Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here


1h 38m 1969
Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here

Brief Synopsis

After killing his girlfriend's father in self defense, a rebellious Native American races to elude a bloodthirsty posse.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
NR
Genre
Western
Adaptation
Drama
Period
Release Date
Jan 1969
Premiere Information
New York opening: 18 Dec 1969
Production Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book Willie Boy, a Desert Manhunt by Harry Lawton (Balboa Island, California, 1960).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 38m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

Willie Boy, a young Paiute Indian, returns to his Banning, California, reservation in 1909 so that he may attend his tribe's annual fiesta and resume his relationship with Lola, whose father has stood between them. When Willie attempts to arrange a midnight date with Lola, her father threatens to shoot him. Concurrently, easygoing Under-Sheriff Christopher Cooper, or "Coop," comes into town to see Liz Arnold, a wealthy Bostonian who doubles as doctor and superintendent of the reservation. Their relationship is tenuous: though Liz is sexually attracted to Coop, she regards him as her social and intellectual inferior and scorns his coarse manner. Willie meets Lola in the woods at midnight as planned, but their lovemaking is interrupted by the appearance of her father and brothers. Lola's father is killed in the ensuing scuffle, and, according to tribal tradition, Lola becomes Willie's wife. Liz, however, has other ambitions for Lola, and she insists that Coop apprehend the couple so that she can be returned to the reservation. Though his sympathies are with the Indians, Coop reluctantly heads a posse of bloodthirsty ranchers, but Willie and Lola evade the group. As the pursuit through the Mojave Desert drags on, Coop abandons the posse in order to return to town so that he may serve as bodyguard to the visiting President Taft. In Coop's absence, Willie picks off the pursuers' horses and accidentally shoots Ray Calvert, a member of the posse. The hysterical fear of an Indian uprising and assassination attempt against the President sweeps the town, and Coop is forced to continue his pursuit. The chase has left Lola so exhausted that she has become a liability to Willie, but she refuses to abandon him; and when the posse finds her dead body the following day, opinion is divided on whether she died by Willie's hand or by her own. Coop soon traps Willie in the mountains, and a confrontation is forced. When the Indian raises his rifle, Coop shoots against his will, only to discover that Willie's gun contains no bullets.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
NR
Genre
Western
Adaptation
Drama
Period
Release Date
Jan 1969
Premiere Information
New York opening: 18 Dec 1969
Production Company
Universal Pictures
Country
United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the book Willie Boy, a Desert Manhunt by Harry Lawton (Balboa Island, California, 1960).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 38m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Tell Them Willie Boy is Here


Hot on the heels of a breakthrough success in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and Downhill Racer (1969), Robert Redford appeared in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969) as a deputy sheriff in California near the turn of the 20th century reluctantly tracking down an Indian who murdered a man in self-defense. Torn between his admiration for the fugitive and his duty to the law, Redford's character is the film's most complex and interesting and earned him glowing reviews that further boosted his career.

Robert Blake, in the title role, also reaped praise along with Susan Clark, and Katharine Ross as Willie's lover and the doomed daughter of the murdered man who goes on the lam with her father's killer. But the one name attached to this picture that received the most attention was director-writer Abraham Polonsky, making a return to directing after more than 20 years. His previous effort had been the hard-hitting, politically tinged film noir Force of Evil (1948), often lauded as one of the finest modern American movies and now credited as an important influence on such films as The Godfather (1972) for its equation of crime and big business. Because of that two-decade break between projects, Polonsky is generally regarded today, in the words of Roger Greenspun's December 1969 review of Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, as "perhaps the most wasteful injustice of the late 1940s Hollywood blacklisting."

Trained as a lawyer, Polonsky was firmly committed to Marxist principles and never hid his membership in the Communist Party; in fact it was well known to the federal government during World War II when he served as a member of the O.S.S., working with the French Resistance. But postwar right-wing forces, determined to overturn the progressive policies of the Roosevelt years, went after Party members (real or rumored), and when Polonsky refused to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was blacklisted. For several years, he was able to write a handful of screenplays that were marketed through fronts. The best known and most acclaimed of these is Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), a scathing indictment of racism. Fiercely loyal to the people who protected and helped him during the blacklist years, Polonsky always refused to "name names" of those who took the screen credit for his work.

His return with Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here was generally lauded by critics, some perhaps eager to redress the wrongs that Polonsky had endured. Variety called it "a powerful unfoldment of a particular incident in US history...a deeply personal and radical vision of the past and future," and in the New York Times, Greenspun said, "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here is another one of the best American movies, and in its own way, equally idiomatic, evocative, and resourceful [as Force of Evil]." Unfortunately, Polonsky only directed one other movie after this - Romance of a Horsethief [1971] - before doctors advised him the job would be damaging to his heart condition.

The plot of Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here is taken from a book, based on fact, by Harry Lawton, who became a publisher of several books about American Indians. The true-life story of Willie Boy also formed the basis of a 1994 book published by the University of Oklahoma Press, The Hunt for Willie Boy: Indian Hating and Popular Culture by James A. Sandos and Larry E. Burgess. There is a marker in a remote part of the Yucca Valley in California that claims to be the spot where Willie Boy died, engraved with the words "The West's Last Famous Manhunt."

Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here did not turn out to be as good an experience for Redford as he had hoped. He had issues with both the direction and the script, which he felt portrayed Indians unrealistically. "Polonsky had Indians talking like characters out of some of his thirties films," Redford said. "Some of it really made me cringe when I read it." Polonsky counter-attacked by claiming Redford's emerging star ego made him take unfair swipes at the picture. "Redford was a big supporter of my movie until everyone started saying how wonderful Robert Blake was," the director said, ignoring the fact that Redford had fought for Blake to play the part when it became obvious that the studio would not hire a real Native American. "He was jealous of the Indian, so now he hates the movie." The cast member who showed the most jealousy, however, was Blake, who resented the fact that reviewers focused on Redford's performance and ignored his.

Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here won two British Academy Awards for Redford and Ross as Best Actor and Best Actress. It also won Best Non-European Film in Denmark's Bodil Awards.

Director: Abraham Polonsky
Producer: Philip A. Waxman, Jennings Lang
Screenplay: Abraham Polonsky, based on the book Willie Boy...A Desert Manhunt by Harry Lawton
Cinematography: Conrad Hall
Editing: Melvin Shapiro
Art Direction: Henry Bumstead, Alexander Golitzen
Original Music: Dave Grusin
Cast: Robert Redford (Deputy Sheriff Cooper), Katharine Ross (Lola), Robert Blake (Willie Boy), Susan Clark (Dr. Elizabeth Arnold), Barry Sullivan (Ray Calvert).

by Rob Nixon
Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here

Tell Them Willie Boy is Here

Hot on the heels of a breakthrough success in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and Downhill Racer (1969), Robert Redford appeared in Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969) as a deputy sheriff in California near the turn of the 20th century reluctantly tracking down an Indian who murdered a man in self-defense. Torn between his admiration for the fugitive and his duty to the law, Redford's character is the film's most complex and interesting and earned him glowing reviews that further boosted his career. Robert Blake, in the title role, also reaped praise along with Susan Clark, and Katharine Ross as Willie's lover and the doomed daughter of the murdered man who goes on the lam with her father's killer. But the one name attached to this picture that received the most attention was director-writer Abraham Polonsky, making a return to directing after more than 20 years. His previous effort had been the hard-hitting, politically tinged film noir Force of Evil (1948), often lauded as one of the finest modern American movies and now credited as an important influence on such films as The Godfather (1972) for its equation of crime and big business. Because of that two-decade break between projects, Polonsky is generally regarded today, in the words of Roger Greenspun's December 1969 review of Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, as "perhaps the most wasteful injustice of the late 1940s Hollywood blacklisting." Trained as a lawyer, Polonsky was firmly committed to Marxist principles and never hid his membership in the Communist Party; in fact it was well known to the federal government during World War II when he served as a member of the O.S.S., working with the French Resistance. But postwar right-wing forces, determined to overturn the progressive policies of the Roosevelt years, went after Party members (real or rumored), and when Polonsky refused to name names before the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was blacklisted. For several years, he was able to write a handful of screenplays that were marketed through fronts. The best known and most acclaimed of these is Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), a scathing indictment of racism. Fiercely loyal to the people who protected and helped him during the blacklist years, Polonsky always refused to "name names" of those who took the screen credit for his work. His return with Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here was generally lauded by critics, some perhaps eager to redress the wrongs that Polonsky had endured. Variety called it "a powerful unfoldment of a particular incident in US history...a deeply personal and radical vision of the past and future," and in the New York Times, Greenspun said, "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here is another one of the best American movies, and in its own way, equally idiomatic, evocative, and resourceful [as Force of Evil]." Unfortunately, Polonsky only directed one other movie after this - Romance of a Horsethief [1971] - before doctors advised him the job would be damaging to his heart condition. The plot of Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here is taken from a book, based on fact, by Harry Lawton, who became a publisher of several books about American Indians. The true-life story of Willie Boy also formed the basis of a 1994 book published by the University of Oklahoma Press, The Hunt for Willie Boy: Indian Hating and Popular Culture by James A. Sandos and Larry E. Burgess. There is a marker in a remote part of the Yucca Valley in California that claims to be the spot where Willie Boy died, engraved with the words "The West's Last Famous Manhunt." Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here did not turn out to be as good an experience for Redford as he had hoped. He had issues with both the direction and the script, which he felt portrayed Indians unrealistically. "Polonsky had Indians talking like characters out of some of his thirties films," Redford said. "Some of it really made me cringe when I read it." Polonsky counter-attacked by claiming Redford's emerging star ego made him take unfair swipes at the picture. "Redford was a big supporter of my movie until everyone started saying how wonderful Robert Blake was," the director said, ignoring the fact that Redford had fought for Blake to play the part when it became obvious that the studio would not hire a real Native American. "He was jealous of the Indian, so now he hates the movie." The cast member who showed the most jealousy, however, was Blake, who resented the fact that reviewers focused on Redford's performance and ignored his. Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here won two British Academy Awards for Redford and Ross as Best Actor and Best Actress. It also won Best Non-European Film in Denmark's Bodil Awards. Director: Abraham Polonsky Producer: Philip A. Waxman, Jennings Lang Screenplay: Abraham Polonsky, based on the book Willie Boy...A Desert Manhunt by Harry Lawton Cinematography: Conrad Hall Editing: Melvin Shapiro Art Direction: Henry Bumstead, Alexander Golitzen Original Music: Dave Grusin Cast: Robert Redford (Deputy Sheriff Cooper), Katharine Ross (Lola), Robert Blake (Willie Boy), Susan Clark (Dr. Elizabeth Arnold), Barry Sullivan (Ray Calvert). by Rob Nixon

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Filmed at Thousand Oaks, California. Appreciation is expressed to the Indian peoples of Pechanga, Morongo, Los Coyotes, Soboba, Agua-Caliente, and Torres-Martinez Reservations (Reservation, California).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Winter December 1969

Re-released in United States on Video February 28, 1995

Released in United States March 1980

Film was Polonsky's return to directing since he was blacklisted.

Released in United States Winter December 1969

Re-released in United States on Video February 28, 1995

Released in United States March 1980 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Special Programs) March 4-21, 1980.)