This tale of the founding of the Mormon church stars Charles "Night Court" Moll as horndog Joseph Smith, looking very strange in his jet black wig, & Maurice Grandmaison as soldierly Brigham Young, the more likeable of the two characters.
With a sleezy title like Savage Journey (1983), poster art seemingly promising a B western, & a scriptwriter associated with exploitation cinema, one would expect the Mormon story to be turned into a rousing shlock adventure.
Shlocky it is, but rousing it isn't. Like too much religious fiction, it is more pious than entertaining. Left out is any method of understanding why this group of cult wackjobs were persecuted even when they decided to go live in a swamp. The film seems designed to inculcate elementary school kids.
The fact that it was funded by Mormon investors helps explain why no rational basis for conflict need be provided; it's enough to say "they tormented us" & pretend to perfect innocence.
The usual Latter Day Saints explanation for their persecution is everybody but themselves were icky bigots, but the reality is they were extremely strange, offensive, pushy about intruding their beliefs into the lives of people who were not interested, plus the stories about Joseph Smith's lustfulness were absolutely true, with scores of women coming forth after his death to make sure they were on the list of women whose offspring belonged not to their official fathers but to Joseph Smith.
Sometimes cliquish cults make no attempt to get along with others, & whether or not one believes it's a good cliquish cult jam-packed with special truths, a bit more honesty about how conflict arose would've made Savage Journey a better film.
When the persecuted Mormons arrived in Utah, they were welcomed by Indian peoples, but very soon began encroaching on Indian lands. War arose between the Mormons & the Indians because whites coming west (Mormon or others) tended to be well-armed vicious white devils unfit for civilization in the East so brought their psychotic selves West to cheat & murder Indians.
That's just generally true of white migration westward; whatever needed to be done to get rid of Indians was done, & might made right. But Savage Journey has everyone but the Mormons harrassing Indians, & the Mormons saving the day. This is more than a whitewash, it's a stunningly racist cover-up.
The film further wants us to believe the holy visionary Joseph's teachings about polygamy were offensive to Brigham Young who followed this one aspect of Joseph's teachings reluctantly only when his wife pretty much forced it on him. The reality is the heads of the Mormon movement gleefully embraced polygamy, Brigham as rabidly as Joseph, & soldierly Brigham behaved menacingly toward any member of the faith refusing to take extra wives.
This could've been wild & interesting stuff by just sticking to a few facts. It needn't go overboard being "too" truthful about the embarassing origins of LDS, for truly there were heroic aspects to their having settled a harsh region of the West & waged wars against their enemies, Indian or White. But by cleaning up & lying about everything to do with Mormon history (especially making them the benefactors to Indians), well, it suggests they're pretty much ashamed of the facts of their history & prefer to tell whoppers.
So the broad whitewash doesn't wash, & I doubt even many a true blue Mormon would be thankful for the film since it's so cheapy-ass cruddy. Judged as a B western exclusively, it's still pretty dull, except that the character of Brigham Young is striking enough to come off as a western hero whether or not the specifics of his life are presented as untruthfully as has been done for Wyatt Earp & Wild Bill Hickok & just about every other historical figure turned into the subjects for pulp westerns.
Movies are fiction, not history, & can be entertaining even so. The lying style of piety nevertheless still ruins Savage Journey.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl