouts for him to go back!  Chris says the chief's braves are women only fit to torture other women.  To get Abby out of there he plays a trick on them.  He tells them that the compass will point north to that tree over yonder.  The arrow points to it.  Then he tells their medicine man Sioto to make the arrow point somewhere else.  If the arrow obeys the medicine man, the girl and he both die.  But if the arrow does not obey Sioto, the girl and he are both free to go.  Guyasuta agrees to the bargain.  Of course, Sioto can't do it, but he says the arrow always points in the same direction.  So Chris tells them that he can make it point to the chief.  He tells the chief that the compass carries the medicine of death so he better arm himself with weapons.  Chris has him grab weapons with iron in them.  Then, of course, the arrow points to the iron held by the chief.  Sioto tries to point the arrow at Chris, but he can't do it. 

Chris releases Abby and they walk away.  Once they get to a place where the Indians can't see them they make a run for it.  The chief discovers that the arrow follows the metal in his tomahawk.  He sends his braves after the couple.  Chris and Abby get away in a canoe after sabotaging the other canoes or putting them in the water to float away.   But the canoes in the water caught on some branches and the Indians retrieve them and pursue Chris and Abby. 

Chris and Abby go over the falls, but with Abby holding on to Chris, Chris catches hold of a large branch and he swings over into a small opening in the rocks.  The Indians see the canoe and some of the white couple's clothes that the couple jettisoned and figure they both are dead.  Later Chris retrieves his rifle.  They find a cabin in the woods.  The owner and his family went to Venango because of the Indian raids.  Abby and Chris plan to stay the night.  Abby is very happy being with Chris in the cabin. 

The next morning they still are at the cabin.  The dog brings a doll over to Chris.  The dog wants him to follow him.  Chris does so and runs into the dead bodies of a little girl and her parents.  Chris digs a grave for them.  He tells Abby not to come over, but she comes over anyway. He tells her not to look, but she looks anyway.  She sees the ghastly sight of the dead Salter family.  This, of course, upsets Abby. 

The couple travels to Venango.  Abby is sad because she thinks the town will mean her separation from Chris.  Chris tells her the townspeople can make a lot of trouble for a runaway slave, so maybe they should just call her Mrs. Holden.  He adds that maybe she will get to like the name and want to keep it forever.  Abby asks Chris if he is asking her to marry him.  He says yes.  Abby is very happy.  But then they see the circling of vultures nearby.  They find the remnants of a fort.  There are dead everywhere,  including women. 

Chris finds an old scout still alive.  He says that they ran out of food and ran up the white flag and went out from the fort.  Then the Indians massacred everyone of them.  The scout tells Chris that he must go down river to warn Fort Pitt.  Abby agrees they have to warn them.  There are 600 lives involved.  Chris says Garth is there and Abby belongs to him.  Abby still says they have to warn the fort.  The scout dies. 

Guyasuta sends a warning note to Fort Pitt for the soldiers to leave.  It says they can go in peace.  All the Indians want is their hunting grounds.  Chris and Abbey return to Fort Pitt.  They court-martial and convict Chris of desertion in the face of the enemy.  The sentence is death before a firing squad.  And Abby has to go back to Garth.  Hannah objects to Garth about him keeping the white woman, but Garth tells Hannah that she tried to burn Abby to death. Hannah's tongue is forked and Garth says he's through with her. 

Abby makes a deal with Garth.  She will stay with him if he can get Chris out of prison and away from Fort Pitt.  Garth agrees.  Abbey comes to see him.  She gives him a pistol and a knife and tells him to get to Colonel Bouquet and tell him how desperate things are at Fort Pitt.  Chris figures out that Garth is the one who got him out because of some deal Abby made with him.  He leaves.  But outside Garth has a bunch of possum hunters ready to kill Chris. 

But Hannah comes to the rescue.  She warns Chris as he comes out.  She tells him a safer way to go.  Then Hannah has herself shot instead of Chris.  When Garth goes back to his cabin he finds Hannah there.  He tells her that Holden is dead.  She shows her husband that it was she who was shot, not Holden.  She dies.   The Indian attack begins.  They are able to climb over the walls of the fort. 

Chris speaks with Colonel Bouquet.  He refuses to come.  He says he has lost a quarter of his men here at Bushy Run and he will not abandon them.  So Chris tells the commander to let him have some of the dead and wagons.  He will fill the wagons with the dead and with a few men of the Black Watch he will fool the Indians at Fort Pitt.  Meanwhile, Guyasuta is talking with the Fort Pitt men and saying they will have save conduct to go over the mountain.  The soldiers say Guyasuta can wait for the arrival of Col. Bouquet and his reinforcements.  But Guyasuta shows him the battle flag and insignia they have captured from the Colonel's Black Watch.  Still the whites have no intention of raising the white flag. 

After listening to the pleas of people with families at the fort, Steele decides to accept the terms of the Indians and orders the white flat to be hoisted.  But just as they are hoisting the flag Jeremy yells for them to stop.  He hears bagpipes.  And they see Chris coming with what they think is Bouquet's column.  The Indians run away.  Garth tells Bone to saddle up three horses.  The Black Watch comes into Fort Pitt.  Mrs. Fraser yells to Chris to get to the stables.  Chris gets to the stables.  In a shoot-out he kills Garth. 

Abby gets Ecuyer to marry her and Chris.   And marriage now frees Mrs. Holden form any slavery.  Hopefully the couple will live happily ever after.

 

Good movie.  I do have one major reservation.  I hate those movies where the innocent are condemned without them ever really putting together a good defense of their position.  It's a very used technique because the injustice of it all makes the audience mad at those quick to rush to judgment and makes them feel so much better when the innocent are finally proven innocent.  I thought the technique was over-used.  I was getting tired of seeing Garth win every argument against both Chris and Abby.  There's lots of action in the movie and is moves quickly.  Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard were very good in their parts and Howard da Silva as Garth did make me hate him.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

 

See Battles of Chief Pontiac  --  failure to capture Fort Detroit, 1763

 

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