Not a lot of luck in love

An alternative to the cartoon musical

Published: Jun 20 2016, 01:01:am

Tuesday, June 20, 1995.
POCAHONTAS: THE LEGEND. Co-written and co-produced by Donald Martin. Based on incidents in the life of Pocahontas/Rebecca Rolfe (1596-1617) and John Smith (1580-1631). Music by Jack Lenz and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Co-written and directed by Danièle J. Suissa. Running time: 102 minutes. Mature with the B.C. Classifier's warning: some violence, occasional nudity, suggestive scenes and swearing.
ACCORDING TO POCAHONTAS: THE LEGEND, Chief Powhatan's daughter didn't have a lot of luck in her choice of men. John Smith (Miles O'Keeffe), her English inamorato, is trouble for her from the moment that he sets foot on the Virginia coast.
    In director Danièle J. Suissa's live-action feature, Pocahontas (Sandrine Holt) argues that the white men building Fort James are not the "third invasion" spoken of in Algonquin prophecy. Although her uncle Mochiqus (Billy Two Rivers) counsels war, she insists that her father (Gordon Tootoosis) seek peace.
    Not the cartoon musical, Pocahontas: The Legend shows how little luck actress Holt is having in her choice of roles. Although she made a strong showing with her screen debut – her performance as Annuka, the young Algonquian attracted to a French explorer in Bruce Beresford's Black Robe, earned her a 1991 Genie nomination — she's attracted hardly any attention since.
    It's not that she hasn't been working.
    Two years ago, she starred opposite Jason Scott Lee in producer Kevin Costner's big-budget Polynesian adventure Rapa Nui. Shot on location on Easter Island, the picture was abandoned by its distributor (Warner Brothers) after poor test screenings.
    Last year, she had a supporting role in Bruce McDonald's Dance Me Outside, a "small" film about life on an Ontario Indian reservation. Toronto-based Cineplex Odeon Films did what they could for a "Canadian content" feature.
    When she accepted the title role in Suissa's outdoors adventure, Holt might have seen it as her opportunity to break through. After all, the Montreal director had to know that she would be releasing her version of the Pocahontas tale in the midst of the mega-hype for the Disney cartoon.
    It would be the perfect property for an entrepreneurial distributor. With clever timing and a little promotional moxie, it could have made an impact (and a small fortune). For Toronto model Holt, the exposure might finally ignite her acting career.
    Too bad Alliance Communications spared every expense in marketing Suissa's feature. Some cynical industry observers have suggested that the corporation may have cut a deal with Disney, the parent company of a major Alliance supplier, Miramax Films.
    What's clear is that a Canadian-made picture with some commercial potential has been abandoned by its Canadian distributor. Too bad because, having seen both pictures, I can tell you that Pocahontas: The Legend is no worse than Pocahontas, the cartoon.
    Yes, it has the late-1950s look that distinguishes so many Central Canadian features. The screenplay, written by co-producers Donald Martin and Suissa, is a Saturday matinee confection dependent on foppish English villainy and native American savagery.
    O'Keeffe, best known for having played Tarzan, the Apeman opposite Bo Derek, is lumpishly heroic, using the same expression to endure both torture and the pangs of love.
    Holt, reunited with Black Robe supporting players Tootoosis and Two Rivers, does the best she can with a role that requires her to alternate between take-charge teen princess and lady in distress.
    A pulp melodrama guilty of making up its history as it goes along, Pocahontas: The Legend ain't great. Like Ms Holt, though, it really deserved a better shot.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1995. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: The Tennessee-born Miles O'Keeffe is one of three actors to have played Pocahontas's English lover John Smith in a live-action feature film. (The others: Anthony Dexter in 1953's Captain John Smith and Pocahontas and Colin Farrell in 2005's The New World. Mel Gibson was the voice performer in Disney's 1995 animated Pocahontas.) Discovered by director John Derek, athlete-turned-actor O'Keeffe made his film debut in 1981's Tarzan, the Ape Man. Although he played the title role, the star of the show was Derek's wife, actress Bo Derek, with O'Keeffe's name appearing in the credits below that of Ms Derek, Richard Harris and John Phillip Law. His billing, if not his fame, improved in his subsequent film appearances, a succession of European beefcake fantasies in which he played characters with names such as Ator (a three-picture series) and Sir Gawain. Graduating to fully-clothed roles, he made a career out of low-budget action films. During a mid-1990s working visit to Eastern Canada, he added three titles to his credits list: Silent Hunter (1995), in which he was a vengeance-seeking recluse, Pocahontas: The Legend and Marked Man (1996), in which he appeared as the villain. O'Keeffe worked steadily, appearing in at least 37 features before apparently retiring in 2005. He turns 62 today (June 18).