Sam Shepard transplants a couple of his famously dysfunctional families to the Old West in Silent Tongue, a bizarre, meandering and, finally, maddening mystic-oater, the first Western financed entirely with French money.
The sins of the fathers are distinctly visited upon the sons in this loosely knit yarn, with the characters literally haunted by the ghosts of those they wronged. Result is an unpalatable combination of prairie melodrama, Greek tragedy, Japanese ghost tale and traveling minstrel show, staged with little sense of style and cinematic rhythm.
Richard Harris arrives in search of Alan Bates, a drunken Irish charlatan of the first order. Bates had sold Harris his half-Indian daughter (Sheila Tousey), who married Harris’ son (River Phoenix). Tousey has since died in childbirth, driving Phoenix to the brink of madness. Hoping to cure his son’s delirium, Harris kidnaps Bates’ second daughter (Jeri Arredondo) and takes her back to Phoenix.
The dialogue is mostly rambling and unmemorable and, in the case of Bates and his brogue-tinted blustering, indecipherable.