. . . As work progressed on the script, Balderston and Dunne realized they had to leave out large sections of the plot because Cooper’s novel was so long and complicated. Balderston wrote the first draft and Dunne acted as editor and condenser. In their screenplay, Dunne decided that he could not make a solid dramatic first act, second act, third act. It had to be an episodic storyline. It was impossible to construct the story otherwise. In his autobiography, Dunne described the end results of their collaboration as follows: “Ours was a full-bodied screenplay, combining adventure and excitement with what we considered some respectable poetry in the love story between the patrician English girl and the young Mohican brave. Above all, we painted an authentic picture of colonial America in the eighteenth century. . .” “Unfortunately, production on the film was held up because of “casting problems.” Both writers left the United Artists offices in Hollywood. . . . . when Philip Dunne returned from his east coast trip he received a call from Mr. Small asking the screenwriter to come to the studio. The Producer showed Dunne the first week’s dallies (sequences filmed). . . . Dunne realized that his screenplay had been corrupted. . . . Dunne diagnosed the situation: “I don’t know what writer he (Small) had hired, but they had succeeded in turning our authentic eighteenth century piece into a third-rate western . . . ” . . . . The desperate producer simply asked Mr. Dunne to go to the set and work with the director George Seitz. Small hoped that together they could repair the script and restructure the scenes, while shooting continued. Small had neither the time nor the money to do anything else.
Crime and horror films were regularly reprimanded not because of the violence itself, but due to the referential context within which the violence occurred. . . . The film Edward Small submitted to the PCA was every bit as violent as any of the horror or gangster films. Small knew that director Seitz had pushed the envelope to the limit in terms of what was allowable. For example, the filming of the Hawkeye torture scene may have honored the letter of the Code, but not in spirit the request to suggest but not display brutality. The scene portrayed the ritual torture and burning alive of the prisoner-Hawkeye (Randolphh Scott). The scene opened with Hawkeye stripped to the waist tied to a wooden stake with piles of wood arranged around his feet. The Native American women were shown sharpening sticks and poles to be used to pierce the scout’s flesh. Next, the filmmakers concentrated on close-ups of Scott’s face as he endured the whipping and piercing of his body. Subjective shots of Indian women jabbing and poking at him were interspersed with more close-ups of Scott’s face. The moisture on his face suggested the impact of the torture upon his flesh. Shots of drum beaters and dancers were shown. The sounds of the drums silenced any sounds of agony coming from the prisoner. Seitz’s camera returned to Scott’s face and slowly panned down his torso to reveal his bloody mutilated mid-section. The director’s staging of the scene crossed the line from implication to visibility and while not actually showing the acts of violence came as close as possible to the demarcation line. . . . Since the film was looked upon as classic literature and a “Western” the censors passed the scene. Had this same scene appeared in a horror or crime film undoubtedly the scene would have been recut. Perhaps the content of the film was best described in the New York Times review which stated “The massacre of Fort William Henry is by far the bloodiest, scalpingest morsel of cinematic imagery ever produced.”
For several months Trotti worked on a new draft of the script. Finally on March 11,1939, he submitted a new edition. Zanuck still was not satisfied. Neither was Fox’s head story writer, Julian Johnson, who proposed to Zanuck a solution to their problem – a new ending. Johnson suggested that the film end with a climatic Indian-British attack on the fort and a subsequent rescue of the besieged colonists by a relief force from a neighboring fort. The hero was to escape from the fortress and be chased by Indians as he went for help. At an April 5,1939 meeting, Zanuck announced his approval of Johson’s ideas and declared: “We must . . . tighten our plot . . . and make it more forceful – so that we build and build to a big sustaining sock climax, where we let everything go with a bang.” Zanuck stressed the need to capture the “spirit of the book” but not to be a slave to its contents. Zanuck told his writers that the studio’s goal was to “give a show” and “that our first job is to make entertainment.” The chief executive stressed the need to showcase Henry Fonda’s run to obtain help. He told them to “Establish early that Gil (Fonda’s character) is a great runner so that big climax will be the escape from the fort and the twenty mile run. Gil alone, will make it . . . this can be whipped into one of the most unusual and exciting climaxes ever seen on the screen and we can afford to let it run a thousand feet (eleven minutes).”