Broken Arrow – 1950 – English
Film directed in 1950 by Delmer Daves, and starring James Stewart, Jeff Chandler, Debra Paget, Will Geer, Jay Silverheels, Arthur Hunnicutt, Basil Ruysdael, Joyce Mackenzie, Chris Willow Bird, Argentina Brunetti…
Synopsis: By 1870, there has been 10 years of cruel war between settlers and Cochise’s Apaches. Ex-soldier Tom Jeffords saves the life of an Apache boy and starts to wonder if Indians are human, after all; soon, he determines to use this chance to make himself an ambassador. Against all odds, his solitary mission into Cochise’s stronghold opens a dialogue. Opportunely, the president sends General Howard with orders to conclude peace. But even with Jeffords’s luck, the deep grievance and hatred on both sides make tragic failure all too likely.
Review: James Stewart plays Tom Jeffords, an ex-army soldier, scout, and now someone who is panning for gold in Apache country. He comes across a wounded Apache child and heals him, but he doesn’t leave Apache country before he comes upon a war party. When they learn he isn’t somebody who takes Apache scalps and that he helped one of their own, they let him go but warn him not to return. This teaches him that the Apache can play fair. He decides to learn their ways and language from an Apache in town, and sets out on the dangerous mission to meet Cochise, leader of the Apaches, and to try to slowly build peace between the Apache and the Americans, who are trying to settle Arizona after the Civil War – that is if he survives his first encounter with an Apache scouting party, who just might kill him for the sake of the Apache and Americans being at war.
I don’t know how accurate this film is historically, but there is some fine acting, action, suspense, and even a touching Anglo-Apache romance. Although the idea of Jeff Chandler as Cochise, who usually played beefcake roles over at Universal, seemed somewhat laughable to me at first, his performance rings true. So true, in fact, there was a kind of sequel where Chandler again played Cochise and Jay Silverheels again played Geronimo.
Maybe this film had Jeffords as a kind of “loyal American loner” to speak to issues larger than just that of the history of which this film deals. As a loner Jeffords could see the problem more objectively than somebody with a large extended family and network of friends that could influence him against the reasoning of his own mind. With the Cold War in full swing and the civil rights era just beginning in America at the time it was made, maybe this film was trying to speak for the equality of all people and against the mentality of the mob. I think that’s why so many Westerns were made in the 50’s and 60’s. There was the interesting story on the surface, but there was also the dealing with tricky social issues just under that surface that society wasn’t quite ready to face in a direct manner yet.