Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

September Dawn

Illustration for article titled September Dawn

September Dawn finds Jon Voight, 37 years later, on the other side of the Deliverance equation—no longer the defenseless innocent hunted by backwoods yahoos, he now leads backwoods yahoos stalking unlucky strangers who entered the wrong place at the wrong time. But while Deliverance was an unpredictable, brutally effective thriller, September Dawn is a middling Western that lurches ever-so-deliberately toward the inevitable conclusion "inspired by actual events." It depicts the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857—when 120 settlers were murdered by a small militia of paranoid Mormons—and ends up personifying what it condemns, broadly portraying the followers of Joseph Smith as cold-blooded killers in the name of promoting religious tolerance. From an artistic perspective, at least, Voight was better off facing anal rape at the hands of inbred Georgia rednecks.

Once again playing a maniacally rigid authority figure, Voight is a bishop with 18 wives and two sons who is immediately suspicious when the ill-fated settlers make their way into his territory on their way to California. Voight's reservations stem mainly from part of the group being from Missouri, because as any Mormon bishop will tell you, "You can't trust a man from Missouri." (Voight's bias is explained briefly in a campy flashback related to the death of the prophet Smith.) Voight sends his son Trent Ford to spy on the settlers, but soon Ford falls for the fetching Tamara Hope and a bucking bronco only he is able to ride, though not necessarily in that order of importance.

The first half of September Dawn dwells on the Romeo And Juliet-style romance between Ford and Hope, and resembles one of those gentle made-for-TV family Westerns that air on the Hallmark Channel. But eventually, the film's air of inoffensive tranquility is worn down by the heavy-handed evilness of the psychotic Mormon leadership, represented by Voight and Terence Stamp, who plays Brigham Young like he played General Zod in Superman II. With its complete lack of empathy for early Mormons and simplistic rendering of historical figures, September Dawn is that rare movie that actually deserves whatever condemnation might come from religious groups.