on 19 February 2016
I have just viewed the first two of John Ford's "cavalry trilogy," which were very successful in their time (1948-50) and, judging by the amazon ratings are still very popular today. It's not really clear why that should be -- and I write as one who has watched them with pleasure. It must be the case that their original popularity had something to do with the state of the US immediately following World War 2, but I don't know exactly how that is to be understood. Part of it might be the image of the US Army, which is not presented as perfect but which is idealized in a more subtle way, perhaps, as suggesting that (a) for all its flaws, and for all that bad judgements can be found among its officers [like Henry Fonda in "Fort Apache"], it represents an idea of discipline, order, and sacrifice, which is what we want to believe about those who commit violence on our behalf; and (b) it contextualizes these values with the unique aesthetic and cultural values associated with the landscape of American West, epitomized in Ford's movies by Monument Valley, which suggests at once an idea of humility (people are small in relation to an impressive "American" Nature) and a pride in values of endurance and courage associated with Western expansion. These suggestions are pure speculation on my part, and they don't help answer the question of why the movies retain their popularity. From a 21st Century viewpoint, there are all sorts of things "wrong" -- there's the crude stereotyping of the Irish, for example, and John Ford, who had directed Victor McGlaglen in "The Informer" a decade earlier, surely knew better. Then the young women are embarrassingly stereotyped coquettes -- I'm thinking of Shirley Temple and Joanne Dru -- who are completely lacking in any moral or psychological interest or plausibility. This is not the fault of the actresses. The older women characters are usually practical and sensible. There isn't a black face to be seen in either "Fort Apache" or "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," though both are set after the Civil War -- "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" is set specifically in 1876, the year of Little Big Horn. As if to make up for that, the Native American are represented as worthy of respect. The cavalrymen know their tribes -- they are not just an undigested and threatening "other." And in both "Fort Apache" and "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," they are shown as respecting those who give them respect -- in both of these movies, that's John Wayne. At the same time, one has to admit that these representations of mutual respect occlude a century of shameful treatment of Native Americans by the American government, and, at the local level, by many of the westward-bound white settlers whose endurance and courage we like to think about. So, it's a comfortable vision -- it still has the power to make us feel good about ourselves and perhaps to discourage any hard thinking.
What about "Fort Apache" specifically? The conflict between Captain York (John Wayne) and Colonel Thursday (Henry Fonda) is the center of dramatic interest, and both actors are fine in the roles. I liked the way in which a back-story was assumed and never fully made explicit about Thursday's posting to this far-West outpost, where he doesn't want to be) and his former dealings with Collingwood, the officer he replaces. It seems to have to do with changes following demobilization after the Civil War and it has led to some worthy officers being in effect demoted in a smaller army. These tensions are there, and we're made aware of them, but it's also clear that these men's commitment to army discipline overcomes private feelings of resentment or jealousy. They all behave very well. Fonda gives a good performance as a man who doesn't want to be where he is, and knows that his sub-officers aren't all that happy with him. But he isn't mean or small, he listens to opinions and is willing to hear advice, though he doesn't take all the advice he hears. He deeply believes -- on the basis of no direct experience -- that Indians can't be trusted, and the only really immoral thing he does is mislead York into thinking that he might be willing to listen to them. As a result, York in effect makes a promise to the Apache chief Cochise, and Thursday's future behavior makes it seem that York has been complicit in a betrayal of the Apaches. There comes a point where Thursday makes up for this -- a tacit apology at a serious time -- and where Cochise, rather implausibly I think, shows York that he, Cochise, understands that York was "used." These relationships are what really engage us, though one shouldn't underestimate the effect of sheer spectacle -- the landscape, battles, furious horseback riding, a brutal killing that we don't quite see. The comic business with the Irish soldiers -- with even Ward Bond (!) assuming an Irish accent -- and the romantic and social scenes (with Fonda cutting a tidy rug) -- aren't all that interesting, but they contribute to the rhythm of relaxation in civil society and violent action out on the prairie that Ford judges very effectively. So all in all, it's an odd mixture --- it's a tribute to Ford that we like it perhaps despite ourselves.
on 26 July 2013
I originally bought this as a video tape and practically wore it out so decided to replace with a DVD. It arrived in good order and on time as stated.
This is a typical John Wayne film in which he plays a Captain in the US Army Cavalry, obviously much loved by his troops and sundry NCO's he has to escort the commandants wife and niece to a stagecoach stop as his last mission before retiring from the army. Needless to say the indians get there before him and I wont ruin the storyline any further. There is much army banter between himself and a very Irish Sergeant Major as they both are due to retire at almost the same time. This is the second of John Ford's cavalry trilogy and to my mind is one of his best. Well worth buying.
This 1948 black and white film is one of the best in John Ford illustrious career - and one of the best westerns EVER! Below, more of my impressions, with some SPOILERS.
The scenario of this film was adapted from a short story called "Massacre", written in 1947 by western author James Warner Bellah. John Ford later adapted to the screen some of his other stories (including "She wore a yellow ribbon" and "Rio Grande") and asked him also to write the scenario for "The man who shot Liberty Valance". The "Massacre" was inspired by two real events, Custer's Last Stand and Fetterman Fight - but as I describe it below, author changed both those stories greatly, by making American officers act as madmen and presenting Indians in a very favourable light...
This film opens what is usually called John Ford's "Cavalry trilogy" - a tribute to US Cavalry fights and labours in Wild West plains in the years after War Between States. The other films in the trilogy, all featuring John Wayne, are SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) and RIO GRANDE (1950). John Ford turned also in 1959 one more film about US Cavalry with John Wayne, "Horse soldiers", about Northern cavalry raid into Confederate territory during the War Between States - and me for one I always considered it as a kind of "prequel" to "Cavalry trilogy"...
The film begins already some time after the War Between States, probably around 1875. A US Cavalry regiment garrisoning an isolated outpost, the Fort Apache, receives a new commanding officer - Lieutenant-Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda, grandiose!), who arrives accompanied by his extremely attractive young daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple, adorable). Thursday used to be a general during war and as virtually everybody in the US Army was significantly lowered in grade after 1865. After holding some important posts and having an exemplary record he expected finally a promotion, but instead he was send to a career-ending backwater post at Fort Apache... Just to be clear - Thursday is a fictitious character.
Thursday arrives therefore to Fort Apache humiliated, mortified, enraged and bitter - and also still in mourning after the death of his wife, whom he misses beyond everything words can describe... He is however not somebody who gives up and therefore he decides to make the most of what was given to him, make his regiment into an elite outfit and especially distinguish himself in battle as soon as local Apache Indians give him the slightest opportunity. Having fought bravely and after commanding a large unit against the Confederates between 1861 and 1865 he has no doubt about his abilities - but he is not familiar with the arid mountains of American-Mexican border and he despises greatly the Indians. Also, as described above, his judgement is somehow clouded by anger, bitterness and grief...
What follows is the description of a very uneasy working relationship between Thursday and his officers, NCOs and soldiers, who mostly are also battle-hardened veterans (and also most of them are Irish), with good battle record during War Between States, like him. His second in command, Captain Kirby York (John Wayne), used to be a colonel. The most senior of the NCOs, Sergeant Major Michael O'Rourke (Ward Bond), used to be a major in Irish Brigade - and was decorated with Medal of Honor, the highest distinction an American soldier can receive (like Victoria Cross most of them are attributed posthumously). Another NCO, Sergeant Beaufort (Pedro Armendariz), used to be a lieutenant, but fought for the South - and therefore is still nicknamed "Johny the Reb" by his comrades (and former enemies).
Three more characters are very important for this film. Sergeant Mulcahy (Victor MacLaglen, wonderful!) is amongst the toughest and the most colourful soldiers in the whole regiment. Captain Collingwood (George O'Brien) is clearly the oldest of officers and as his health weakens, he was postulating already for some time for a post of instructor at West Point - without any success... Finally, there is the young lieutenant O'Rourke (John Agar), son of Sergeant Major O'Rourke, who just graduated from West Point - albeit sons of NCOs were in those times not accepted there, an exception was made for him, as his father won the Medal of Honor.
Even if Thursday is not liked by his subalterns, for most of the film he actually copes with the whole situation better than anybody expected. Ultimately however he will lose it - and what will push him over the edge is what he perceives as the supreme humiliation/betrayal: his daughter, who is the only person who still gives some sense to his life, falls in love with young O'Rourke, a man he considers beneath her and himself. Once he enters in conflict with Philadelphia, he completely unravels and becomes clearly self-destructive and suicidal - and tragedy will of course follow...
John Wayne plays here very deliberately a character overshadowed by his commanding officer - and he does this very well indeed! This film is however mostly about Owen Thursday, portrayed with great art by Henry Fonda. All other actors, the "Duke" included, play just supporting roles.
The character and fate of fictitious Lieutenant-Colonel Owen Thursday are sometimes unavoidably compared with those of George Armstrong Custer and on the surface of things there were similarities - they both were indeed generals during War Between States and both were reduced in rank immediately after (Custer actually went all the way from Major-General to Captain). Also, they both met their fate in Indian Wars and in their final battles both were Lieutenant-Colonels.
Here however the similarities end, as Custer had a huge fighting experience against Indians and, unlike Thursday, he certainly DIDN'T sabotage any peace talks which could have ended the war... He also certainly never despised Indians or underestimated their fighting ability - to the contrary, he was very protective of his own Arikara and Crow scouts and in all his expeditions always listened carefully to their advice. Unlike Thursday in this film, in the war in which Custer died he was NOT the main campaign leader - he was acting under orders and in the limits of the plans decided by his superior officer, Brigadier-General Terry, the military commander of the whole Dakota Territory from 1872 and 1886.
Also unlike Thursday in the film, Custer didn't charge into the killing ground at Little Big Horn as the result of some kind of insanity - he was in fact mostly unlucky that his 210 strong command approached Indian camp at a moment when they manage to assemble, for a short moment, an exceptional fighting force of at least 2500 braves, something that NEVER happened before or after. Custer was aware that he was facing a large force, because he send scouts before engaging - but clearly the reports were incomplete, because even after scouts returned, he was still completely unaware HOW LARGE EXACTLY was that force!
Finally, unlike Thursday in the film (who acts like a total madman), once the battle began, he didn't do anything foolish, to the contrary, his decisions were clearly rational. The moment he saw Indians with his own eyes, he immediately tried to disengage and retreat - it's just that at that moment it was too late, as he was caught on an open plain and already surrounded by a mobile force ten times larger than his own (and incidentally having also many better rifles...).
On another hand, considering that Indians didn't take prisoners, both Custer's and Thursday's very last actions were the only one available - make a stand and take as many enemies with them as possible.
One final thing must be said here (SPOILER AHEAD): although I read a lot about Indian Wars I couldn't find any case, in which they would spare a small American detachment which they had at their mercy because of the respect felt for its leader. It NEVER happened in real history - this is really typical Hollywod bull...t.
This little point notwithstanding, this is a GREAT FILM, which I recommend with whole my heart. Just don't consider it as a history lesson... Enjoy!
The Duke had a vintage year in 1948 with the release of two very fine films. In the March of that year came "Fort Apache", followed by the monumental Howard Hawks epic "Red River", where he gave a towering performance as the larger than life cattleman Thomas Dunson. "Fort Apache" directed by the venerated John Ford, is the first film in the directors famed Cavalry trilogy that also included his elegiac "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and the inferior "Rio Grande". His later cavalry offering "The Horse Soldiers" was quite rightly never included, and is best forgotten. In all these films Ford venerates his folksy ideals of family, community and nation. It was possibly as a result of his over sentimentality that his stock has fallen in recent years, whilst that of Sam Peckinpah and Anthony Mann has risen. But nations rise and fall and I am sure Ford's time will come again. There is much in "Fort Apache" to admire.
The film is based on the Saturday Evening Post story "Massacre" by James Warner Bellah. John Wayne plays Captain Kirby York, an experienced officer who is expected to take command of an isolated Cavalry outpost following the departure of its previous commander, but the post is instead taken up by West Point graduate and former General in the Civil War Lt Col Owen Thursday played by Henry Fonda. Thursday proves to be a martinet, a class snob, and a racist. This does not endear him to his men. He is the classic case of a square peg in a round hole. When a crooked Indian agent, was there an honest one, ferments unrest amongst the local Apache Indians, Thursday refuses to deal with the situation, ignoring the advice of York. In one exchange Kirby says "I gave my word to Cochise". Yes good old Cochise turns up in a movie for the umpteenth time! Thursday responds "Your word to a breech clouted savage? An illiterate uncivilised murderer and treaty breaker". This entrenched attitude leads to serious ramifications.
Thursday is clearly loosely based on General George Armstrong Custer, who has had a lot of bad press over the years for his arrogance and incompetence, however true that may be. In this film the hostile Apache of the South West replace the Sioux of the northern plains as the native adversary. The film boasts two screen legends in John Wayne and Henry Fonda, both actors having immense screen presence and at the top of their game. They are supported by Ford favourites Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen and Pedro Armendariz. Filmed in atmospheric black and white in Ford's favourite location Monument Valley, it eschews the sumptuous Winton Hoch inspired colours that was such a highlight of "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon", and is none the worse for that. As in all the Cavalry films the images of the troopers are strongly influenced by the famous western artist Frederic Remington. It is likely that the Indians were also based on the paintings of Charles Russell, an equally gifted artist. This is all heavily romanticised of course, but the look is everything to Ford, and is something that often sets him above other directors. You only have to watch "The Searchers" to understand this! The film addresses weighty issues, without giving any easy answers. How we communicate with our fellow man is so often key to many people's success or downfall. The film still lives up to its fine reputation, and is certainly deserving of a digitally re-mastered edition with extras, as has been done with "The Searchers" 50th anniversary edition, now also available in blu-ray I see! This basic transfer will have to do in the meantime. I note that the film is also available as part of "The Greatest Westerns Collection" and the "John Wayne-John Ford Collection" which may represent better options for some people.
on 7 February 2010
A great movie and a great character study Fort Apache was made in Monument Valley in 1948 when indians were still one dimensional stereotypes. Let's set the record straight first however. Before Cochise affected an American accent and spoke perfect English in Broken Arrow, he spoke his own language plus Spanish in Fort Apache.
With Fort Apache John Ford made the first western to be even handed to the Indians. Dee Brown sent Ford and Wayne a letter of congratulations after he saw it. The Apache are not the villains. They fight against the Cavalry because they are left no other option. The Indian Agent Meachum has made them sickly and degraded so they leave and live as they should have been allowed to rather than starve and die. Cochise is wise and noble and a brilliant tactician in this film. I mentioned that he speaks Spanish and he is a character who wants peace above all else but fights when the Army leaves him no choice and even then he is not without honour. He has a personality.
Although John Wayne has top billing this is Fonda's film. Colonel Owen Thursday is the classic example of a flawed character. He's an amalgamation of George A. Custer and William Fetterman. An egotistical martinet and racist he's determined to find glory and honour in any situation even if he has "wound up" at Fort Apache to fight "a few cowardly digger indians"(not the Sioux or Cheyenne). A true WASP he keeps his daughter away from the O' Rourke family basically because they are Irish. You might notice he wears gloves as much as possible to keep his hands clean from dust and filth. His own glory will eventually cause his downfall.
A lot of the Ford crew turn up here. With Wayne and Fonda we've got Ward Bond, Pedro Armendariz, Anna Lee, Dick Foran, Guy Kibbee, Grant Withers, Mae Craig, Jack Pennick, Hank Worden and John Agar. Shirley Temple gives the best adult performance of her career while Victor McLaglen is superb as the tough yet comical Sergeant Mulcahy (he's not Quincannon yet). George O' Brien plays perhaps the second most fascinating character in the film: Captain Collingwood. A disgraced officer but a valiant and real soldier. Collingwood is the forgotten man at the film's ending Thursday and Captain York will be remembered, not him. His tribute is that his memory lives on as long as the regiment lives. Therefore he cannot die but will live on with it.
This brings me to the films ending. Wayne is not covering up for Fonda he is continuing in a tradition. If it makes future recruits better soldiers believing Thursday was a great man let the public believe he was a great man who did great things.The army is more important than the lunacy of one man.
on 8 January 2014
A thoroughly enjoyable film in the usual humorous manner of John Ford leading up to a serious finale. The film quality is sadly a little less than ideal but it is quite watchable and the eye soon adjusts. It is over 65 years old and the DVD has not been restored - there is a Blu-ray out now which, although a US import, apparently is multi-region. Set in the glorious Monument Valley, the cast is first class; John Wayne and Henry Fonda shine as you would expect, as do Victor McLaglen and Ward Bond. It is also a delight to see Shirley Temple in an adult role. Apaches are shown in a sympathetic light, although in reality they were badly treated by the US government and frequently reacted accordingly. Recommended.
on 9 June 2014
I knew this exciting Western from the cinems of oldand was gratified to see that the small screen DVD version lost nothing in the reproduction. Amazon have never let me down wiuth their excellent service.
on 3 October 2014
This is a better film than I had expected. I must have seen it in the past but I didn't recollect any of it. However, considering it was an old film (1948) the quality and photographic range on the DVD I viewed was very good.
This DVD was from the set of 'Greatest Westerns'.
on 14 September 2012
Very disappointed. This was very little improvement on the original DVD. Still showing in 4:3 format with some crackling in sound production. Not in the same league as 'The Searchers' Blu-ray quality!
on 5 June 2012
A true John Ford classic. Some films are classed classic due to their age and people involved: this film actually deserves the monicker.
I won't dwell on the film as its the Blu ray I'm reviewing here!
First the transfer:
The transfer is excellent, rich blacks and monument valley looks stunning in widescreen: the best the film has ever looked. A worthy updated on the DVD which was pretty washed out.
Nothing to write home about but it's clear and not full of hiss.
A great documentary on John Ford and filming in Monument Valley which includes Fort Apache.
We could always do with more extras and behind the scenes but, all in all, as good a Blu ray release of a true classic as you could wish for.