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In John Ford's sombre exploration mythologising of American heroes, he slowly reveals the character of Owen Thursday, who sees his new posting to the desolate Fort Apache as a chance to claim the military honour which he believes is rightfully his. Arrogant, obsessed with military form and ultimately self-destructive, Thursday attempts to destroy the Apache chief Cochise after luring him across the border from Mexico, against the advice of his subordinates. Written by
Bernard Keane <BKeane2@email.dot.gov.au>
An entertaining western with plenty of value in the characters, writing and commentary
Owen Thursday is hardly impressed when his new command is the desolate Fort Apache, but resolves to make the best of it. When a group of Indians strike out from the local reserve led by warrior Cochise, Thursday sees the challenge as being key in winning back the military honour he feels has been denied him to date. However Captain York persuades him to allow York to go into Mexico to talk peace and convincing him to return to the US to broker a resolution but will Thursday's obsession with honour and glory cause a bloodier ending? Interweaving this central plot with romantic and comic subplots makes a standard western into a much better one, even if it sometimes causes it to feel a bit slow. The story concerns an outlying post and the first half of the film lays down the characters, their relationships and who they are in ways that are interesting and produces a mix of funny moments and rather slower dramatic moments all of them work as well as one another and it enriches the final section of the film. It is in this final third of the film where the action starts and it is rather dramatic and exciting; it also brings out a lot more of the subtext about the arrogant leadership of Thursday, based on the character traits that we have already had developed in him in regards his men and his daughter. It is made to look easy but the script does it well and even finishes with Ford's oft-touched assertion that the legend was often printed in favour of the less impressive truth although it still has a salute to the serving men.
The cast are all pretty strong, although naturally the script favours the men, although having said that Temple is quite good if you can get past her "precious princess" performance. Fonda has the main role and manages to make his character convincing and arrogant at the same time we never hate him so much as just see his failings. Wayne has a straighter role to play and he is as good as ever with it, although it is hardly the most challenging character I've seen him play. Agar is a bit stilted and unsure of himself unsurprisingly his chemistry is good with Temple (they were married at the time) but it is the other parts where he appears overshadowed by the stronger male actors. Support is roundly good, particularly in the comic roles as filled by Bond, McLagen and some of the other NCO's. Direction is good, although I felt that the landscapes were "there" rather than being integrated into the fabric of the film.
Overall this is a worthy film. Perhaps not the best of the ford films but still an intelligent film that delivers the goods just like a standard western would, while also having good writing in the characters and subtexts. The cast are mainly good and the whole film feels professional and entertaining.
9 of 12 people found this review helpful.
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