Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here

ASU Film Society continues its film series, The Image of the Native-American in Film, with “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here” (1969), starring Robert Redford.

This social-message Western feature concerns a massive manhunt for a Native American who kills the father of his woman in self-defense. It is based on a true story, set in l909, of a Native American named Willie Boy (Robert Blake), and his bride, Lola Boniface (Katharine Ross). The manhunt, led by Sheriff Christopher Cooper (Robert Redford) turns into a media circus, when President Taft comes to visit the area and a mishap becomes twisted by the newspapers.

The movie was moodily photographed by Conrad Hall, who won an Oscar Award for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here” was a triumph for Robert Redford, who made in the same year the immensely popular Western, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” co-starring Paul Newman.

Reflecting the time in which it was made, the screenplay contains, as the critic Pauline Kael wrote, Marxism, Freudianism, and New Left Existentialism. The movie began a cycle of films, in which the white characters became the villains. Time magazine praised the movie as “a subtle, intense document of racial persecution,” and “one of the finest films of the year.”

“Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here” was directed by Abraham Polonsky, who was blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthy era, after making one brilliant movie, the noir “Force of Evil,” some say a result of Elia Kazan's testimony before the HUAAC.

Director Alert

Abraham Polonsky studied law at Columbia University and taught at City College. He began his film career as a writer (the great noir melodrama, Body and Soul, in l947) and made his debut as a director with Force of Evil, in l948. After being blacklisted, Polonsky lived in Europe for several years. In the late l960s, he went back to Hollywood, where he wrote the screenplay for Madigan.

Running Time: 96 minutes