This is Help! We are Surrounded week. Fort Apache is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: Fort Apache (1948) – Not rated.
“This classic Western from legendary director John Ford explores the darker side of the Old West. When arrogant Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) takes command of Fort Apache, he is determined to make a name for himself. Against the advice of seasoned soldier Capt. Kirby York (John Wayne), Thursday wages war against Apache chief Cochise and his tribe — and the Fort Apache troops must follow the misguided command of their glory-seeking leader.”
“I suggest the Apache has deteriorated since then, judging by a few of the specimens I have seen on my way out here.” – “Well, if you saw them, sir, they were not Apaches.”
It is very clear that John Ford patterned this movie after the story of General Custer. Thankfully Ford does his best not to whitewash our expansion. The Indian Bureau are painted (rightfully) as the villains although we only have one representative, Silas Meacham.
Henry Fonda plays Lt. Col. Thursday, our Custer substitute. He does a wonderful job of portraying an officer trying to do his duty while wrestling with unbridled ambition, being a father and an ignorance of frontier knowledge.
This is a John Wayne film but not a John Wayne film if you catch my drift. He is a star in this film as opposed to being THE star. In fact he is practically a fixture or perhaps a backdrop until nearly the end of the film. It almost seems as if he wandered in from another movie.
While Ford and Shirley Temple reputedly did not get on at all, Temple adds some levity as well as a romantic interest. She does quite well in one of her few adult film roles. She retired from movies the year after this was released. Her part, that of the daughter of the commander became a stereotype and is essentially the same as the role of daughter of the Governor in swashbuckler movies.
This is the feature film debut of John Agar (Lt. O Rourke) who would go on to star in a bunch more westerns, many with John Wayne (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Undefeated, Chisum, Big Jake). He also became a very popular genre star (Tarantula, Attack of the Puppet People, The Brain from Planet Arous, Revenge of the Creature). At the time of filming Fort Apache, he was married to co-star Shirley Temple though they did divorce shortly after.
Ford regulars Ward Bond (Wagon Train), Victor McLaglen (Gunga Din), and Pedro Armendariz (From Russia with Love) all put in their usual amusing supporting performances.
The cinematography is absolutely wonderful. Cinematographer Archie Stout used a special infrared black and white film to film in Monument Valley. This really enhances the gorgeous rock formations and cacti out there.
While I appreciate that Fort Apache is practically an epic, being over two hours in length back in 1948, this film could have used some serious editing. There is essentially no peril until almost the halfway point. Way too much time is spent showing how much fun life on the frontier was.
I highly recommend this classic western. Being 1948, the battles are bloodless and the brutality of life on the frontier and of the Apache conflict are not present but while the U.S. Cavalry as a whole is the hero here, this movie is very honest for its time. Monument Valley is of course a fabulous location for a western and it shows.
Fort Apache is presented in high definition for those of you with the bandwidth. It is of course an old black & white western but the HD makes it quite vivid.
People Watch: Veteran character actor Ben Johnson was a stuntman on this picture.