TNT’s series of Native American adventures chalks up the choicest of the five telepics in “Crazy Horse,” with Michael Greyeyes as the great Oglala Sioux warrior who would defeat Custer at the Little Bighorn. Chief Crazy Horse allowed no photos or drawings made of himself, but the good-looking, assured Greyeyes nails down his forceful spirit in this gripping vidpic.
Robert Schenkkan’s abbreviated vidbio, directed with dispatch by John Irvin, starts in the 1850s when the boy Crazy Horse (Terry Bigcharles) kills a U.S. buffalo. Government troops in revenge slay Oglala elders before the boy’s eyes.
Among the slaughtered: his spiritual leader, Conquering Bear (Jimmy Herman). He reappears as a chalk-white spirit overseeing Crazy Horse. The Oglala Sioux were guarding the Black Hills against gold miners and settlers. The tribe signed a treaty with the U.S., but when gold was discovered on the land the treaty was history, and U.S. troops under Custer went into action.
Crazy Horse joins in battles commanded by his uncle, Chief Red Cloud (Wes Studi). When Red Cloud retires, Crazy Horse becomes war chief of the Oglalas.
Schenkkan’s imaginative teleplay, using Herman’s voice as narrator, takes good measure of Crazy Horse’s bravery, determination and aloneness. There are touching accounts of his meditating, his love for Black Buffalo Woman (Irene Bedard), marriage to Black Shawl (Sheri Foster) and the birth and death of his daughter.
Custer (Peter Horton) is seen talking with a reporter at his headquarters, when, ominously, the two men look up and see Crazy Horse and three other Indians staring down at them from a ridge.
Later, during the 30-minute battle at Little Bighorn, Custer and Crazy Horse spot each other in the dust and fury. It’s a stretch, but in this edition, Crazy Horse gets the credit for Custer’s death.
Chief Crazy Horse’s dedication to protecting his people, his need for solitude, his insistence on resisting the U.S., his fearlessness are revelatory. His personal visions, a surefire theatrical device, loom up in times of turmoil.
Treachery among tribal rulers tips off how the Indians were falling apart in the face of greed and overpowering U.S. expansion. Crazy Horse, urged to trust the white man, submits and is assigned to be a scout to go after the Nez Perce Indians. A hostile translator gives the officer the wrong translation of his agreement, and Crazy Horse is doomed.
Schenkkan’s dramatization and Irvin’s shrewd application of Crazy Horse’s mysticism give the vigorous vidpic an extra dimension, and the telefilm moves like lightning.
Smashing camerawork by Thomas Burstyn and superior editing by Mark Conte are marvels. Costumes by Richard E. La Motte are fine, and Lennie Niehaus’ score suffices. Cary White’s production designs are masterful.