The first film of John Ford's "cavalry trilogy," Fort Apache (1948) pits an arrogant Henry Fonda against an Indian-savvy John Wayne in a myth-making confrontation with Apache leader Cochise. A key antecedent to Ford's later The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Fort Apache deflates mythic lore about the cavalry's triumph over the West's "savages" while revealing how and why such myths were created. Fonda's Custer-esque Col. Thursday is highly disciplined yet fatally racist and self-aggrandizing, while Wayne's Capt. York is an experienced Westerner who sees the wisdom in making peace with Cochise. Still, when Thursday ignores his advice and makes a troop-annihilating charge against the Apaches, York maintains the fiction that Thursday was a valiant leader. Devoting substantial screen time to community dances, domestic details, and a romantic subplot involving Thursday's daughter, Ford celebrates the "civilization" that the cavalry defends even if the fort itself is not an ideal operation; Wayne's final speech attests to the need to support the honorable tradition of that defense. Hardly politically correct, despite sympathetic acknowledgement of the Apaches' plight, Fort Apache still offers Ford's striking black and white Monument Valley vistas and assured performances from Ford stalwarts Wayne and Fonda.
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The first of John Ford's "Cavalry Trilogy," Fort Apache stars John Wayne as captain Kirby York and Henry Fonda as Custer clone Lt. Col. Owen Thursday. Resentful of his loss in rank and transfer to the West after serving gallantly in the Civil War, the vainglorious Thursday insists upon imposing rigid authority on rough-and-tumble Fort Apache. He is particularly anxious to do battle with the local Indians, despite York's admonitions that the trouble around the fort is being fomented not by the so-called savages but by corrupt white Indian agents. Thursday nonetheless ends up in a climactic set-to with Indian chief Cochise. He and his men are needlessly slaughtered, but the Eastern press builds "Thursday's Charge" into an incident of conspicuous valor--and York, ever loyal to the cavalry, is not about to tell the whole truth. The bare bones of Fort Apache's plotline are fleshed out with several subplots, including the romance between Thursday's daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple) and Lt. Mickey O'Rourke (John Agar), the son of Fort Apache veteran Sgt. Michael O'Rourke (Ward Bond). There's also plenty of time for the expected drunken-brawl humor of Victor McLaglen. Not in the least politically correct, Fort Apache is a classic of its kind, and together with Rio Grande (1950) the best of the John Ford/John Wayne Cavalry films.
All Movie Guide - Lucia Bozzola
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