Fort Apache - Native American Movie Listing
It's fascinating to compare this 1948 pairing of director John Ford and John Wayne with Stagecoach, which they did together in 1939. In 1939 Wayne was a 'kid' and the Indians were a faceless menace which could not be reasoned with. Not even ten years later, Wayne is a weathered, wise Captain on a remote outpost, very sympathetic with the local natives. The Indians are now a complex, mistreated group who are deserving of respect.
The landscape and lifestyle is simply gorgeous in this film even though it's black and white. The love of music, the heartachingly gorgeous vistas and carved rocks, the soaring skies all make you want to immediately take a trip to the west. There are a variety of characters here - the defeated Rebels from the civil war, the stereotypical group of drinking Irish, the shopkeeps who take advantage of the natives and the men of honor who try to do the right thing.
The local cavalry group is happy hanging out in their remote outpost when Henry Fonda - Col. Thursday - shows up with his slightly ditsy but good natured daughter, Philadelphia (Shirley Temple!). Philly playfully explains that Pomfret CT and not Pennsylvania lay in her past. Soon the local west point grad is in love with her - but despite his officer rank and the fact that his dad won the medal of honor, Thursday feels the romance is entirely inappropriate - a breach of class etiquette.
In fact, Thursday calls the lad an "uncilized Indian" for taking his daughter out without permission. He feels he's educated and worthy of great glory - he researched the tactics of Khan, Alexander the Great and others. When it comes to real life, however, he is lacking in wisdom.
While the group is sitting around enjoying 1846 port, the natives are restless. Thusrday disdanfully complains that while others get to joust with "the 'great indian nations' of Sioux and Cheyenne, we get the gnat-stains and flea- bites of a few digger indians." Wayne, annoyed, responds, "You'd hardly call the Apaches digger indians." Says Thursday, "You'd scarely compare them with the Sioux ..." When Wayne tries to talk about the Apaches destroying the Sioux, Thursday ignores him.
Soon, because local trader Meacham has been only giving them rotgut whiskey, giving them "whiskey but no beef", Chochise, Diablo, Geronimo and others take off with numerous Mescaleros and Chiricahuas for the south border. Meacham is dismissive - "You know how children are". Wayne goes in to talk peace with them, and no sooner has he negotiated one but Thursday decides to kill them all for glory. When Wayne complains about the damage to his honor, Thursday sneers about the value of "Your word to a breech-clothed savage".
Unfortunately for Thursday's wild plan, the cavalry are soon surrounded and outnumbered four to one. Thurday reluctantly agrees to talk - and again his lack of wisdom shines through as he abandons all diplomacy and openly insults them. It's pretty inevitable what follows.
On one hand you could complain that even though there are supposed to be multiple branches of the Apache clan represented, you tend to only see generic indians on ridges with regular shirts and bandanas. But compared to the stories done just ten years ago, the changes are pretty stunning. Now it's the whites who are the senseless marauders, and the natives who are merely trying to find a peaceful way to live. Unfortunately, it's the cavalrymen who get stuck in the center.
A very important movie to watch, to see how the shifting sands adjust in perceptions over time - and to admire the gorgeous landscapes of the old west.
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