After Superman, Christopher Reeve Starred in an Epic Western Trilogy

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Christopher Reeve’s role in the Black Fox Western trilogy showcases his range beyond Superman, portraying a morally complex character.
  • The trilogy explores themes of racism, vengeance, and justice, shedding light on the hardships of frontier living.
  • Tony Todd’s performance as Britt Johnson steals the show, highlighting his ability to shine in a leading heroic role and overshadowing Reeve’s character.


Though he’s best known for his tenure as Superman in the original feature film series, there’s a lot more to Christopher Reeve than just the Man of Steel. Unfortunately, most refused to see anything more than the man in blue tights and a big red cape, but Reeve often challenged himself and took on other roles not traditionally associated with his past as a superhero. In one of his last leading roles, Reeve played a man by the name of Alan Johnson in the made-for-television Black Fox trilogy of Westerns that really deserve a bit more recognition.


What Is the ‘Black Fox’ Western Trilogy About?

Image via CBS

Sometimes promoted as a miniseries and other times as a trilogy of films, Black Fox –– which aired on CBS for three weeks in the summer of 1995 –– follows two brothers, Alan (Reeve) and Britt Johnson (Tony Todd). Though not brothers by blood, by bond they’ve united with one another and, after escaping slavery in the South, move to Texas to begin a new life. Along with their wives, Sarah (Nancy Sorel) and Mary (Janet Bailey) respectively, and Britt and Mary’s son, Frank (Rainbow Sun Francks), the Johnson family lives a quiet and peaceful life away from the American Civil War. But despite their distance from the North/South conflict, they aren’t out of the woods.

Soon, the Comanches and the Kiowas arrive to drive the settlers out of Texas, and eventually kidnap many of the families involved, namely Alan and Britt’s wives and Britt’s son, splitting them into different camps. Eventually, Alan convinces the town to let Britt go and attempt a trade with the Indians due to his Black skin (which isn’t a threat to the Comanche or Kiowa peoples) and Britt does just that. Eventually, Britt becomes friends with the Kiowa man Running Dog (Raoul Trujillo), who nicknames him Black Fox before helping him secure a trade as Alan rounds up the necessary horses to make it happen.

After the first Black Fox, the sequel Black Fox: The Price of Peace expands the tale a year later, revealing that many of the white settlers are still pining for revenge against the now peaceful Kiowa people. Britt and Running Dog attempt to keep the peace, while Alan wants nothing to do with the Indians after Sarah had been raped by one the previous year. But eventually, he comes around and helps Britt keep a new war from starting. The third installment, Black Fox: Good Men and Bad, follows Alan after Sarah is murdered. After succumbing to his vices, he sobers up to hunt down his wife’s killer, while Britt, now a U.S. Marshal, does the same. As the two hunt the same man, they do so in different ways that put them at odds.

Unlike Superman, Christopher Reeve’s ‘Black Fox’ Character Is Morally Questionable

Christopher Reeve appears as Alan Johnson in Black Fox.
Image via CBS

As you may have guessed, Reeve’s character here is absolutely nothing like Superman, though he seems to be at first. In the first Black Fox, Alan seems to be an incredibly tolerant individual. Not only is he brothers with a Black man and defends Britt’s honor on more than one occasion, but he also tolerates plenty of bigots within his own community. Alan is willing to stand up for the little guy and even offers other settlers’ sanctuary on their homestead where they can defend their land together from the impending attack by the united Commanche and Kiowa peoples. But everything changes when Sarah is taken.

Sarah’s abduction (which lasts weeks, if not over a month) and later rape breaks Alan in ways he can’t fully understand. The once incredibly tolerant and understanding man soon becomes enraged by the events of his wife’s capture, and rightfully so. Alan is put even further to the test when the events of the first film follow him and Sarah into the second, which takes place over a year later. Still afraid to be intimate with her husband due to what happened to her, Sarah and Alan are strained, and he takes it out on the Indians as a result. For much of The Price of Peace (not to be confused with Reeve’s 1989 film Superman IV: The Quest for Peace), Alan refuses to help Running Dog and the Kiowas from being massacred by Ralph Holtz (Chris Wiggins) and his racist band of followers.

It isn’t until Britt is attacked and hardly left able to ride a horse on his own that Alan steps up and helps. Realizing that the actions of some Indians don’t represent all (not unlike his previous message that not all white folks are racist slavers), Alan joins the fight to defend the Kiowas and restore order to their West Texas lands. Of course, things get even more complicated after Sarah’s death in Good Men and Bad, where Alan goes off the rails, lives in a drunken stupor, and even becomes a criminal in order to assassinate the man who killed his wife. This doesn’t sound like Superman at all, and the truth is that Reeve plays the part exceptionally well, despite generally being typecast as a “boy scout” due to his work on Superman and its sequels.

‘Black Fox’ Explores the Consequences of War

Alan (Christopher Reeve) and Britt Johnson (Tony Todd) fire a machine gun in Black Fox
Image via CBS

Part of what makes the Black Fox trilogy so great is that it accurately highlights the hardships of frontier living while also emphasizing the beauty that can come of it. The Johnson clan goes through some tough times over the course of the years Black Fox chronicles (and many that it doesn’t), but the genuine love that this makeshift tribe has for one another is part of what keeps you coming back for more. The chemistry between Christopher Reeve and Tony Todd is electric, and the two play off one another so perfectly that you wonder why they never appeared together on screen again. (Ironically, both went on to perform in other DC Comics-related productions, including Smallville, though sadly not together.)

Of course, this being a Western and all, there are bound to be some tough topics addressed here. One that’s already been mentioned is the rape of Sarah Johnson, which the trilogy addresses fairly well, giving her time to mourn and heal before further pursuing a life with her husband. Another is the frequent racism and prejudice that every group has against another. The most obvious is, of course, that of the white settlers, who hate both the Indians and Britt and his Black family. Both Britt and Running Dog are forced to confront these racists in the first two films, and some even end up changing their minds. Britt and Alan even deal with their own bouts of prejudice, Britt against whites and Alan against Indians, though they both rise above their respective sins of partiality.

But racism isn’t the only issue that Black Fox tackles over three made-for-TV features. The trilogy also plays the line between vengeance and justice. In the third film, Alan is dead set on killing Carl Glenn (David Fox), the man who shot him and killed Sarah, which leads him to pursue vengeance rather than justice. He’s out for blood, and it’s this desire that causes him to fall into the wrong crowd where he is forced to commit criminal acts. Britt, on the other hand, starts out wanting vengeance, but upon getting himself a badge, he vows to uphold the law, pursuing justice instead. Ironically, justice and vengeance in this case both look like Carl Glenn hanging, though it’s done through official channels rather than vigilantism.

Christopher Reeve Is Excellent, But ‘Candyman’s Tony Todd Is ‘Black Fox’s True Star

Black-Fox-Britt-takes-lead
Image via CBS

Christopher Reeve’s performance is powerful across all three Black Fox films as we see a man getting progressively bogged down by the world around him. It seems as if Alan Johnson is being put through a prolonged trial by fire he cannot escape. In contrast, Tony Todd’s Britt Johnson, who goes through only some of the same hardships that Alan does (and plenty more via slavery that we don’t see), is slowly becoming who he was meant to be. Britt goes from being Alan’s brother and sidekick into becoming a leader on his own. Saving the settler’s families (including his own) and brokering a peace between them and the Indian people (not unlike the James Stewart film Broken Arrow) is only the beginning.

Prior to Black Fox, Tony Todd was likely best known for his role as the titular horror villain from Candyman, a role he’s reprised again in recent years. But Black Fox (a series named after his character’s Kiowa moniker) shows that the actor can shine just as brightly in a heroic leading role. In many ways, Black Fox is more about Britt Johnson and his adventures than it is about Christopher Reeve’s Alan, and maybe that’s the point. As Black Fox continues, we see the old ways of Alan Johnson die out. He no longer leads the family by the end of the third film, and over the course of only a few years, it’s Britt who learns to hold the Johnson clan together. Additionally, Britt is the one given the chance to become a lawman in the tradition of Bass Reeves, not Alan, who resorts to a life of crime in Good Men and Bad in order to find his wife’s killer.

Todd brings a heaviness to his performance that Reeve just doesn’t have. Cursed by the morality that embodies the Superman role, Reeve’s character may struggle, but it’s a struggle we ultimately believe he’ll win due to his good-natured character. Todd’s Britt, on the other hand, feels as if he could go either way. Britt struggles with his anger, which ultimately leads to Carl Glenn killing Sarah as a result of looking for him. Yet, when channeled properly, such as when Britt faces off against the Comanche man who has kidnapped his wife and child, he’s able to use his rage as a source of power that brings them home. If you’re anything like this author, Christopher Reeve was likely the draw to give Black Fox a chance, but Tony Todd is the reason to stick around for the sequels.

Christopher Reeve Never Tackled a Western After ‘Black Fox’

Only months before Black Fox premiered on CBS, Christopher Reeve was paralyzed in an unfortunate horse-riding accident. This accident changed the course of Reeve’s career, and only once more was he cast as the leading man in a feature project––which just so happened to be a modern made-for-TV remake of Alfred Hitchcock‘s Rear Window. After his accident, Reeve appeared briefly in the film A Step Toward Tomorrow, lent his vocal talents to a few shorts and video games, directed three features (including the animated Everyone’s Hero), and appeared in an episode of The Practice, for which he also received story credit. But, in true Christopher Reeve fashion, his most notable appearance post-accident was on the Superman prequel Smallville, where he played Dr. Virgil Swann, the man who revealed to Clark Kent (Tom Welling) the name of his original homeworld: Krypton.

Returning to Superman at the end of his career, and consequently, his life (Reeve died in 2004) is perhaps the most fitting way for Christopher Reeve’s story to end. However, it’s tragic that the actor-turned-advocate was never able to revisit the Western genre, especially after adapting so well to it. Interestingly, his co-star Tony Todd didn’t venture into the traditional Western much again either, aside from the 2023 Western-horror Devilreaux. Nevertheless, the impact of Christopher Reeve on Hollywood and the film industry at large is undeniable. The actor was a source of inspiration to many, both as Superman and as a man himself. Black Fox is only one example of the true range Reeve boasted throughout his career and a stark reminder that the Western genre is a complicated one worth further exploration.

Black Fox is available to stream on Prime Video in the U.S.

Watch on Prime Video

Black Fox TV Movie Poster

Black Fox

Release Date
July 28, 1995

Director
Steven Hilliard Stern

Cast
Christopher Reeve, Raoul Max Trujillo, Tony Todd, Nancy Sorel

Runtime
92 minutes

Main Genre
Western

Genres
Western, Romance

Writers
Matt Braun, John Binder



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