Length: 93 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 18 April 2011
Cat No: ODNF224
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1940s adventure drama from film maker Cecil B. DeMille starring Gary Cooper and Paulette Goddard. After being accused of a felony,... Read More
Although most famous for his biblical epics, Cecil B DeMille developed a useful sideline with films about America's past. Unconquered was the last time he delved into the history books, going back further than he'd gone before, before the republic was born.
It begins in London, where Abby Hale (Goddard) is found guilty for killing a man in self defence. She's given a choice of punishment – the rope, or 14 years of indentured slavery in His Majesty George III's colonies in the new world. She choses slavery and, on the boat that takes her to America, she meets the two men who will shape her immediate destiny.
The first is Martin Garth (da Silva, fantastic), a nasty piece of work if ever there was one: he's even selling weapons to the natives. He tries to buy Abby but is foiled by Chris Holden. He's a veritable paragon (well, he is played by Gary Cooper) and frees Abby. So begins an epic dance of betrayal and love that plays against the most turbulent period of the young country's history: armed with Garth's weapons, the indigenous people have declared war on the white man!
There's always a certain critical snobbery about DeMille, as though anyone who was so calculated in his pursuit of the box office can't be worthwhile but, as Unconquered shows, he deserves more. It's more restrained than some of his films – DeMille was plainly more circumspect about sexing up American history than he was with the bible – but it's still the most tremendous entertainment, the sort of galloping pot-boiler that no director ever did so well.
Sensitive souls should be warned that the film dates from an era when 'Native Americans' were still 'Injuns' and it's pretty crude even by the standards of the day – there's an unfortunate scene in which Holden bamboozles the Injun chief (an incongruous Boris Karloff (!)) with a compass.
Then again, who expects taste and sensitivity from DeMille? Surely shamelessness is one of his principal virtues. Unconquered is thoroughly typical of the man: big, brash and a lot of fun.