Henry Fonda is the strict new commander of a frontier fort (Henry Fonda) who soon clashes with his more experienced second in command (John Wayne), jepordising the fragile peace with the native americans.
John Ford's brilliant, heart warming ode to the U.S Cavalry is a delightful movie, full of richly drawn characters, authentic detailing and beautiful photography. The story is a little like a microcosm of the entire U.S Cavalry experience as the West was tamed in the C19th and so ranges from the twee romance of frontier life to the cruelty, greed and hardships of military life. The Apaches are dealt with sympathetically whilst it is the punctilious Colonel Owen Thursday, brilliantly portrayed with complexity by Henry Fonda, who is seen to be the bombastic, inexperienced fool who ultimately brings destruction on his regiment. The cast are simply wonderful; John Wayne has a restrained role as an experienced officer, forced to follow the foolish orders of his ignorant colonel. Others include the excellent Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen, George O'Brien, Pedro Amendirez and many other of Ford's favourites who would work with him and Wayne for many more films to come. Shirley Temple and John Agar offer a romantic interlude. The movie is supported by an excellent soundtrack and a selection of classic military songs and drill tunes; especially memorable is the dance at Non-Comissioned officers ball which finds a distinctly uncomfortable Colonel Thursday obliged to lead the dance with Sargeant Major O'Rourke's wife. A tremendous piece of film making and a true classic.
John Ford's Fort Apache is a wonderfully rich and complex character study masquerading as a Western adventure, in which Ford examines the taming of the American West and the ways in which history whitewash the past and tell stories wholly unconnected to historical truth. The film's central conflict centers on the differences between Henry Fonda as the egotistical fort commander who just wants to advance his own career, and John Wayne as his heroic and intelligent second-in-command, who is more concerned for the fate of the Apache Indians they're supposed to be fighting. Fonda is essentially a General Custer type of figure, a gloryhound with little understanding of Indian culture, and consequently little respect for it, while Wayne's complex view of the Indians makes him a much better strategic fighter, while also increasing his respect for their way of life and right to coexist. This conflict is largely dramatized through a series of vignettes from the daily life of Fort Apache, which Ford presents with genuine affection and a strict attention to details. Even the smallest characters get their moment to shine, while the mundane details of running the fort, officer dances, training new recruits, and even interior decoration, are caught by Ford's roving eye. The result is a portrait of the American frontier spirit that's sympathetic and complex, even as it acknowledges the darker subtext of violence and native suppression that runs underneath this bright exterior like a river of blood.
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Colonel Thursday (Henry Fonda) is bitter at having been sent to battle 'digger' Indians, and his textbook methods of warfare appear barbaric and suicidal to his men. Captain York (John Wayne), an officer experienced in Apache warfare, tries to advise Thursday, but his best efforts are in vain. This was the first film in director-producer John Ford's cavalry trilogy, followed by 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' (1949) and 'Rio Grande' (1950).