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A low-budget western/horror movie made in Yellville (Marion County) and in the Buffalo River country of Marion County, Wishbone Cutter (1977) was written, produced, and directed by Earl E. Smith, previously screenwriter on two Arkansas horror films directed by Charles B. Pierce: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) and The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976). Wishbone Cutter, the only film Smith ever directed, was also known as The Curse of Demon Mountain and The Shadow of Chikara. The Internet Movie Database lists five additional English titles for the film’s theatrical, television, and video releases. The Arkansas setting is made clear by an opening title informing audiences that Arkansas is the only state to produce diamonds.
Captain Wishbone Cutter (Joe Don Baker) of the Arkansas Cavalry loses the last battle of the Civil War and finds that his home has been appropriated by the Union army and that his wife is living with a Union officer. He decides to go into the Buffalo River country to retrieve a cache of diamonds revealed to him by dying soldier Virgil Cane (beloved character actor Slim Pickens), who hid the diamonds on “a mountain the Indians are scared of.” Cutter and his two companions rescue Drusilla (Sondra Locke), the only survivor of a massacre. Half Moon O’Brian (Joy Houck Jr.), a half-Indian expert tracker, says that the mountain is haunted by Chikara, a powerful demon, and that they are being followed by enemies who “leave no tracks. They move like a fog.” Cutter’s small party survives an encounter with hostile backwoodsmen but comes to a grim end when it confronts Chikara.
Baker plays the same burly, indignant, sometimes brutal, rural southern hero he made famous in the Tennessee-set crime film Walking Tall (1973). Locke was well-known as Clint Eastwood’s girlfriend and frequent co-star. The opening battle scene is small but effective and tragic, while the backwoods scenery is beautiful and spooky. The Band’s 1969 song “The Day They Drove Old Dixie Down” is played over the aftermath of the battle, and Pickens’s character is named Virgil Cane after the protagonist in the song. The bloody battle; the use of a song that gives a Confederate point of view; the horrific mortal wounding of elderly, overweight Virgil, who is shot and bayoneted; and Cutter’s loss of his home and his wife to the Yankees, all combine to make the film pro-Confederate. However, the fact that Cutter is given an absurd order to make a suicidal charge, which gets Virgil and many other men killed, and Virgil’s dying cry—“God, I’m sick of this damn war”—also make Wishbone Cutter an anti-war film.
The film could reasonably be considered misogynist, but it does not give uniformly positive portrayals of men either. Of the film’s two female characters, Cutter’s wife betrays him and Drusilla has a dark secret. Of the three hill men Cutter’s party meets in the wilderness, one is crazy and the other two are degenerate would-be rapists.
A regional independent film, Wishbone Cutter was so obscure it was never reviewed by Variety, which reviews hundreds of films every year. Michael Pitts, in his Western Movies, calls Smith’s movie a “fair horror Western.” The unsigned review in Phil Hardy’s Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Western says “after a promising beginning, the film runs rapidly downhill” due to Smith’s “inability as a director to animate his script.” However, Robert Cochran and Suzanne McCray’s Lights! Camera! Arkansas! notes that the film “even today…has blogosphere enthusiasts.”
For additional information:Cochran, Robert, and Suzanne McCray. Lights! Camera! Arkansas!: From Broncho Billy to Billy Bob Thornton. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2015.
Hardy, Phil, ed. The Overlook Film Encyclopedia: The Western. Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 1994.
Pitts, Michael R. Western Movies: A Guide to 5,105 Feature Films. Jefferson, NC: McFarland Publishers, 2013.
“The Shadow of Chikara.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0078240/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_1 (accessed March 10, 2016).
Michael Klossner Little Rock, Arkansas
Last Updated 2/10/2018
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