Producer: Derek Estlin Purvis and Michael Mailer   Director: Derek Estlin Purvis   Screenplay: Derek Estlin Purvis   Cast:  William Moseley, Colm Meaney, Valerie Jane Parker, Anthony Gray Wolf Herrera, Jesse Hutch, Wyatt Parker, Nico Tirozzi, Craig Morgan, Edward Finlay, Andrés Erickson, Casey Fuller, Gianni Biasetti Jr., Tommy Kramer, Rocky Abou-Saher and Aija Terauda   Distributor: VMI Worldwide

Grade: D

Even viewers longing for more Westerns will have a hard time finding much good to say about this oddball little tale of Davy Crockett, which has about the same degree of accuracy as John Wayne’s “The Alamo,” in which The Duke himself played Crockett, and probably one-thousandth of the budget of that 1960 turkey.  That despite the fact that it opens with a striking credits sequence that recalls the style of those in some of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti oaters.

Derek Estlin Purvis’ script has a laudable purpose—explaining Crockett’s opposition to the Indian Removal Act proposed (and eventually passed) by President Andrew Jackson.  According to the screenplay, Crockett (William Moseley) originally agreed to support the bill, but changed his mind as a result of an encounter with a Native American (Anthony Gray Wolf Herrera) on a journey from Washington to Tennessee, during which Crockett saved the man from being killed by members of an enemy tribe and he in turn aided Crockett in rescuing his young sons John (Wyatt Parker) and William (Nico Tirozzi) from the clutches of cruel Caleb Powell (Colm Meaney), the greedy head honcho of the local branch of the Northeast Fur Trading Company.  Powell had taken the boys into forced servitude for having absconded with a pelt belonging to him in their search for food during their father’s absence.  (He accuses them of having stolen many more.)  He also leaves Crockett beaten, and supposedly dying, for trying to prevent his sons’ abduction. 

The first problem is that this scenario makes a hash of chronology.  The story is supposedly set in 1815, the year in which Crockett’s then-wife Polly (Valerie Jane Parker) fell ill (as shown here) and died.  But in the first scene, Jackson (Edward Finlay) is shown demanding Crockett sign a pledge of support for the Indian bill along with James Polk (Andrés Erickson) and Martin Van Buren (Casey Fuller), and Crockett acquiesces.  The difficulty, of course, is that Jackson wasn’t elected President until 1828, and didn’t propose the legislation until 1830; in 1815 he was still engaged in military action following the War of 1812, though he was, to be sure, already removing Indians from areas under his command.  Crockett, moreover, wasn’t elected to the U.S. House until 1826, and in 1815 Polk was just about to enter college, while Van Buran, later Jackson’s Vice President, was still engaged in New York state politics.  Setting aside all that, Crockett’s eventual opposition to Jackson’s proposal in 1830 seems actually to have been based in their differences over local Tennessee politics: Crockett was a proponent of eastern Tennessee being a separate state (Franklin), while Jackson had opposed the idea.

But even if you were to argue that “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” is not to be taken literally, but as a parable of enlightenment in American attitudes toward Native Americans using Crockett as a symbol, or that the chronological shifts are an intentional dramatic device, you still have to contend with the fact that the movie is a poverty-row production, demonstrating its meager budget in virtually every respect.  The interior sequences involving Jackson are ludicrously simple and claustrophobic: cinematographer James King tries to disguise that by shrouding everything but the foregrounds in shadow, but the near-surrealist effect is in stark contrast to the catch-as-catch-can quality of the rest of the picture, shot without the slightest pretense to elegance in grubby exteriors and on ramshackle sets (the Crockett cabin, most notably, presumably the work of production designers Nate Griffin and Rudy Guidara; Susanna Puisto’s costumes are equally threadbare).

Worse, Purvis seems to have followed the old “do one take, and use it whatever the result” method, with its predictable effect on the performances.  Moseley offers what might be called a deer-in-the-headlights turn, his dialogue delivery sounding as though he’s consistently astonished by the lines.  (Having him refer to himself at one point as the “king of the wild frontier” was surely a bad idea.)  He’s also stymied by a lengthy sequence in which an injured Crockett, having been forced to shoot his horse after an encounter with a wolf, must corral and tame a wild one to continue his ride home.  Here editor Eric Staples seems to have chosen to include every moment of available footage, making for a long, tedious interlude that seems to go on forever.  And when action sequences occur, they’re so messily assembled as to be almost comical. 

Most of the other cast members appear to be amateurs; young Parker and Tirozzi are by far the worst, but the adults are not far behind.  The exception is Meaney, an old hand whose approach is to bark out his lines while doing an impression of a villain out of Dickens.  His final confrontation with Crockett in hand-to-hand combat is poorly staged and, frankly, embarrassing.

Stephen Keech’s period-accented score isn’t bad, but otherwise this is a “Ballad” that strikes the wrong note in almost every department.