A Man Called Horse (film)

A Man Called Horse is a 1970 Western film directed by Elliot Silverstein, produced by Sandy Howard, and written by Jack DeWitt. It is based on the short story "A Man Called Horse" by the Western writer Dorothy M. Johnson, first published in 1950 in Collier's magazine and again in 1968 in Johnson's book Indian Country. The basic story was used in a 1958 episode of the television series Wagon Train, titled "A Man Called Horse". The film stars Richard Harris as the titular character, alongside Judith Anderson, Jean Gascon, Manu Tupou, Corinna Tsopei, Dub Taylor, and James Gammon.

A Man Called Horse
Man called horse poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster design by Tom Jung
Directed byElliot Silverstein
Written byJack DeWitt
Based on"A Man Called Horse"
by Dorothy M. Johnson
Produced bySandy Howard
StarringRichard Harris
Judith Anderson
Jean Gascon
Manu Tupou
Corinna Tsopei
Dub Taylor
James Gammon
CinematographyRobert B. Hauser
Edited byPhilip W. Anderson
Gene Fowler Jr.
Music byLeonard Rosenman
Cinema Center Films
Sandy Howard Productions
Distributed byNational General Pictures (US)
Estudios Churubusco (Mexico)
Release date
  • April 28, 1970 (1970-04-28)
Running time
114 minutes
CountriesUnited States
Budget$5 million[1]
Box office$6 million (US/ Canada rentals)[2]
$44 million (world wide by 1976)[3]

Partially spoken in Sioux, the film tells the story of an English aristocrat who is captured by the Sioux people. The film was a Mexican-American co-production filmed on location in Arizona and the Mexican states of Durango and Sonora. It received generally positive critical reviews, and was a financial success, spawning two sequels; The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976) and Triumphs of a Man Called Horse (1983).


English aristocrat John Morgan is captured, enslaved, and treated like an animal by a Native American tribe. He comes to respect his captors' culture and gain their respect. He is aided in understanding the Sioux by another captive, Batise, the tribe's half-breed fool, who had tried to escape and was hamstrung behind both knees.

Determining that his only chance of freedom is to gain the respect of the tribe, he overcomes his repugnance and kills two warriors from the neighboring enemy Shoshone tribe, which allows him to claim warrior status. After his victory, he proposes marriage to one of the women with the horses taken in battle as bride-price and undergoes painful initiation rites, taking the native name "Shunkawakan" (or "Horse") as his Sioux name.

When one of the warriors takes a vow never to retreat in battle, Morgan's changing perspective is shown, as he turns angrily on the uncomprehending Batise, telling him, "Five years you've lived here, and you've learned nothing about these people – all his death is to you is a means of escape." After successfully helping to fend off an attack by the enemy tribe, he becomes a respected member of the tribe and ultimately their leader.



For the crucial Native American initiation ceremony (Vow to the Sun), wherein actor Richard Harris is hung on pins in his chest, make-up artist John Chambers created a prosthetic chest.[4]

Harris and Silverstein clashed during filming, and when Howard and Harris reunited on Man in the Wilderness, Howard hired Richard Sarafian.[1]


Two sequels to the original movie were made, both with Harris reprising his role:

Representation of culturesEdit

The film notably treats both sides dispassionately, from the view of neither the White man nor the American Indian nations, but encompassing both cultures,[citation needed] but some Indian activists criticized the film harshly. Buffy Sainte Marie said:

"Even the so-called authentic movies like A Man Called Horse — that's the whitest of movies I've ever seen."[5]

Vine Deloria, Jr. said:

"As we learned from movies like A Man Called Horse, the more 'accurate' and 'authentic' a film is said to be, the more extravagant it is likely to be in at least some aspects of its misrepresentation of Indians."[6]

It was the first American Western to attempt to portray the Sioux as the protagonists and eulogize their culture, but fell short with Native American audiences because it still had leading White actors as the main characters for the film to appeal to White audiences.[7]


A Man Called Horse was released to DVD by Paramount Home Entertainment on April 29, 2003, as a Region 1 widescreen DVD and on May 31, 2011, as a Blu-ray disc.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b 'Wilderness' Captures Ecology Mood Johnson, Patricia. Los Angeles Times May 16, 1971: r16.
  2. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, January 6, 1971, p 11
  3. ^ Returns of a Man Called Howard Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times January 18, 1976: m1.
  4. ^ Pendreigh, Brian (September 7, 2001). "Obituary:John Chambers: Make-up master responsible for Hollywood's finest space-age creatures". The Guardian. Retrieved February 27, 2013.
  5. ^ Friar, Natasha A. (1972), The Only Good Indian: The Hollywood Gospel, Drama Book Specialists, p. 124, ISBN 0-910482-21-7
  6. ^ Quoted in Churchill, Ward (1996), "And They Did it Like Dogs in the Dirt... An Indigenous Analysis of Black Robe", From a Native Son: Selected Essays in Indigenism, 1985–1995, South End Press, p. 423, ISBN 0-89608-553-8, retrieved October 22, 2009
  7. ^ Chris Smallbone (November 2012). "Film Review: A Man Called Horse". Nativeamerican.co.uk. Retrieved May 19, 2017.

External linksEdit