Theme Song: This movie has a lot of violin-y music that isn’t very remarkable.
Interesting Dated References: White young adults who feel the need to “find themselves”; hippie idealism versus the inhumanities committed against Native Americans; white young adults who hitch hike; actors playing different races by applying face paint.
Best Line: Meandering 70s talk about war, peace, the American way of life, the atrocities of war, freedom, culture, race, and classism, and in all of that I could find nothing worth singling out.
Social Context: During the 70s there was a minor swell in movies about Native American culture. Today these movies are commonly grouped together into a genre called Indiansploitation. Typically, and more sensationally, these films were revenge fantasies involving some type of rogue Native American getting revenge on society for various white man transgressions (Johnny Firecloud, Angry Joe Bass, Cry Blood Apache, Ransom (aka Maniac). But there were some serious films that tried to tackle the counter-culture concerns of the day, the Billy Jack series being the standard bearer. Journey Through Rosebud attempts to tackle similar ethical concerns and moral issues as Billy Jack, but fails to be engaging or memorable in any way, aside from Robert Forster’s ridiculous face paint.
Summary: As the movie opens, we meet the young and idyllic Anglo-Saxon, Danny, who is hitchhiking and ends up in Rosebud, South Dakota (part of the Rosebud Indian Reservation). He doesn’t say much and sort of wanders around looking at things and having a stupid smile and all-around pleasant disposition.
After listening to some students talk about land rights, he wanders into a bar and orders a Budweiser and unsuccessfully tries to strike up conversation. Then he meets a super-wasted Robert Forster who is playing a Native American named Frank. Yes, Robert Forster has some type of skin toner on his face to make him look darker. Earlier in the bar we were treated to Frank playing some really intense hand jive:
Okay, so Frank is completely annihilated and Danny drives him home. Since Danny is a vagrant, he sleeps in Frank’s car. Frank wakes up the next morning and has a beer.
Some type of federal agent shows up to talk to Frank about land and then leaves. Frank noticed Danny was hiding from the agent and Danny confesses he’s dodging the draft. Frank tells Danny he is recently home from serving in Vietnam and then they have some existential conversations about the white man.
This movie is plodding as fuck. Forster is doing a great job acting, though. The character of Frank is engaging, but something about the pacing of the movie is off-putting.
Hearing that a fellow tribe member is on trial for killing a deer, Frank gathers a caravan (including Danny) and heads to the courthouse. After a brief and somewhat uneventful confrontation, the trial is postponed. Then the caravan goes to hunt and kill a cow and celebrates with a campfire and some type of dancing celebration.
Danny and Frank continue to have a bunch of existential soul-searching conversations, then they go to a demolition derby. Tagging along for all this is Shirley, who Danny is hitting on and also happens to be Frank’s ex-wife or ex-lover, I’m not sure. When Frank asks the track owner if he can race, the owner gets uppity and infers Frank is only capable of cleaning-up the track.
This makes Frank so depressed he hides in a freezer at a restaurant. While doing that, he gets totally wasted and tells Danny all about how he had to kill innocents in Vietnam. At some point (super wasted) he goes to tell a bunch of people (his mother, maybe?) that they don’t have to sell their land.
Then Frank vomits for what seems like 30 minutes. After he is done vomiting, Danny and Shirley drive him home. Frank passes out in the car and Danny sees that as his chance to make passionate pan-ethnic love to Shirley.
In the morning, Frank sees they are in bed together and speeds off so wasted he crashes his car and dies.
As the sign states, there is no loafing on this corner. So Frank is dead, everyone is upset, Danny listens to a speech about the Wounded Knee Massacre, and then he hitchhikes out of town.
Journey Through Rosebud is certainly a movie of the 70s. All this talk about ideals, ethics, morals, cultural history, and forgiveness would have no place in modern society, which is totally self involved and about to implode. Directed by Tom Gries (Will Penny, Helter Skelter).
Poster and Box Art: The poster for Journey Through Rosebud is nice. The illustrations show the fighting spirits of the Native Americans contrasted with the trodden-upon silhouettes of their modern counterparts. Clearly they are loafing.
There was also this poster which focuses more on Danny and a Buffalo Nickel.
Availability: This movie is almost totally forgotten. I can’t even find one of those annoying hipster movie review blogs that has done a feature on it. Robert Forster does give a really strong performance (despite the face paint) and it’s worth seeking out a used VHS if you’re a fan of his work