September Dawn

September, 2007, Drama

Directed by:Christopher Cain

Starring:Jon Voight , Terence Stamp , Dean Cain , Trent Ford , Tamara Hope , Jon Gries , Taylor Handley , Lolita Davidovich, Shaun Johnston , and Huntley Ritter

It’s not hard to understand why bad films get made; inadequate talent, poor scripts, simple miscalculation…but what about truly awful ones? Without John Travolta’s passion for Scientology, would Ron Hubbard’s novel Battlefield Earth ever become the monstrosity which appeared on the big screen? Disasters like Show Girls and Heaven’s Gate were made because “hot” directors were given too much leniency in their work, but how did a small-time director like Christopher Cain get the financial backing to fashion this hysterically vitriolic attack on the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints which masquerades as a frontier romance? 

Screenwriter/ director Cain doesn’t qualify as an auteur; his collection of T.V. films and the 20 year old cheesy western Young Guns simply don’t provide sufficient justification to fund this labored, overwrought diatribe starring Jon Voight and Terrance Stamp as the masterminds behind the 1857 massacre of a wagon train camped in Utah’s Mountain Meadow. The only interesting thing about this film is how it ever came to be made.

In a series of bewildering flashbacks, Cain and co-screenwriter Carole Whang Schutter describe the assassination of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, the migration of his followers to Missouri and further west under the leadership of Brigham Young and their hostile relationship with the American government during that process. By the mid-1850’s, control of what would become the state of Utah by Mormons caused many of them to believe President Buchanan was preparing to send armed U.S. troops to the area to destroy their way of life. A wagon train using The Old Spanish Trail through southern Utah to California was suspected of containing anti-Mormon factions responsible for previous persecutions of Smith’s followers, so a group of paranoid church members attacked the settlers, slaughtering over 120 men, women and children. Despite evidence which suggested that permission for the attack came from senior church officials, only 1 of the actual participants was convicted and acknowledgment of the Church’s role in the incident has been suppressed ever since. 

As if the causes of this terrible crime weren’t sufficiently complex to carry the movie’s storyline, Cain wraps these historically accurate facts around an idiotically concocted romance between the scion of a local Mormon family and the daughter of a minister traveling with the settlers. He’s a handsome bachelor with equine skills reminiscent of Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer; she’s a blond beauty who believes in love at first sight. As portrayed by television’s Trent Ford and Tamara Hope, this pair of star-crossed lovers doesn’t generate enough electricity to power the light that comes on in your refrigerator when you open the door. 

Terrance Stamp exudes an ominous sense of fanatical intolerance in his depiction of Brigham Young and Jon Voight’s interpretation of a well-heeled Mormon patriarch determined to obey the dictates of his religious superiors comes loaded with so much cautionary material about the price to be paid for blind obedience it should cause contemporary religious conservatives to scream in indignation. The film’s script so hopelessly denigrates Mormon principles that audiences can be excused for believing this film’s a poorly disguised attack by the opponents of Republican presidential candidate Mit Romney. 

With its mediocre cinematography, sloppy editing and made-for-TV production values, September Dawn diminishes the artistic credibility of everyone connected with it.

The verdict? A hot contender for the worst movie of the year.   

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