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Film / Silent Tongue

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Silent Tongue is a 1993 American Western horror film written and directed by Sam Shepard and and featuring Richard Harris, Sheila Tousey, Alan Bates, Dermot Mulroney and River Phoenix. This was the last film to be released featuring a performance by River Phoenix.

Silent Tongue (Tantoo Cardinal) is a mute Kiowa who is raped by Eamon McCree (Bates), the owner of the Kickapoo Traveling Medicine Show. Eamon attempts to make up for his crime by marrying her, hoping for forgiveness. Instead, Silent Tongue enacts a bitter retribution through her two daughters, Awbonnie (Tousey) and Velada (Jeri Arredondo). Awbonnie, as the film begins, has already died, but her grieving husband Talbot (Phoenix) refuses to let her go, dragging around her corpse. To assuage Talbot, his father Prescott (Harris) sets out to purchase Velada from Eamon, thinking that only Awbonnie's sister can replace her in Talbot's eyes. But Velada's half-brother Reeves (Mulroney) protests the attempted transaction. As a result, Prescott kidnaps Velada and flees, with not only Reeves and Eamon chasing him, but also Awbonnie's ghost.


  • The Alcoholic: Eamon McCree is perpetually drunk on the tonic he peddles in his Medicine Show. when his son Reeves drags him out into the desert in search of Velada, he forced to dry out and complains that the tonic is not like a woman: he can't just leave it behind.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Eamon McCree is a drunk who was terrible parent to his three children: including selling one of his daughters to Prescott Roe to be married to Prescott's son.
  • And Starring: The opening credits with "And Tantoo Cardinal as Silent Tongue".
  • Brutal Bird of Prey: Awbonnie's ghost summons an eagle that attacks Prescott, Talbot and Velada.
  • Circling Vultures: The film opens with Talbot shooing buzzards away from Awbonnie's body.
  • Death by Childbirth: Awbonnie died in childbirth before the film begins and the child died with her.
  • Excessive Mourning: Talbot Roe is going mad with grief over losing his Indian wife, Awbonnie: staying by her body and refusing to eat or sleep.
  • Harmful to Minors: As a young boy, Reeves was forced to watch his father rape Silent Tongue.
  • Medicine Show: Eamon McCree is the owner of the Kickapoo Traveling Medicine Show.
  • Missing Mom: Silent Tongue ran away from Eamon; leaving her two daughters in the care of of their drunken father.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: Ends with Prescott and Talbot walking towards the horizon on the seemingly endless prairie; gradually diminishing into specks before the screen fades to black.
  • Posthumous Character: Awbonnie died in childbirth before the events of the movie. She appears as a corpse and a ghost.
  • Produce Pelting: The Medicine Show is run out of town by a pack of unappreciative townsfolk pelting them with stones.
  • Quieting the Unquiet Dead: Prescott finally lays Awbonnie's ghost to rest by burning her body, which is what Awbennie had wanted and what Talbot was refusing to do.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Talbot Roe is going mad with grief over losing his Indian wife, Awbonnie. In an effort to save him, his father, Prescott Roe, seeks to purchase the dead wife's sister, Velada, from the same travelling carnival he acquired Awbonnie. The girls' father, carnival master Eamon McCree, is willing to do business, but her stepbrother, Reeves, protests, putting an end to the negotiation. Desperate, Prescott kidnaps Velada and promises her the means to be rid of her father in return for comforting Talbot out of his obsession.
  • The Savage Indian: Played with. Although the ending implies that Eamon is about to suffer a very nasty fate at the hands of the Kiowa, he probably deserves everything he is going to get for what he did to one of their number. Notably, they allow Reeves—who has done nothing to harm them—to leave unhindered.
  • Secondary Character Title: Takes its name from Eamon's runaway wife who—although her shadow looms large over the events—only appears in flashback. And very briefly as Eamon is taken to meet his fate.
  • The Speechless: The title character cannot speak because she had her tongue cut out for lying to the headman.
  • Tongue Trauma: The title character had her tongue cut out for lying to the headman.
  • Suicide Dare: Awbonnie's ghost dares Talbot to kill himself so he can join her. For several moments it looks like Talbot is about to eat his gun, but at the last second, he flips the gun over and fires at the ghost: to no effect, obviously. It is not clear if this was an attempt at Psychic-Assisted Suicide or just mind games.
  • Two-Faced: Awbonnie's ghost has white 'T' painted on her face. One side of the 'T', her face is youthful and beautiful, and on the other it is twisted, withered and sagging.
  • Unfinished Business: Awbonnie's spirit cannot move on because Talbot refuses to dispose of her body correctly i.e. by burning it. Her efforts to make him do so become more violent as time goes on.
  • Vengeful Ghost: Awbonnie's ghost will not rest until Talbot disposes her body correctly. As she never liked Talbot to begin with, her efforts to make him do so become increasingly more violent. She also directs her fury at his father Prescott, whom she blames equally for her plight.
  • Weird West: Mad with grief after the death of his Kiowa wife, Talbot awaits death under a tree with her body beside him. She begins to haunt him because he won't burn her.
  • What a Drag: When Awbonnie's ghost rides off with his horse, Prescott grabs the saddle in an attempt to stop it and gets dragged along beside the horse.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Reeves abandons his father Eamon to his fate at the hands of The Savage Indians and rides off to keep searching for his half-sister Velada. He isn't seen again and it remains unknown if he manages to find her.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: When they are tracking Prescott and Velada across the desert, Eamon pulls a gun on Reeves and demands he takes them back to the Medicine Show. Reeves just looks at his father with contempt and declares "You ain't got the sand".