"September Dawn" is a film based on the true story of the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre in Utah. Instead of feeling like I was learning about the event I felt while watching the film that was total propaganda. It was so slanted that at points I thought that the Mormon characters were surely going to sprout horns. The whole thing verges on being laughable at points. It was hard for me to understand why such good actors as Terence Stamp and Jon Voight agreed to be in the picture. They both turn in good performances, but nothing could save this film.
A group of Christians from Missouri and Arkansas are traveling to California and they want to stop to rest on territory owned by a Mormon group in Utah. After first being told they should move on the bishop/mayor of the town, Jacob Samuelson (Jon Voight – Mission:Impossible, The Transformers), tells them they can stay for no more than two weeks. Behind the scenes Samuelson voyages to see Mormon leader Brigham Young (Terence Stamp – Priscilla: Queen of the Desert, Elektra) telling him that a bunch of Missourians (Missourians were responsible for the death of Mormon leader Joseph Smith) were on their land and they were abominations who must pay for the death of Joseph Smith (Dean Cain – Rat Race, Firedog). Young agrees, orders the killing of the Christian travelers and swears all those present to secrecy.
While Samuelson is away he places his eldest son, Jonathan (Trent Ford – The Island, Gosford Park), in charge of the community with instructions to keep a close eye on the Christians. Jonathan takes his duties to heart and keeps such a close watch that he ends up falling for a young female traveler, Emily (Tamara Hope – Shall We Dance, The Deep End). Spending some time with the Christians causes Jonathan to question his own set of beliefs. When he discovers his father's plan he disagrees and tries to stop the killing.
Director Christopher Cain (Young Guns, The Next Karate Kid) has tried to make a film about religious fanaticism with its dangers in order to relate it to our post 9/11 world and the dangers of terrorism. His intent is visible but it is cloaked in such a cartoonish depiction of the Mormons that the effect is greatly dulled. Even the pseudo Romeo and Juliet young love story seems a little out of place, cheesy and forced. All this fromage results in the fact that the poignancy of this horrific episode in American history is dulled. It's too bad because there most certainly is a good film about this historical event to be made.
-True Events: A Historical Perspective
-Descendants: Remembering the Tragedy