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  Silent Tongue You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory
Year: 1994
Director: Sam Shepard
Stars: Richard Harris, Sheila Tousey, Alan Bates, River Phoenix, Dermot Mulroney, Jeri Arredondo, Tantoo Cardinal, Bill Irwin, David Shiner, Arturo Gil, Joseph S. Griffo, Billy Beck, Timothy Scott
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1873 and Talbot Roe (River Phoenix) sits by a tall tree in the middle of the New Mexico desert lost in grief. The body of his wife is wrapped up in the branches of the tree and on spying a crow flying above Talbot takes his rifle and shoots it, then rushes over and tears the wings from the corpse to place on top of the body of his wife. Meanwhile, his father Prescott (Richard Harris) is visiting a medicine show where huckster Eamon McCree (Alan Bates) is selling his bottles of remedy, but it's not this moneymaking potion that Prescott wants to speak to him about...

Remember when River Phoenix died and about a dozen films were released afterwards claiming to be his last? Well Silent Tongue was one of them, according to its makers it was his final completed work for the screen, Dark Blood being unfinished due to his untimely departure. He always seemed keen to explore unusual avenues in his movies, and had he lived might have enjoyed the kind of career that Johnny Depp has since, but as far as this film went it could only be judged a minor effort.

Not that Phoenix is bad in it, it's just that he lets others take centre stage, playing more of a supporting role. Another reason that the film doesn't tower in the memory is that it's very obscure as far as its overall point goes, seeming to be a western-style fable about the guilt of the white man and his ironic attraction to the native Americans he has rode roughshod over. It's little wonder the western almost died out if this is an example of what moviemakers thought would make for stimulating genre pieces.

Silent Tongue is determinedly unfriendly as far as offering an easy viewing experience goes, but for those who persevere this may be rewarding. The plot involves a Gothic melodrama with a conscience, so the deceased Mrs Talbot (Sheila Tousey) is actually the daughter of McCree, one of twins born of a rape he perpetrated on a native woman, and now she's no longer with us Prescott turns up to harrass McCree to sell him the other daughter, Velada (Jeri Arredondo).

Yet to say that Talbot's wife has left us is not entirely accurate, as she appears in ghost form, demanding that he destroy the body and set her spirit free. However, the distraught Talbot can't bring himself to let her go, and so the vengeful ghost sets about causing trouble. As all this is going on in the middle of nowhere, Prescott kidnaps Velada and McCree is persuaded by his son, Reeves (Dermot Mulroney), to go after her. This all looks attractively bleak, but there's really no way into its mystical meanderings and it will be mainly treasured by fans of the now late stars, for whom it represents some of their last appearances, although most of them here have a tendency to go over the top, the sorrowful Harris apart. Music by Patrick O'Hearn.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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