The next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film for my screening of The Searchers is another Ford/Wayne classic, Fort Apache.
A sprawling western, the film not only boasts the talents of John Wayne, but those of Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple and Pedro Armendariz (who I always enjoyed n From Russia With Love) as well. Wayne is Captain York, a man of honour, and a veteran soldier, serving at Fort Apache. He quickly comes up against his new CO, the arrogant, and glory-seeking Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Fonda), who is accompanied by his daughter, Philadelphia (Temple).
We learn fairly quickly that Thursday has no respect for his post (though he loves the service). He feels he has been shuffled off to a waste of a post, and wants nothing to do with the Native Americans in the area. He is obsessed with military protocol, and his own actions may lead to his destruction, as he goes against the local chief, Cochise (Miguel Inclan), despite being advised not to.
Fonda looks great in the role, noble of visage but there is a simmering arrogant anger underneath, which threatens to bubble over at any moment.
Temple’s Philadelphia falls for a young lieutenant, Michael O’Rourke (John Agar) and it makes for a bit of a lighter tone, weaving around the seriousness of not only the daily life of the fort, but the actions and behaviour of her father, and the ongoing narrative.
Wayne is at ease in this film, settling into the role of hero rather nicely. He’s fun and playful with his men, and Philadelphia, but knows his job, and his role in the fort, even as he grates against Thursday.
As the filming locations wander around gorgeous Monument Valley, we get a look life in the fort as we spend time with the fort’s inhabitants. There is also the development of the relationship between Phil and O’Rourke.
Thursday uses York’s own honour against him sending him to meet with the local chief, and lead him, unsuspectingly into a trap. York is furious at how he is used, but also tows the company line by following orders.
As the climax of the film approaches, Thursday pursues his own goals, all while behaving like a proper officer and gentleman, but without thought of the world and people around him. His focus on his own goals, without negotiation or compromise may lead he and his entire company of men to destruction.
I quite enjoyed this one more than Stagecoach, and Fonda was fantastic in this one. I like how he played his role, and I like how Wayne played opposite of him. This was a solid film, and a fantastic Western. And would you believe I had never seen it before?