Review: 'September Dawn' fights fanatics fanatically

It is unprecedented — or close to it — that a writer needs to disclose his affiliations before reviewing a film, but “September Dawn” presents such a situation. So here it goes: I have no connection with the Mormon Church, and neither sympathize with it nor oppose it.

From that “neutral” point of view, “September Dawn” appears a sandwich of a film, with a purpose on top, a biased view on the bottom, and a poorly made movie in-between.

This meant-to-be controversial film about another shameful 9/11, a Mormon massacre of 120 innocent men, women and children in Utah on Sept.11, 1857, is open about its agenda: “[The Mountain Meadows story] closely resembles the religious fanaticism the world is seeing today. People were killed in the name of God 150 years ago and they’re still being killed in the name of God.” So says the director, Christopher Cain.

Mountain Meadows was the stopping place for a wagon train in 1857 on the Old Spanish Trail from Arkansas (and, the Mormons might have believed, from Missouri, a significant state in church history) on the way to California.

What is an established historical fact is that the Mormon militia, together with Indians pressed into the fight, killed most of the would-be settlers in cold blood.

“September Dawn” mentions in passing some of the many factors involved — such as the killing of church-founder Joseph Smith by a mob in an Illinois jail, the Mormons’ fear of federal troops moving against them — and yet the entire film is a blanket indictment of the church. People on the wagon train are uniformly kind, decent and wonderful; the Mormon leadership is consistently and grossly evil. It’s not a matter of good people turning bad, but rather a boring straight line from expected evil to actual one.

Jon Voight, playing the Mormon bishop zealot who instigated the massacre, is mean, bitter and murderous. Terence Stamp, as Brigham Young, doesn’t fare much better. There is no mention of Young speaking against robbing — much less killing — emigrant trains.

Of all the Mormons, only one (fictitious) character has any redeeming value. Trent Ford is the handsome, intelligent son of the bishop and does impossibly heroic deeds that you see telegraphed from a mile away.

Predictable, obvious, often silly, with a painfully poor script (“I curse the Gentiles, grrrrr!”), “September Dawn” doesn’t so much expose fanaticism as lays an egg in a fanatical crusade of its own.

September Dawn *

Starring Jon Voight, Trent Ford, Tamara Hope, Terence Stamp, Lolita Davidovich, Dean Cain

Written by Christopher Cain, Carole Whang Schutter

Directed by Christopher Cain

Rated R

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

artsentertainmentOther Arts

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Outdoor dining, as seen here at Mama’s on Washington Square in North Beach in September, is expected to resume in San Franisco this week. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF to reopen outdoor dining, personal services

San Francisco will allow outdoor dining and other limited business activity to… Continue reading

A statue of Florence Nightingale outside the Laguna Honda Hospital is one of only two statues of women in The City. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
S.F. still falling short of goal to represent women in public art

City has few streets or public facilities not named after men

A server greets diners in a Shared Spaces outdoor dining area outside Napper Tandy’s Irish pub at 24th Street and South Van Ness Avenue in the Mission District on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. San Francisco could choose to resume outdoor dining in the wake of a state decision to lift a regional stay-at-home order. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Regional coronavirus stay-at-home orders lifted as ICU capacity improves

Change in rules could allow outdoor dining to resume in San Francisco

Methamphetamines (Sophia Valdes/SF Weekly)
New search launched for meth sobering center site

Pandemic put project on pause but gave health officials time to plan a better facility

Hasti Jafari Jozani quarantines at her brother's San Francisco home after obtaining several clearances to study at San Francisco State University. (Photo courtesy Siavash Jafari Jozani)
Sanctions, visas, and the pandemic: One Iranian student’s bumpy path to SF State

Changing immigration rules and travel restrictions leave some overseas students in limbo

Most Read