01 January 2021

The Last Warrior: book & film review

The Last Warrior

The Last Warrior by Clair Huffaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fifty years ago I saw a film called The Last Warrior, which I now discover has been renamed to Flap. I enjoyed the film very much, so when I saw the book in a second-hand bookshop last month I had no hesitation in buying it.

In the film a hard-drinking, reckless-living Indian named Flapping Eagle decides that his people have been pushed around by the white man long enough. Mounting his horse H-Bomb, Flap proceeds to hijack a railroad, lasso a helicopter, and begin the Last Great Indian Uprising. His assaults on the Establishment provide an earnest indictment of Indian neglect by the U.S. government. And that pretty much summarises the plot of the book as well. If my memory has not faded too much over the last fifty years, the film stuck pretty closely to the book

The story is both funny and sad, and well worth reading.

So much for the book review, but there is a deeper story behind why I had no hesitation in buying the book when I saw it. 

When I saw the film I was living in Windhoek, Namibia, and working at a local newspaper, the Windhoek Advertiser for money, and otherwise for the local Anglican Church whose bishop, Colin Winter had an American secretary named Marge Schmidt. Marge had seen the film in the USA, and insisted that I must see it, so we went together to see it.

And I could see why she insisted I must see it. The film is mainly set in an Indian Reservation near Phoenix, Arizona (where Marge Schmidt now lives) And almost every weekend I visited poor rural communities like those shown in the film -- the Ovitoto Reserve for Hereros to the north, Rehoboth for Basters in the south, and in between there were small camps for road and railway workers, which closely resembled the places in the film.

Ovitoto Reserve, north of Windhoek, 1971

 The time, 1971, was also a turning point for Namibia. The World Court had just declared South Africa's rule over Namibia illegitimate. The Lutheran Churches, who scarcely ever criticised the government, circulated an open letter declaring, in effect that South African rule of Namibia was misrule. And The Last Warrior was showing at a local cinema, which showed an analogous situation in the USA.

The effect on the cinema audience was profound. 

In those days cinema audiences in central Windhoek were all white. And at the end of this film there was dead silence. People left in hushed silence. Usially people chatted with each other when leaving, about the film they had just seen or something else. They would greet people they knew. Some would laugh, some would call to others. But this time there was none of that. It seemed that no one missed the message of the film. It was not far away in the USA. It was here, and now. 

I have never seen a cinema audience behave like that before or since. And that is why I think the film was worth seeing, and the book worth reading.

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