June 25th, 2014: Fort Apache (1948)

Cast and Crew:  Merian C. Cooper (Producer); Shirley Temple, Pedro Armendariz, Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen, Dick Foran, Guy Kibbee, Anna Lee, Hank Worden, John Agar

What It’s About:  Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) takes command of Fort Apache and begins an ill-advised campaign against Cochise (Miguel Inclan), ignoring the advice and consul of Capt.  Kirby York (John Wayne) who knows the men, terrain, and the prospective enemy.

Why Watch it Today?: The battle of Little Big Horn occurred today in 1876.  Director John Ford and screenwriter Frank S. Nugent, working from James Warner Bellah’s short story Massacre, created a film that takes on the then current myth of the heroic Custer, using Fonda’s stand-in Thursday to criticize the “hero” for failing to listen to his subordinates and sacrificing his men in a foolish pursuit of glory.  There are also signs of Ford’s shifting views, with Wayne’s York coming out against mistreatment of Cochise’s people at the hands of a shifty government appointed agent who is, in theory, there for their benefit.  Fort Apache is the first and best of Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy”, a series of films connected less by recurring characters and more by theme, era and location.

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