Director: John Ford
Writer: Frank S. Nugent
Cinematographer: Archie Stout
by Jon Cvack
The last film in Ford’s 'Cavalry Trilogy', Fort Apache is another home run. Unlike She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or Rio Grande where John Wayne plays the alpha male head honcho he has devolved beneath Henry Fonda’s dominating performance as Lt. Col. Owen Thursday, the insufferable and priggish unit commander. Trained at West Point and heavy on theory, Fonda takes back control of the fort which he believes has fallen into decadence. Of course, his daughter, Miss Philadelphia Thursday (Shirley Temple; I didn’t realize this was her until writing this) has taken up romantically with one of the captains who Fonda believes is far inferior to what she deserves. It also provides a creepy reminder that military folk were attracted to and often became quickly involved with underage girls (I believe the daughter was 15 in the film).
The Natives eventually start their attack during routine scout missions. In an effort to vanquish them from their lands, Fonda rushes into battle. His Hubris pales against the Native’s strategy and the man eventually falls. I loved this ending, mostly because I imagine the studios had to have pressured Ford for something lighter. How could they have the film’s top military commander rush into battle, and fall because of his ignorance and obstinance against those who warn him otherwise?
Either way, like both its trilogy partners, the battles are breathtaking, shot in the Monument Valley, Utah which provided some of the most beautiful on site locations in all of cinematic history. Added bonus is that Ford demanded for his crew and cast to sleep in similar quarters as those characters in the film would have a century before. The floor was dirt, the beds were uncomfortable. He believe it would push the film into the level of authenticity that the story demanded. Mission accomplished. A great, breathtaking film. The type that makes you say, ‘They sure don’t make them like that anymore.’
BELOW: Great video essay from the New York Times
Thoughts on films, old and new
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