Indians in The Time Tunnel
Let's travel back in time to view a classic TV show: one with swinging guys, subservient gals, and stereotypical villains.
As a child of the 1960s, I watched TV constantly. Kid shows: Bozo the Clown, Captain Kangaroo, Sheriff John, Paul Winchell and Jerry Mahoney, The Mickey Mouse Club. Cartoons: Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Astro Boy, Gigantor, Thunderbirds. Hanna-Barbera cartoons: Ruff and Ready, Tennessee Tuxedo, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, The Flintstones. Old-time adventures: Lassie, Sky King, Superman, Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger. Comedies: Gilligan's Island, Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, That Girl, Bewitched. Ocean-based adventures (the sea was big then): Marine Boy, Sea Hunt, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Flipper, The Superman/Aquaman Hour. Campy sci-fi and spy adventures: Lost in Space, Get Smart, Wild Wild West, Batman, Land of the Giants. (I probably didn't see much Star Trek until it came on it reruns.)
But one show always stuck in my mind. One that seemed weirder and cooler than the others. I'm talking about The Time Tunnel, of course:Two American scientists are lost in a swirling maze of past and future ages during the first experiments on America's greatest and most secret projectóthe Time Tunnel. Tony Newman and Doug Phillips now tumble helplessly toward a new, fantastic adventure somewhere along the infinite corridors of time.
The Time Tunnel opening narrationI could go on about the pluses and minuses of The Time Tunnel, but you can read about the series here:
Irwin Allen's Time Tunnel
The Time Tunnel: Volume One
Time Travel Television Reviews: Time Tunnel
The Time Tunnel
Maybe it was because the shows were set in strange times and places and I didn't quite understand what was going on. Or because it lasted only one season and wasn't repeated ad nauseam. But for 40 I've been thinking about the show and wondering what it was like.
40 years laterDoug and Tony knew they were being monitored by their colleagues, but (after the first couple of episodes) rarely spoke to them or asked for help.
Now, finally, it's out on DVD. I watched the first 15 episodes and I must say...it was pretty lame. Except for the first episode, which everyone agrees was good, the series was pure potboiler with little or no substance. The shows were poorly conceived, with mistakes such as:
Tony and Doug always reverted to the same clothes when they transfer, a green turtleneck sweater and a conservative Norfolk suit, which were magically cleaned and pressed before their passage to the next time.
Everywhere they went people always spoke 20th-century American English.Another problem was the obvious Western bias of the show. Non-Westernersóthe primitives on Krakatoa, the Japanese at Pearl Harbor, the Russian scientists, the Mexican army, the Afghan rebelsówere portrayed as savages, hordes, or evildoers. Moreover, except for the Japanese, they were all played by the usual suspects: Italians, Greeks, or Latinos who could pass for other ethnicities. As far as I could tell, there wasn't a single black person on the show.
With 10 of the first 15 episodes set in and around the 19th century (1790-1920), it was all but certain that one episode would feature Indians. So I wasn't surprised when Doug and Tony dropped into the site of a "Massacre" (the title of the episode). Our boys land somewhere in the American West amid the bodies of Civil War soldiers. Suddenly, three Indians on horseback ride them down.
You can see the intro of "Massacre" here:
Time Tunnel: Season 1, Episode 8: Massacre
"Massacre"The guys arrive in South Dakota in June 24, 1876, near Little Bighorn. They are captured by Indians, although Doug manages to escape and make it to Custer's camp. Custer refuses to believe Doug's tale. Meanwhile, Tony has tried to warn Sitting Bull. The Indians prepare to burn Tony at the stake, but Sitting Bull intervenes, impressed by Tony's bravery. A trial-by-combat settles the matter when Tony wins against Yellow Elk but spares his life. Tony tries to convince Sitting Bull to approach Custer peacefully, much to the disgruntlement and skepticism of Crazy Horse. Sitting Bull lets Tony go to Custer's camp with a message of peace, but Custer refuses it and locks both travellers up. They manage to escape, and are forced to watch as history plays itself out and Custer and his men are massacred.Produced midway between the monolithic 1950s and the multifaceted 1970s, "Massacre" was an amalgam of mindless stereotyping and dawning awareness. Here's my take on it:
Here's the plot of this episode:
- Although the Indians initially want to burn Tony at the stake, he convinces them he's all right by talking of every man being his "brother." Sitting Bull reluctantly accepts his offer to engage in peace talks with Custer. This didn't happen in reality, but it makes the Indians seem less warlike and more reasonable than the white men.
- Back in the future, the scientists bring in Charles Whitebird, a full-blooded Sioux historian, to help them understand what's happening. Whitebird is articulate, cleancut, and wears a suit. For all I know, he may be the first modern Indian character to appear on a dramatic TV series.
- When Yellow Elk is brought to the future accidentally, Whitebird talks to him in what seems to be Lakota and convinces him not to kill Tony. Although this sudden conversion is rather unbelievable, it conveys the idea that Indians are moral beings with a conscience.
- The Indians speak in broken English like Tonto.
- The Indians fight with tomahawks and knives, not guns.
- The Indians are played by non-Indians in generic buckskins and black wigs. The actors include George Mitchell as Sitting Bull, Christopher Dark as Crazy Horse, Lawrence Montaigne as Yellow Elk, and Perry Lopez as Charles Whitebird. Curiously, Lopez also played Major Kabir in The Time Tunnel's Rudyard Kipling episode and Lt. Esteban Rodriguez in the "Shore Leave" episode of Star Trek.
- The episode was filmed with a combination of stage sets with fake foliage, location shots (probably in Southern California), and stock footage from Westerns shot in Monument Valley (possibly John Ford films). The result is a glaring mishmash of styles.
- In one piece of stock footage, Indians whoop and dance around what looks like a cluster of prisoners. In other pieces of stock footage, Indians whoop and ride like the proverbial devils. Bizarrely, every fourth or fifth Indian in these shots is wearing a chief's warbonnet.
- At the climax, the footage purportedly shows Sitting Bull's warriors and Captain Reno's troops riding toward each other in a narrow river canyon. In reality, Reno's troops attacked a peaceful encampment on a broad plain while the Indians (including women and children) were at rest. So a sneak attack becomes a fair fight.
- The episode's title and its gratuitous opening shot of a massacre implies that the Indians are at fault. If the opening sequence had shown Indian bodies and soldiers attacking Doug and Tony, it would've conveyed a different and arguably more accurate message.
As a historical curiosity, a record of our thinking about Indians at the time, "Massacre" may be worth watching. As a TV drama, it leaves a lot to be desired. I'd give it about a 5.5 of 10.
TV shows featuring Indians
* More opinions *
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Original text and pictures © copyright 2008 by Robert Schmidt.
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