"In 1853 the American plains thundered with the sound of 60,000,000 buffaloes.
Thirty years later, at the time of this story, the hunters and Indians had recklessly slaughtered these herds to a bare 3,000 survivors."
In 1883, in South Dakota, two buffalo hunters, Charlie Gibson and Sandy McKenzie join up. Sandy (Stewart Granger) is tired of killing but Charlie (Robert Taylor) lives for it. They are joined by Woodfoot, a buffalo skinner, and Jimmy O'Brien, who is half Sioux, and has left the reservation. The movie shows real scenes of buffalo's being shot, as herds are culled by the government. Not fun to watch.
Charlie, trying to justify the buffalo slaughter said: "Then how come General Sheridan gave out medals to buffalo hunters, huh? I seen one of them. A dead buffalo on one side and a dead Indian on the other. The army was for the hunter."
Sandy: "Sure, during the Indian wars. Every dead buffalo meant a starving Indian. The army couldn't lick the Injuns so he wanted to starve them back on the reservation."
Charlie: "What's wrong with that?"
He goes on to say "They ain't even human."
When the Indian girl sees the white buffalo skin she says: "You take away our food and now you kill our religion."
Besides being someone who loves killing, Charlie also hates Indians. When some Sioux steal some of their mules, he follows them and slaughters them. He shoots a woman as she runs away, but she survives and he brings her and her baby back to camp to be his squaw. Charlie and Sandy go out hunting and Charlie revels in the slaughter, but Charlie can't stomach it. Hunting for the army was one thing, but killing for profit just doesn't sit well with him. We really see how cruel and twisted Charlie is when he shoots a white buffalo, that is sacred to the Indians. When a friend of Jimmy's from the reservation, Spotted Hand, sees the white buffalo skin he tries to buy it so he can have it treated with the proper respect. Charlie won't sell it and they get fight for it. If Spotted Hand wins he gets the buffalo hide, if Charlie wins he gets the pleasure of killing Spotted Hand.
Sandy takes the woman and brings her back to the reservation. When Woodfoot tries to stop Charlie from following, Charlie kills him. At the reservation the people are starving. They have already eaten their horses and dogs. Sandy gives them his mules. The Indians dance, hoping the buffalo will come back. The woman decides she will join Sandy as he goes on to try to get food from the army.
Charlie finds Sandy and the woman, and tells him he is going to kill him in the morning because it is too dark now. It is a cold night, and Charlie wraps himself in a buffalo skin to stay warm, but at night the blood freezes and so does he. When Sandy comes down in the morning he is a frozen stiff.
The movie shows the parallel between the hunters slaughter of the buffaloes, and the US extermination of the Indians. These themes are also tied together as the slaughter of the buffalo helped lead to the extermination of the Indian. Cutting off the Plain Indians' main food source helped lead to their demise.
Robert Taylor was great as the psychotic killer. A very interesting movie.
NY Times Review
March 1, 1956
Screen: Out Where the Buffalo Roam; 'The Last Hunt' Has Premiere at State
By BOSLEY CROWTHER
BUFFALOES never looked lovelier than they do on the screen of Loew's State in "The Last Hunt," an outdoor spectacular in CinemaScope and color, which arrived at that theatre yesterday.
Great shaggy beasts with tiny soft eyes and heads like mahogany lions roam in huge herds across the landscape or charge in thundering, dusty stampedes through the early part of this picture and make a magnificent show. Indeed, they appear so noble in their natural habitat on the western plains that it shocks one to sit in the theatre and see them deliberately slain.
And that is what you see in this picture. The fictional idea is that the buffaloes are being slaughtered by white hunters during the vanishing frontier days when the great herds were all but exterminated in ruthless quest of their hides. But the killing that is witnessed by the audience is contemporary and real. It is the annual "thinning" of the protected herd at Custer State Park in South Dakota, which has to be done to keep the herd from getting too large.
It is official and necessary killing, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which made "The Last Hunt," can be forgiven—indeed, it can be acclaimed—for sending its cameras to record this disagreeable incident of modern conservation and integrating it into its fictional film.
Even so, the killing of the great bulls—the cold-blooded shooting down of them as they stand in all their majesty and grandeur around a water hole—is startling and slightly nauseating. When the bullets crash into their heads and they plunge to the ground in grotesque heaps it is not very pleasant to observe.
Of course, that is as it was intended, for "The Last Hunt" is aimed to display the low and demoralizing influence of a lust for slaughter upon the nature of man. It is meant to show how a hunter is rendered mad by his passion to kill. So the shock of beholding the buffaloes slaughtered establishes a climate for the rest of the film.
But, unfortunately, what follows the scenes of slaughter has little more to do with the buffaloes and is mainly an account of bitter conflict between two hard-bitten buffalo-hunting men. One, played by Robert Taylor, is a bestial and brutal type who hates Indians and likes to kill them almost as much as he likes to kill buffaloes. The other, played by Stewart Granger, is a decent, deliberate sort of chap who has a high regard for the Indians and eventually for buffaloes.
He develops, especially, a soft spot for a beautiful Indian girl, played by Debra Paget, who runs afoul of the two. And while his companion, Mr. Taylor, is alternately beating on the girl and makingvain efforts to assault her, Mr. Granger is watching moodily, reflecting on the vice of Indian-hating and obviously working up his nerve to slug his pal. He is joined in these observations by Lloyd Nolan as a buffalo-skinner with a wooden leg and Russ Tamblyn as a half-breed Indian whom Mr. Taylor does everything but kill.
The picture has been made with clear devotion by writer-director Richard Brooks and Metro producer Dore Schary, as its solemnity and factual footage show. The equating of Indian-hating with a lust for slaughter is morally good. But it does seem to take Mr. Granger an awfully long time to get around to freezing out Mr. Taylor. That's the way sermons sometimes go.
THE LAST HUNT, screen play by Richard Brooks, based on the novel by Milton Lott; directed by Mr. Brooks and produced by Dore Schary for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At Loew's State.
Charles Gilson . . . . . Robert Taylor
Sandy McKenzie . . . . . Stewart Granger
Woodfoot . . . . . Lloyd Nolan
Indian Girl . . . . . Debra Paget
Jimmy . . . . . Russ Tamblyn
Peg . . . . . Constance Ford
Ed Black . . . . . Joe DeSantis
1st Buffalo Hunter . . . . . Ainslie Pryor
Indian Agent . . . . . Ralph Moody
Bartender . . . . . Fred Graham
Spotted Hand . . . . . Ed Lonehill