A decade before the start of the American Revolution, the British have managed to force the French out of the Great Lakes region. Fort Detroit has been established to oversee the area and provide protection from the Odawa tribe. Chief Pontiac (Lon Chaney, Jr.) believes that the Odawa and the White Man can live in peace but his beliefs are challenged when the British bring in a brutal German mercenary, Col. von Weber (Berry Kroeger), to patrol the land. After Col. von Weber and his soldiers massacre a village, Pontiac and the Odawa prepare for war.
Lt. Kent McIntire (Lex Barker, who was best known for playing the role of Tarzan in several movies) is a Colonial officer and a scout who is convinced that he can broker a peace between the Odawa and the British. Odawa respects and trusts McIntire but when von Weber tries to wipe the Odawa out by sending them small pox-infected blankets, Pontiac realizes that there can be no peace and he launches an attack on Fort Detroit.
Though hardly a great film, Battles of Chief Pontiac deserves some credit for its sympathetic portrayal of the Odawa People. From the start, the film makes clear that everything that the Pontiac does, he does out of self-defense. Even the most enthusiastic of his warriors, Hawkbill (Larry Chance), is not fighting because he wants to fight but he’s fighting because it is evident that von Weber is not going to leave the Odawa any other choice. Though the small pox-ridden blankets were actually given to a different tribe, just the fact that Battles of Chief Pontiac acknowledges that it happened sets it apart from many other B-movies of the period. Though not a Native American himself, Lon Chaney, Jr. gives a surprisingly dignified performance as Pontiac and he doesn’t allow the character to become a caricature. Again, that alone is enough to set Battles of Chief Pontiac apart from a lot of the other films of the period.
Battles of Chief Pontiac still cheats by laying the blame on the Hessians, the German mercenaries who, historically, were not even present in North America until they were hired by the British during the American Revolution, which happened ten years after Pontiac’s siege of Fort Detroit. Berry Kroeger plays Von Weber as if he was a high-ranking Gestapo officer who somehow found himself in the 18th Century. By making Von Weber the villain, the film lets the British off the hook. The only mistakes that the British officers make in Battles of Chief Pontiac is that they trust a German and fail to listen to the advice of the all-American Lex Barker.
Battles of Chief Pontiac has a narrator who sounds like he would have been better suited for an educational filmstrip about hygiene and its epic ambitions are thwarted by its low-budget. There’s a not very interesting love story between McIntire and a white woman (Helen Westcott) who is being held prisoner by the Odawa. The movie’s intentions go a long way towards making up for the flaws but they can’t do all the work. At least, Barker, Chaney, and Kroeger manage to keep thing interesting.