Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Legend of Cougar Canyon

Rex Allen's comments enriches this film immensely in his description of the spiritual values of the Navajo,especially their reverence for nature and blending of the hogans with nature only discoverable by petroglyph markings. His description of the hogans is informative and explanation of their spiritual values very enlightening.Navajo folktales are related very skillfully by Allen also. The importance of animals to the Navajo is stressed and we can learn much for their respect and kinship to the animals.The Anasazi are mentioned also and the murder of one hundred of them by the Spanish conquistadors and their wandering and screaming spirits I would definitely want to know more about.Topography is captured masterfully in the canyon lands and reminds me of the descriptions of Edward Abbey environmental essayist.

aka THE SECRET OF NAVAJO CAVE)(1974, U.S.) color 91 minutes Gold Key
Entertainment /James Flocker EnterprisesMusic by William Loose Cinematography by
David E. JacksonFilm editing by Les FletcherAnimal sequences directed by Monty
CoxSound by Phil Catalli and Les EarlProduced and directed by James T. Flocker
With: Rex Allen (Narrator/storyteller), Steven Benally, Jr. (Steve), Holger
Kasper (Walter), Johnny Guerro (Navajo Guide)
Plot Outline: Life in
Cougar Canyon, located in northeast Arizona near the state’s borders with New
Mexico and Utah, is home to both predators and their prey. The film follows the
adventures of a mountain lion in search of its next meal, which initially
involves the death of an eagle, a sacred symbol of good to the Navajo, the
Native American tribe who reside in this beautiful land. The film then shifts to
the adventures of a hawk with precision sight that ultimately catches a deadly
rattlesnake for its meal. Again, the cougar comes back on the screen with an
appetite, but its subsequent encounters with a badger, wild boar, and black bear
have the cat coming out on the losing end. Finally, the starving feline finds a
rabbit for sustenance, and all is well. About midway through the movie, the
story shifts to the life of Steve Benally, Jr., a Navajo boy who serves as the
father figure for his family and lives in a hoogan (pronounced hogan), a
traditional Navajo home made of logs and dirt and consisting of six to eight
sides. Steve manages the clan’s sheep and goats, and also has a strong
friendship with Walter, the son of a Chinle, Ariz., trading post owner. Walter
travels by horseback to Steve’s home in the bush, and the film’s adventure kicks
in. The two boys camp out under the stars near Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del
Muerto, two area landmarks. During the evening, Steve tells Walter ghost stories
about the 100 plus of his native people murdered by Spanish conquistadors in the
area, and then, he too gets spooked by a nightmare involving the cougar
devouring one of his prized goats.
The dream almost becomes reality the next day
as the duo shepherd the sheep and goats to the local watering hole. Lo and
behold, the cougar spots his next meal, but his sneak attack on the flock is
foiled by Steve and Walter who arrive in the nick of time after being
entertained by a raccoon frolicking in another watering hole. The boys get the
sheep and goats safely home, but Steve realizes one of the kids is missing, and
as the head of the household, he must find it. The dynamic duo travel for miles
in search of the young critter, but the mountain lion is also in hot pursuit.
Walter gets cornered by the cat and is attacked. Steve saves the day by fending
off the cougar and rescuing the goat. The victorious return back to the hoogan,
and all is well back in Cougar Canyon.

Synopsis: The desert landscape of the American southwest has a beauty that is unique to it. This extraordinary geography serves as the backdrop of The Legend of Cougar Canyon A.K.A. The Secret of Navajo Cave, a 1974 film, which I believe, should qualify as a kiddie matinee classic. It certainly has all the qualities of an entertaining family film: dramatic animal sequences; breathtaking scenery; and a good versus evil plot. The semi-documentary reminded me of watching Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom with Marlon Perkins in my youth, but with a Native American twist. Rex Allen, the famous cowboy singer and actor, serves as the movie’s narrator, and once the beginning credits have rolled, he immediately discusses the Navajo’s respect for the eagle, which represents good in their culture. Suddenly, the scene shifts to a hungry mountain lion in search of its next meal, which ends up being an eagle. Thus, for the remainder of the film, the cougar becomes the antagonist in this desert delight. The cat’s adventures with a raccoon, badger, rattlesnake, wild boar and black bear clearly demonstrate that the predator does not always get its prey, and that the life of the canyon hunter can be have its peaks and valleys.

Walter ends up riding a horse to Steve’s hoogan, and the duo eat a dinner of beans and Navajo fry bread before hitting the sack in their sleeping bags near Canyon de Chelly and Canyon del Muerto, both well known area landmarks. Around the crackling campfire, Steve tells his friend of the horrors that occurred in the area, including the death of 100 plus Navajos by Spanish explorers. Unfazed, Walter hits the hay. His buddy, however, has a nightmare of a cougar eating one of his goats, and he wakes up screaming. Nevertheless, the duo have sweet dreams to wake up to as they shepherd the Benally clan’s sheep and goats to the nearest watering hole. Storyteller Rex Allen also offers insight to the viewer on the importance of these animals to the Navajo people.
As the boys help move the flock to the water, the cougar is not far behind, and the cat watches their every move. Steve decides to show Walter a raccoon known for providing an entertaining bath in another watering hole some feet away. With the sheep and goats unsupervised, the cougar makes his move. Some wild mustangs, also drinking at the hole with the Benally flock, make plenty of noise with the cougar in hot pursuit of some prey, and the duo come a running, chasing the mountain lion off and saving the day. They gather the flock and return back to Steve’s home.

Upon their return, Steve notices one of the young goats is missing, and he, as the head of the household, must find the wayward animal. Walter and he head for the watering hole, but the young kid has moved on. Meanwhile, the cougar too smells its next dinner, and the hunt is on. The lost goat climbs up the canyon to escape the predator, but ends up in an area off limits to the Navajo. Nevertheless, the boys find the animal, and just in the nick of time. Will Steve save the goat in an area where he should not be to begin with? Not to worry, as the goat is within sight of the duo, but the cat corners Walter and the escaped beast, and it turns ugly. The cougar pounces on Walter, but Steve arrives with seconds to spare to shoo off the ferocious feline from his buddy. He then grabs the goat and good once again prevails over evil. The boys head back to the hoogan with the goat firmly in Steve’s hands.
Rex Allen does an admirable job as the movie’s narrator, offering interesting tidbits on animal life in the canyon and spinning some good ole’ southwest and Navajo folktales into the mix for a winning combination. Finally, William Loose’s soundtrack provides all the right notes during the dramatic and comedic scenes to enhance the 91-minute cinema gem.

Rex W. Allen, the film’s storyteller, died on Dec. 17, 1999, at age 78. His film credits include Arizona Cowboy (1950); Iron Mountain Trail (1953); and Phantom Stallion (1954). He also starred as Dr. Bill Baxter in the1958 television series Frontier Doctor. Allen also served as narrator for the 1973 children’s film classic Charlotte’s Web, and for the 1967 Disney film Charlie, the Lonesome Cougar. A noted country wester singer, Rex Allen

James T. Flocker, the movie’s producer and director, also directed the following films: Ground Zero (1973); Grizzly and the Treasure (1977); Nobody’s Boy (1984) and Ghost Ship (1992). In addition, he served as screenwriter for the 1973 animal documentary, The Wonder of It All. Flocker also served as cinematographer for The Three Stooges’ final film Kook’s Tour (1970), which featured Moe, Larry, and Curly-Joe conducting their slapstick humor on a houseboat in the beautiful outdoor scenery of Wyoming, Idaho, and California.

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