THE SCRIPT & THE MATTER OF HISTORICAL ACCURACY
~~ A Critique Of The Script (Assisted by Mark A.Baker) ~~
The epic that is The Last of the Mohicans would not be nearly so if not for the grand attention to detail. Numerous consultants were called in for the production, making sure hair styles, clothing, tattoos, and other seemingly minor details were
historically correct. The effect, coupled with the landscapes, casting, cinematography, direction, music & performances is spellbinding. With such a fuss made about the historical accuracy of the film, the final product lent itself to criticism, in some
circles, for its INACCURACIES. Was it carelessness, forgetfulness, ignorance? Knowing the relentless drive of director Michael Mann, we can be fairly certain that it wasn't because of the first two reasons. But, even Mann can't know EVERYTHING. Was he
just plain IGNORANT of some of the details? Hardly!
Called in early on, to not only coach DDL in his use of the muzzleloader, Killdeer, but to be on hand as a reference tool to aid in accurately portraying life on the colonial frontier, was a leading - if not THE leading - authority on the life
ways of the colonial man, Mark A. Baker. (See ON THE TRAIL WITH ... MARK A. BAKER, a first person account of his role in the filming!) Practitioner of a lifestyle called experimental archaeology, in which not only is the
subject researched, but it is also LIVED, Mark is well-known around the circles of living history, and has written numerous scholarly articles, is a feature writer for Muzzleloader Magazine, and has authored his own, mammoth volume on the Hawkeye
prototype, Sons of a Trackless Forest. In addition, Mark has studied hundreds of period letters, diaries & trader ledgers. Michael Mann could not have selected a better man for the task at hand. That's how thorough Michael Mann is! First Assistant
Director, Michael Waxman, sent Mark a copy of the script for his review. Mark responded with a series of notes, pointing out possible areas that might need correction, and offering to assist in demonstrating skills like tying a turban, writing in an 18th
century style, and wrapping a bedroll. Little details that have a grand effect in the overall scheme of things!
Mark has graciously sent us a copy of his original notes to the production company and they shed enormous light on the question of ignorance. Simply, Michael Mann was NOT ignorant, he made conscious decisions to violate history, when he deemed it
necessary, for the CINEMATIC effect. Poetic license, if you will. Though he very much wanted the picture to be accurate and true - BELIEVABLE - it was always art first, history second. That is as it probably should be, Michael Mann being the ARTIST that
he is. So, to criticize the film for any of its HISTORICAL inaccuracies is to liken it to a documentary, which it certainly is NOT. Much effort did go into the picture to create a look into 1757 life, that in most cases, can withstand careful scrutiny,
but, in the end, it is a motion picture ... art. For that, we are eternally grateful!
Based on his notes, in addition to recent correspondence with Mark, the chart below demonstrates what was going to be, what should have been, and what was in the scripting of The Last of the Mohicans. We have not
entered everything. For example, Mark, in his notes, corrected the calibre of the muskets various forces were using ... hardly noticeable to the average viewer. Some suggested corrections repeat themselves as the same error occurs more than once. We have
eliminated those. One thing to keep an eye out for ... a criticism the film often receives is that it is too violent. That really doesn't hold a lot of weight, as the violence is historically appropriate, historically JUSTIFIED, but wait till you read
what Mark suggested! Michael Mann certainly toned it down quite a bit! Everything in the column labeled Mark's Suggestions are direct quotes from his original notes. Any other more recent statements that we used are put in quotation marks. The
script page & scene numbers are placed for those of you who have a copy of the script to easily refer to. For those who don't, use the Return To Menu button below to locate our on-line presentation of the scripted scene. Enjoy!
For Another View, From Another Perspective, See : MAJOR BRAY MUSES.
|Page #'s||The Script||Mark's Suggestions||The Film|
|Page 1-2||Too long to repeat here, see The Elk Hunt in the Script Section.||A great scene. But I am not sure if anyone can stalk an elk by running through the woods in such a fashion ... Unless, of course, you are projecting a set-up where two of them are driving the elk towards the third one, and the 'shooter' is waiting for the game to approach him ... the scene is captivating, that is for sure.||Apparently, the end result is realistic enough. Though a certain amount of the 'visual treat' element is certainly present, Mark recently says, �The final shot was just fine. The running part looked romantically captivating ... but believable now.'|
|John Cameron roasts potatoes on a stick in the stone fireplace next to Capt. Jack Winthrop.||Roasting potatoes on a stick will work until the potatoes approach being done, then they will fall apart and drop into the coals ... I would suggest roasting the potatoes directly in the coals, and having chunks of prime roast browning over the fire. Such a cooking scene would be much more practical and common for this setting.||Never made it to the screen.|
|Cameron appears [in the doorway] warily, musket in hand.||At night Cameron would not stand in the doorway, for he would become too easy of a target. His form would silhouette against the interior light. Cameron should slip out the door and stand against the cabin wall. Or better yet, slip out the door and squat against the wall. Either way,|
musket should be ready in both hands.
|By the time Cameron enters the doorway, it is apparent he knows who has come. Rifle is, however, ready. Mann seems to have compromised on this one.|
| Page 5;|
|'Mohawk field we saw was five mile long on the river. Chief Joseph Brandt's field.'||Chief Joseph Brandt was only 15 years old at the time of this story. He was not yet a 'chief' and would not be so until after the close of the French & Indian War. In fact, at this time the lad was relatively unknown, working for Sir William Johnson. It was during the F & I War that Johnson first noted the young Mohawk's unusual talents.||Here we have proof that Mann was aware of this historical inaccuracy, but let it stand anyway.|
Perhaps it provided the desired effect.
|She [Alexandra Cameron] ruffles his hair and lifts the heavy iron pot off the tibbet. Uncas goes to help her, she shrugs his hand away and carries it to the table herself.||It is really out of character for|
an Indian brave to help a
woman with such chores.
Hawkeye would be more
likely to help Mrs. Cameron
with the heavy pot. Unless of
course, you are trying to show
the civility of the 'noble
|Obviously, Mann was|
not. No help is offered.
|Three of Webb's Adjutants are on either side. Three remaining Grenadiers in bearskin-covered|
mitered caps are at the door.
|Bearskin miter caps worn by the Grenadiers were not issued until 1768 ... At this time, the Grenadiers were wearing hard miter caps.||Surely for visual reasons, the Grenadiers wear Bearskin throughout the film.|
|The baggage horses and mule are in the gap between the 2 companies.||A column of military moving off into the deep woods would have a token force of perhaps six men marching ahead of the officers and ladies (no point in letting the officers take the brunt of any|
trouble). And the column would have been flanked by two or three woodsmen or friendly Indians.
|You will note two soldiers out in front of the column, ahead even of Magua.|
|Silently entering on either side of us come Chingachgook, followed by Hawkeye & Uncas. Even relaxed they carry themselves with a degree of alertness ... All three cradle their long guns and move silently on moccasined feet.||The 'Vietcong' of the 18th century would not be 'cradling' their long guns, but would rather be carrying them in both hands - ready in a moment's notice to bring the rifles up to bear. I could|
show you how. At least the protagonists should switch to such a mode once Chingachgook spots the
unusual sign in the creek.
|Hawkeye, Uncas & Chingachgook do carry their rifles in the prescribed manner - ready!|
|Heyward by the Munro daughters spins, swinging his fusil like a ball-bat, upending one Huron and lunges with his bayonet in his left towards another.||Heyward, as an officer of the King, would not have a bayonet ... His fusil would have been of private manufacture, since all officers supplied their own weapons. Perhaps a short sword would|
be more in character, since it is a sign of rank and he was wearing one when he first re-met Cora on page 12A.
|Gone is the bayonet; present is the sword.|
| Page 22;|
|Three men barely seen, running diagonally across the fall line of the ravine. In parts, we recognize Nathaniel, recharging Killdeer on full run, and Uncas.||Re-charging Killdeer at a full run would look great on screen, but physically impossible. Everything in one's frame of vision is bouncing all over the place and the bore of any rifle is a|
mighty small target. I still would like the opportunity to help Daniel Day-Lewis learn the art of re-loading while 'running.' These scenes are crucial to the character building of Hawkeye.
|At this point in the film, the scene is omitted, to be re-constructed, in dramatic fashion, later on the cliffs. Mark spent two full days teaching DDL this art.|
| Page 23;|
|Hawkeye flips the musket around one-handed. It's pointed at Heyward's chest.||A British musket weighs almost 11 pounds and is very long (at least a 42 inch barrel). It would be almost impossible for anyone to flip such a weapon with one hand. (That is without possibly looking like a Japanese B movie.)||This scene was omitted and presented in a more tempered fashion, as Hawkeye readies to aim at Magua. Soldier #2, who was there, states Michael Mann shot this tiny segment over repeatedly until he got the look he was seeking.|
|Uncas just cut the throat of the second Narraganset. It drops into the brush. Alice attacks him.||Unless the horse is already wounded and down, just cutting the throat would not have dropped it. A horse with a cut throat would have bolted and ran until it dropped - causing quite a ruckus ... The scene would help if Uncas would hold tightly the reins of the animal, and keep it in place until enough blood was lost and horse gave out and collapsed.||Scene changed to where Uncas merely shoos the horse(s) away.|
|Uncas, all business, is now reloading, lifting powder horns, scanning the trees.||While Uncas is checking powder horns, he should be pouring any found powder into his own horn. And the powder horns would have been off of any dead Hurons. The British regulars most likely would have been supplied with only paper cartridges in leather cartridge boxes ...||We see Uncas lifting cartridges. Hawkeye does take a powder horn from a dead Huron.|
|Hawkeye throws Heyward a musket.||Once Hawkeye throws Heyward a musket, then Heyward should strip one of the dead of his cartridge box. Without it, he would have no ammunition.||Omitted. Uncas tells Heyward to 'find himself a musket.' We must assume Heyward did just that.|
|... A dead child's hand protruding from the ruin. A fragment of a dress. Charred and smoldering wood. John Cameron's body in the wreckage ...||At the Cameron cabin everyone, including the children, should be scalped and Cameron at least should be dismembered, mutilated to some degree. If Cameron were alive at the time of capture, then he might even be spread Eagle on the ground, and naked of course with a fire smoldering on his crouch. Could even have his genitals stuffed into his mouth. Or his bowels might have been cut open and his entrails spread out and wrapped around a tree. But if the attacking force was moving fast ... then just scalping and mutilating/dismembering would be the common|
atrocities done to the family. Even with Indians on the move, all of the victims would have been naked, with possibly the woman's breasts cut off, perhaps fingers too ...
|A bit too gruesome for the movie going audience? Left pretty much as scripted.|
| Page 32;|
|Towards the rear are two French Rangers ... They're bearded, dirty, dressed Indian-style in|
moccasins, leggings and breechcloths with hooded hunting shirts.
|I have never read anything or heard of a 'hooded hunting shirt.' If you are referring to a wool blanket capote, then it's the wrong time of the year for such heavy garments. I would suggest that the Courier De Bois be outfitted in scarves around their heads ... or perhaps a linen work cap. Or nothing at all about their heads. The only visual difference between a Courier De Bois and his Indian ally was the beard the Frenchman sported. Everything else, appearance-wise, was the same as the Indian.||Gone is the 'hooded hunting shirt' ... present is the cap.|
|Hawkeye on his back, his tomahawk within reach on the ground.||Hawkeye would be on his stomach, ready to pounce on the Indians. Rifle would be his first choice, in keeping with his character, and then his tomahawk.||We see Hawkeye, on his stomach, Killdeer in hand.|
|Cora's eyes are anxious, but there's no terror there. Nathaniel's impressed with her cool. He hands her a pistol.||Where did Hawkeye get a pistol in order to hand it to Cora? A woodsman had no use for a pistol. I have not come across many instances where a frontiersman had one. And such men were not of the character of our hero. If he picked it up off the battlefield, then a scene should show that necessary foreshadowing.||Filmed is a scene of Cora, herself, picking up the pistol. Hawkeye supplies the powder.|
| Page 42;|
|Cora (smiles), 'Fine, Mr. Phelps. Have you cat gut and a suturing needle?' (for Uncas)||I would check out the availability of cat gut. More likely Cora would have asked for silk thread, for that was very common along the frontier.||That line was eliminated for the screen.|
|The Marquis de Montcalm is forty-five, wears a large wampum belt as a sash over his waistcoat.||A wampum belt? Wampum was the Indian word for certain 'beads' made from the shells of certain mussels ... It would be better for both Hawkeye and Montcalm to be wearing wool sashes. They were common everywhere along the frontier, in both French and English influenced areas.||Obviously, Hawkeye kept his belt; Montcalm's disappeared.|
|Hawkeye wets it to make a tighter gas seal and rams it home. The tighter fight requires more effort ... [Basically, the entire Courier scene is called into question. Mark also makes some comments on what is now known as The Courier Diversion Scene, but these were omitted, as that entire sequence never appeared on the big screen.]||I know what the screen writer is trying to attempt. But long distance shooting with a flintlock rifle does not work that way. I would like to help you with that scene. With a series of small changes, that scene could become really believable, yet heroic. For example, Hawkeye would have double-charged for the 300 yards. A tighter fitting patch, even if wet, will not necessarily improve the accuracy of the rifle. The tighter the patch, the greater the gas seal, that is true, but also the greater the pressure within the bore. And that can totally wreck any efforts at|
improved accuracy ... I would like to be given the chance to make this one right ... Again, at 300 yards it would take a double charge of powder in Killdeer to topple the chasing adversary ...
|A blend of believability and cinematic license here ... Note that it is Mark Baker, as a colonial man, seen on film during this entire sequence, overseeing things! 'The Courier scene was influenced by my expertise, for Michael Mann asked me how a woodsman, who was preparing to shoot long distances, would brace his rifle for the shot. I showed him how to brace the rifle against the wall using the forehand - by gripping the wall and bracing the rifle at the same time. Michael Mann studied my positions, as did Daniel Day-Lewis, and Eric was supposed to, but he took|
little interest. Daniel copied me very particularly on the first take, but then changed positions a bit as filming and dramatics took over - like sitting up on the parapet of the fort. In reality, only an idiot would sit up there in plain view, back lit by the fires from the fort; but it dramatizes the long shot.'
|... Cora in the shadows, leaning against the wall, searching ... we sense she's been looking for him. He comes up to her. She turns in surprise ... Somewhere she breathes easier because he's there. She's in a white shirt with sleeves rolled up.||If Cora is in a 'white shirt with the sleeves rolled up' then she is without her bodice ... and what is showing is her chemise ... and she would be considered underdressed for public intermixing (sort of like a woman today intermixing in nothing but a bra and panties). Unless, you mean by 'white shirt' to be perhaps a man's white linen shirt (maybe one of her father's) which she borrowed because all else had been ruined ...||Cora's sleeves are not rolled up and she wears her bodice throughout.|
| The flash hole is|
primed. The burning
fuse is jammed into
the bomb. The
primer charge is lit
off and the crew
ducks as the crude
iron belches red
flame and black
smoke into the
|The burning fuse of the|
mortarman would be jammed
into the priming hole, not as
described in the script ...
Fused mortar shells ... were
loaded into the mortar, the fuse pre-lit and pointed up
towards the muzzle. The fuse
was as long as the mortarman
deemed necessary for the
charge to explode where he
wanted it to ... perhaps 30 feet
above the heads of the
enemy. There are several
accounts where officers (who
were standing beside the
mortar) had their heads
blown off because the
mortarman made the fuse too
short and the round exploded
just above the muzzle.
|We see it as Mark describes, fused shells included.|
| Page 66;|
|A French honor|
guard of five men is
behind him. A white
scarf is on his sword
|I believe that the parlay flags|
were blood red, not white as
is common today ... such a
strong color would
foreshadow the upcoming
|Mark is correct. Perhaps Mann left it as is because white is the more viewer-recognizable color for a truce.|
| 'You have already|
which is necessary
for the honor of your
|Munro would not be fighting for a prince, but rather for|
King George (and at this
time, the second George).
|The line was left as is. Le Marquis de Montcalm was an aristocratic Frenchman; educated in the classics. Traditionally, European monarchs were often referred to as 'princes' with no distinction made between kings or the heir apparents. Montcalm was 'old school', so to speak, so it was reasonable for him to use the term 'prince' in reference to King George II.|
| 'Colonel Munro -|
Fort William Henry.
I have no men
available to send to
your rescue. It is
impossible. I advise
you to seek terms for
|The letter would not be|
written and signed as noted in
the script ... and certainly not
just 'Webb.' I can help you
write up a proper 18th
century letter, which would
still be short enough for the
scene, but yet capture the
flavor of a letter written at
that time and by such people.
|What we hear in the film|
is exactly what Mark
| Page 80; Scene 331|| 'Right-about face!|
March! First rank
|Again, [referring to a similar|
order given during the
George Road Ambush] the
British would form up right
there on the trail. The orders
would not include 'March!'
for they have no where to
| Magua reaching|
down and up into
and jams an object
we barely see into
the air. But his arm
and shoulder and
half his chest are
splashed red with
|After Magua cuts out the|
heart of Munro, then he
should immediately take a
healthy bite out of the warm
organ. Many woodland tribes
felt that eating the heart
would help the warrior
absorb some of the power of
his fallen enemy. Pontiac did
it. So should Magua.
|It has been said that|
Mark's suggestion was
filmed. If so, it never
made the final cut. We
do get a better look at the
heart in Magua's hand
than we'd expect from
reading the script.
|When they crested|
the wave Uncas
hollers at them to
'pull' and they do.
As soon as they're
through it, Uncas
slams the paddle in
the water and makes
the canoe revolve a
hundred and eighty
degrees in a vortex so
that it's now going
through stern-first or
the stern becomes
the bow, so that
Uncas could pilot it a
through a hazard of
|I know they do it in modern|
day canoe races, but why
would Uncas ever want to go
down a section of rapids with
his canoe pointed backwards
... as is written in this scene. I
believe that in the least the
scene will be comical to
many, and in the worse, it
will be mistaken as poor
|This backwards canoe|
eliminated. Of course, so
was the entire sequence,
as the riding the rapids
segment was replaced by
an over the falls
adventure. Given the
trouble we've heard the
cast had handling the
canoes on placid Lake
James, this is probably a
very good thing!
| Page 92;|
| Cora is soaked to the|
strips off his buckskin
hunting shirt and
wrings it out. Cora
turns her back, strips
off her white blouse
and puts on the
|Buckskin will be wet and cold long after linen and especially wool has dried out. Hawkeye's hunting shirt should be linen, anyway, and died with black walnut hull dye (I could do that for you). Linen was the most common material for a hunting shirt, for it was cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter than leather. And it dried relatively quick. Out of the over 100 journals which I have read, I have come across only one incident where a woodsman wore a leather|
hunting shirt. Just once. They weren't practical. Starting with the novels of Cooper and then countless movies afterward have all played that image wrong ... If Daniel Day-Lewis is going to wring out a leather shirt, then it will take him several minutes and the shirt would be stretched
out of shape and very heavy. Cora would be wet for hours. Leather is a sponge ... And if you have him wearing a leather hunting shirt, in North Carolina, in the summer, he will 'die' of the humidity ... The scene is also a reflection of someone not understanding 18th century female attire ... they did not have blouses.
|Well, both Hawkeye|
and Cora kept their shirts
on. There was no
wringing out of leather
hunting shirts. If
Hawkeye's shirt was
indeed leather, it was
purely for its visual effect.
|Hurons move along|
animal paths. Cora &
through the branches
of trees. No one
helps them. When
they fall behind, they
are pushed forward.
staggers ahead ...
|Cora and Alice and Heyward would be stripped naked, if|
this captive scene really had
happened ... the Indians
would have tied leather
thongs around the captives'
necks in order to lead them
around like dogs. Not a pretty
scene, for sure. And the other
two soldiers? They would
have been scalped and hacked
up a bit with bloodied
tomahawks. The more time
available, then the more time
|Mann had everyone dressed and minimized the gore. Captives were led around by leather thongs.|
|Page 102; Scenes 501/502||Refer to The Huron Village scene.||The Sachem platform in the center of the Huron town does not seem right ... sounds like classical Cooper. The council should be meeting within the bark-covered long house which was built just for such town meetings. The burning post though, would have been outside.||The Sachem remained outside, at the edge of the village. Historically incorrect perhaps, but had it been filmed otherwise, we would have forever been denied the glorious image of the Sachem seated with Hickory Nut Falls tumbling in the distance.|
|Page 104; Scene 507||'... the earth was pale. Our tomahawks were bright. Now they are dull from war. And the Huron rich with trophies of honor. Magua will sell the English officer to Les Francais and the reward is my gift to you, wise one. The women - children of the white war chief - will burn in our fires so all can share in this.'||If Cora and Alice had been sentenced to burn at the stake, then their faces would have been blackened (with grease and charcoal) as a public proclamation of being condemned to death by fire. And they would be naked, bruised and obviously picked on (this also includes Heyward).||At the point we see the captives, no one has yet been sentenced, thus no face blackening. Mann keeps everyone clothed. After Heyward is sentenced to burn (and it is obvious that he's been beaten and picked on), his face is blackened.|
|Page 104; Scene 510||'Translate for me, Major. Into French. Every word ... as I say it.'||Did you already establish earlier in the picture that Heyward could speak French? In order to understand why Hawkeye would know that the British officer could do that, then somewhere earlier in the picture that fact should be established.||Immediately preceding the quoted line, Mann added to Hawkeye's dialogue, 'I don't speak Huron. Do you speak French, Major?'|
|Page 110; Scene 524||Chingachgook tosses Hawkeye Killdeer. As fast as he jams it into his shoulder, he fires.||I realize that by having Hawkeye snap shooting at Heyward and killing him shows the Deerslayer's prowess, but how about this ... isn't this scene really about compassion, respect for a brave and honorable man, one who has offered his life for his brother and former love? Then I think that it might be really effective if Hawkeye drew a careful sight picture, perhaps using a prop or sitting down to shoot, and maybe softly saying good-bye friend as he took careful aim and squeezed off the humanitarian shot. It would still show Hawkeye's markmanship, even perhaps more believable too, and it would also offer a deeper dimension to Hawkeye's character and help to finalize the resolved differences between the two men. Just a thought.||And WHAT a thought. Here we have Mark not only making things more accurate, but directing as well! And, Mann listened! The shot is more deliberately taken, and the lingering looks of both Hawkeye & Cora clearly deliver the message Mark had in mind. Well done!|
|Page 110 To The End ...||Refer to The Cliffs & The Final Scene|
1 - First off, where did Hawkeye and party get their fresh powder? In the cave at the head of the falls, they took inventory and realized that the group was down to the last few rounds. Then the three jumped off the edge and into the waterfall, swam through the rapids and made it to shore ... all with their guns in one piece and all their accoutrements with them. This is fantastic enough, and perhaps it very well should be ... how about allowing the three protagonists to have a few caches around the area ...
2 - In the last fight scene, as Uncas is making his way up to the cliff and the script shows the brave using a bayonet; well, an Indian would have no need for a bayonet. A tomahawk yes, but not a bayonet.
3 - I also have questions about the burial practices of the woodland Indians as projected by either Cooper or the movie script. Eastern Indians did not bury their dead on scaffolds or in trees. Commonly, shallow graves were used, where the holes were lined with flat rocks (bottom, sides, and top) and the deceased was buried with items important to the life hereafter ... the burial place where Hawkeye and party hide ... is not near reality. And in the end (I understand the symbolism) but Uncas would have been buried in the ground just as Alice was ...
1 - The issue of caches, or hidden supply depots, basically, has come up before ... as in, where did Hawkeye and party get the canoes to approach the fort in? It must be that Mann assumed the movie-going public to understand this behavior, for it is never mentioned, despite Mark's appeal.
2 - The warrior's bayonet on the cliffs is eliminated.
3 - Though the burial platform at The Burial Ground remained - presumably for aesthetic and explanatory reasons (a glance at a burial platform said quite a bit more than if the graves there were in the ground, unmarked, or a rubble of stones) - no grave, either for Alice or Uncas, is present at The Final Scene.