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Fort Apache (1948)
Fort Apache is a 1948 Western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda. The film was the first of the director's "cavalry trilogy" and was followed by She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), both also starring Wayne. The story, which screenwriter James Warner Bellah based loosely on George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn, as well as the Fetterman Massacre of 1866, was one of the first to present an authentic and sympathetic view of the Native Americans involved in the battle (Apache in the film, Sioux in the real battles). The film was awarded the Best Director and Best Cinematography awards by the Locarno International Film Festival of Locarno, Switzerland. After the American Civil War, highly-respected veteran Captain Kirby York (John Wayne) is expected to replace the outgoing commander at Fort Apache, an isolated U.S. cavalry post. York had commanded his own regiment during the Civil War and was well-qualified to assume permanent command. To the surprise and disappointment of the company, command of the regiment was given to Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda).
In this one, the Duke is a cavalry officer stationed in Apache territory who is sympathetic to the Indians' plight. He is forced to choose between challenging the Apaches and disobeying his commanding officer, a hapless Northeasterner (Henry Fonda). The straight-arrow role arguably fits Wayne better than the conflicted heroes and bad guys he played in The Searchers, Red River, and other films.
Wayne also has good material to work with. The screenplay includes plenty of corn and stock characters but also thoughtful speeches, with echoes of post-Civil War tensions as well as the shameful, inevitable Indian conflicts. The Indian antagonists are presented respectfully (especially for Hollywood in the 1940s). The conclusion -- in which the Apaches hand the Americans their butts and Fonda's mistakes are covered up by the military and the press, like Custer at Little Bighorn -- demonstrates that westerns weren't always one-sided and jingoistic.
Needless to say, the West of John Ford movies is more a state of mind than historical reality, but it's still not a bad place to kill a couple of hours. If you feel like renting a good oldie, this is one of em. The western genre entertained Americans for decades, and like the other greatest westerns, Fort Apache shows why.
The DVD includes a documentary about Monument Valley.