Almost since the era of film began, Westerns have been a prime target for storytelling. From the silent classic, The Great Train Robbery, to the adventures of Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, John Wayne, and fictional characters such as The Lone Ranger and Zorro. Somewhere among those cowpokes of the silver screen is character actor, Cameron Mitchell.
After serving as a bombardier in World War II, Mitchell entered Hollywood and began to make his way in acting with character roles in many B-Movies and westerns, before landing the role of Buck Cannon in the late 60s western television series “High Chapparal”. In the season 2 episode, “The Buffalo Soldiers” which aired November 22, 1968, the focus was the Black Cavalry men of the 10th Division, or “Buffalo Soldiers” as they were referred to by the American Indians, who had been assembled in the wake of the Civil War, attempting to clean up crime in the city, while dealing with the prejudices of the townsfolk.
Mitchell, who’d been a civil rights advocate, found great promise in this piece of history, in hopes that, even during the recovery following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s brutal assassination, there might still be hope for “All Men Created Equal”.
It was around this time that Mitchell had decided to direct his first motion picture, in an interview that ran in the June 21st 1969 issue of The Tuscon Citizen, he remarked:
“I’ve worked FOR enough idiots in my career. I wanted to be the idiot myself.”
The initial story would not, however, concern the Buffalo Soldiers, but instead, the life of Jesus Christ, as Mitchell would later recall to The Haywood Review on September 2, 1973:
“The dream of my life, and I believe in God, by the way, is to film the story of The Man of Love. I would love to do it truthfully, as it has never been done before, with all the violence of his day.”
Not only that, the eccentric Mitchell claimed that God himself had instructed him to make such a film. So Mitchell selected his friend, and High Chaparral co-star, Henry Darrow, to play Jesus.
However, Darrow balked at Mitchell’s insistence that he wear an actual crown of thorns! Despite Mitchell’s reassurance that Doctors from Europe who’d performed his recent facial lift would be on stand-by to patch any wounds he’d sustain, Darrow flatly refused.
So, instead of filming the story of Christ, Mitchell turned his focus back to another subject of interest, the Buffalo Soldiers. To be specific, a tale that seemed to be loosely based on the historical events of their bloody stand against the tribe of recently killed wanted fugitive Apache Chief Victorio in Hudspeth County, Texas in 1880. http://www.buffalosoldier.net/BuffaloSoldiers&ChiefVictorio.htm
The project would be titled “A Dream of Hamish Moses”, before later being changed to “The Dream of Hamish Mose’”.
Henry Darrow would still be included amongst the cast, but this time, as a disillusioned son of a Mexican aristocrat, referred to as “Mex”,who would join the soldiers (played by several of the performers from the Chaparral episode, among them, Ernest Robinson, as “Doc”, the second in command.
Alonzo Brown, as “Preacher Boy”, the Chaplain and Bugle player.
and Eddie Washington
on their journey, which was shot on locations around the areas where the actual monument to the soldiers stands in Indian Hot Springs, Sierra Blanca, Texas.
According to Darrow in his autobiography, “Lightning in the Bottle”, and additional info, the plot was as such:
The Soldiers are lost near the Mexican border. When they find Rockne Tarkington (Playing the title character; A member of the brigade who had been lynched and left for dead, only to “rise from the dead” after being uncovered) hanging from a tree, they cut him down.
Even though he can’t speak after being hanged, Rockne promises to lead the men across the Rio Grande. Using Mex as their guide.
Mitchell also performed a role himself, in recently recovered but still unreleased footage, he is shown to have played the Buffalo Soldier’s former Captain, named Eli, who bides away his time whittling a wooden cross (A lot of Christ symbolism seems to have made its way in). He and the team also wear burlap hooded coats to protect themselves against the scorching desert sun and freezing nights.
The film also features the first motion picture role of star football player, O.J. Simpson in a small, dialogue-less role that seems to be bookend segments set in the present day, with Simpson in modern day clothes at a grave marker, and donning a ratty old civil war cap,indicating that he may have some connection to one of the other characters in the film. The only lines that seem to be present in his scenes is voice over dialogue spoken by another actor (said to be Darrow in a Chaparral fan page) for the character’s thoughts.
Another Chaparral guest actor, Don Melvoin, is listed in newspaper accounts as “a scalp hunter”.
A vile, racist hillbilly who reluctantly joins the trek, and causes much grief, and who apparently is forceably “baptized” at one point by the soldiers to wash a foul smell off of him.
As for the problems that arose during the modestly budgeted production, Mitchell proposed some very unusual quick fixes for them. When a scene required the soldiers to run into some hostile Indians, Mitchell, not having any American Indian actors at his disposal, simply had the black actors playing the soldiers to pull double duty as the Indians, their faces disguised with burlap sacks on their heads with eye holes cut out, barely clothed, and adorned with calves’ blood!
At one point, a woman was required to join the trek, although a woman was among the production team, Sharon Gless (Later of TV’s Cagney and Lacey), Mitchell instead decided to go with an effeminate, gay male accountant, whom he dressed in drag, and blurred any shots he was prominent in, to obscure his face.
Mitchell also wasn’t above putting his cast and crew into potential danger. When he learned that Bill Burrud and his wild animal show had been snowed in at the same motel as the crew, Mitchell saw an opportunity to get some more action in the film. This also didn’t go too well, as a 1971 issue of black interest magazine, Sepia, pointed out:
“The animals to be used included a cougar, a jaguar, a bear, a turkey and a coyote. The trainer swore to the animals’ domesticity, but still the stuntmen madly dashed to get the turkey or coyote, considering them most safe. Leading his jaguar, Ernie Robinson heard some commotion behind him, but his mask prevented him from any vision but straight forward. Suddenly his jaguar planted his teeth around Ernie’s knee. Meanwhile, the bear was standing up on his hind legs and poking his inexperienced handler on the chest. The much-sought-for coyote turned out to be the meanest of the lot. He went after his handler, stuntman Alonzo Brown, with a vengeance as he chased him around a big rock. Finally the female handler came in to break up the scene, but apparently the calves’ blood must have rubbed off on her somewhere along the line, as she, too, was chased around for a while by her animal before calm was finally restored.”
Not only that, in Darrow’s book, he recalls a tale of the bear charging the D.P. (believed to have been frequent collaborator, Gregory Sandor), while Mitchell tried to get him to keep shooting.
The madness didn’t stop there, however, as Washington recalled:
“We also played the Cavalry in this film, and in one scene, we were sitting around the campfire talking, an easy enough job, except that a live rattler and bull snake were part of the cast, he recalls. “As the snake came crawling into our circle, we kept getting as far away as possible, as no one wanted the job that had to be done: grabbing the snake for the camera. Finally when it seemed that no one would ever volunteer, one of our group grabbed the snake.”
“The snake just squirmed through his inexperienced grip and he handed it to me with a similiar result. That snake made the rounds quickly as everyone promptly lost his grip and handed it to his neighbor.” “Another scene of the same film required us to strip and take a bath in a swimming hole. The fact that the location was a water trap at a local golf course was no obstacle, but the fact that it had snowed that day was something else. That was the coldest water I had ever felt, and each step was sheer agony.”
“One of the fellows who was in the scene kept telling us that he could not swim, but that seemed just an excuse, and besides, that water hazard at a golf course could not be deep. It turned out that after a couple of steps, I could not feel any bottom and remembering my non-swimming companion, I turned around to see how he was handling the situation. He was nowhere to be seen. Then the top of his head broke the water level, and I swear, there were icicles forming on his face as I helped him to shore.”
“While the shooting was going on at the golf course, the crowd tended to be curious. When someone asked the ladies to leave for our nude swim, the local matrons left immediately for their cars, returning in a few minutes with their cameras, ready to click, which they did at a furious pace.”
Mitchell also seemed to have a loose, unconventional method of filming. For example, he would point the camera at Darrow, start rolling film, and verbally coach him to improvise “Talk about your Father.” “Talk about your past.” “Talk about the history of your family.” He would prod. There would also be a shot of a mule defecating, with a long, lingering shot of steam rising off the excrement. As well as the symbolism of a deceased black and white Indian massacre victims hands’ being placed into one another.
For reasons largely unknown, possibly due to lack of finances, the film was never completed. The reels remained with Mitchell until a divorce forced him to sell some of his assets, including the footage, which ended up with a friend of his, former actor, Phil Pine.
After Mitchell’s death in 1994, Pine sold the television rights to some of the footage to tabloid television programs such as Hard Copy for use during coverage of O.J. Simpson’s 1995 murder trail.
Shortly thereafter, Pine sold his library off to a friend, where the footage eventually ended up in the hands of budget DVD distribution company, “Films Around the World”, who have gathered a nearly complete copy of the film’s workprint, with the hope of procuring the aid of a company to restore it for an eventual release, as documented here:
The company has also begun to release short clips from the project via their Youtube page to gage interest.
As for where my interest in the film began. My friend, “Don Alex” of Subterreanean Cinema, listed it as one of his “Most Wanted” collection on his old webpage, under the mistaken belief that it was a 1973 ripoff of Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s own 1970 surrealist western, “El Topo” (“The Mole”). But the film’s actual production date seems to put an end to that theory. Needless to say, like most other films he was looking for, I felt compelled to help him out, and it’s been quite a journey through the prairie ever since. Perhaps sometime in the future, Hamish Mose’s “Dream” will become a “reality”.