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Silent Tongue

Silent Tongue (1 of 2)

Silent Tongue (2 of 2)

The underrated Silent Tongue, released in 1994, is the second of two Shepard-directed films (Far North the other). The story takes place in 1873, the setting a prototypical 19th-century medicine show on the Llano Estacado. Eamon MacCree (played by Alan Bates) champions his magic elixir—the "Ancient Sagwa Serum"—in his act. His son Reeves (Dermot Mulroney) and half-Indian daughter Velada (Jeri Arredondo) serve the family enterprise. A year or so before, Eamon swapped Velada’s twin Awbonnie for three horses. As the film opens, Roe (Richard Harris) returns with the news that Awbonnie has died in childbirth and he's come for her sister. After an outburst by Reeves, upset at the potential loss of his last remaining sister, Eamon puts off negotiations to morning. That night, as Roe steals the girl and her horse, Eamon, drunk on his own patent medicine, sleeps an uneasy sleep.

The scene that follows has Eamon dreaming a memory:
{Two buffalo hunters and a boy stand at the edge of a prairie covered with buffalo bones, where "in the very midst of the sea of bones is the lone figure of a YOUNG INDIAN WOMAN," a black stripe painted across her mouth. The close-up on the hunters shows one to be a younger Eamon, the boy, ten-year-old Reeves. The other hunter provides the woman's background. "That's the one. Had her tongue cut out for lying to her headman." Urged forward by both companion and what Shepard's first handwritten outline calls his "demonic lust," Eamon makes his son turn his back to the field before starting his chase. The bone-picker (Tantoo Cardinal) flees, and when she stumbles, Eamon is on her. The hunter spins the boy and pulls his hands from his eyes. "Look here," he says as the boy watches his father rape Silent Tongue. "This is what you got up ahead, son."}

Eamon wakes from his dream shouting, "I made her my legitimate wife."

The Wittliff Collection’s holdings contain much of Shepard's work on the film, including a short, scene-by-scene outline in a blue spiral notebook, drafts over the next four years, and the shooting script with Shepard's storyboards on the backs of pages as exemplified in this scene: "Eamon's Dream in Black and White."


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