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Although the story is entertaining and the performances of James Stewart,
Jeff Chandler and Debra Paget outstanding, what makes Broken Arrow a
landmark film is its portrayal of the Apache Indians as something more
savage killers. Indians in the movies were always seen as brutal and
inhuman. Here they are seen as people who want what the "white men"
to live in freedom with their families on their own land and to live their
lives in their own way.
Jeff Chandler is terrific as Apache leader Cochise, who he would play twice more in other films. There is a moving scene when they return from battle and he recites the names of those killed with a pained look in his eyes. Cochise and Stewart's character have a relationship which grows from mutual respect to a true friendship as they try to work out peace between the whites and indians. Stewart is looked on as a traitor by his friends and things are complicated further by his relationship with the young Apache girl played by Debra Paget.
I cannot think of another western in which indians have been portrayed as real people with emotions who hurt, who love. When this film was released 50 years ago, blacks, asians and American Indians were still being portrayed using the worst kinds of racial stereotypes.
Broken Arrow was actually the start of James Stewart's return to the
western genre. His first western was Destry Rides Again in 1939 and he
waited for over 10 years to do another. After that he did them quite
Broken Arrow was made first, but held up over a year before release so Winchester 73 was actually Stewart's official return to the west. But both films had a lasting impact on his career.
This is the story of Army Captain Tom Jeffords who with a simple act of kindness started a peace process with the Apaches led by their charismatic leader Cochise. Jeffords, a veteran of the Union Army and the frontier wars is heartily sick of the slaughter he's witnessed and participated in. He finds an Indian boy who's been wounded by whites and he tends to them and heals him.
One thing leads to another and pretty soon Jeffords finds himself in the camp of Cochise with whom he strikes up a friendship. He also woos and wins an Apache maid named Sonseehray. Jeffords and Cochise with General Oliver O. Howard make a treaty with the Apache, at least most of them.
Broken Arrow did a lot for James Stewart, but even more for Jeff Chandler who plays Cochise. Cochise was a man in his late 60s when this was really taking place, but Chandler in his prematurely gray hair, portrays him well. Chandler got an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Cochise.
Jeffords and Cochise are men of good will and decency who see an honest peace as the only answer. Of course both have to contend with people who won't or can't accept peace with the other race. It's those people and what they do break the peace that is the rest of Broken Arrow's story.
Delmar Daves is a good director of western films and in fact did another film about the U.S. government trying to make peace with another Indian tribe, the Modocs in Oregon, in the film Drumbeat. He gets good results out of the rest of the cast. Note the performances of Will Geer as an Indian hating rancher, Debra Paget as Sonseehray, and Basil Ruysdael as General Howard.
The screenplay was done by Albert Maltz of the Hollywood Ten. How ironic that Maltz was blacklisted after this film. I suppose a film about peace between the races and good will towards one's fellow men was highly subversive.
Broken Arrow was given much acclaim for being the first film to express the view that Indians were something more than bloodthirsty savages. That's not exactly true, other films around that time started saying the same thing. Nevertheless Broken Arrow's message is an eternal one.
Says so in the Scriptures if I'm not mistaken.
Delmer Daves offers an important major role to an Indian character,
treating him with quality and esteem as human being...
Stewart plays a scout who seeks to heal the divisions between the Apaches and white men But while "Broken Arrow" is a perfectly acceptable depiction of frontier struggles, it does not display Stewart to the best advantages Delmer Daves was competent enough, but he lacked the ultimate virility and intensity of Anthony Mann
"Broken Arrow" examines, rather intensely and directly, the mistreatment and flagrant exploitation of the Indians by whites in the early West
The strength of this often lyrically photographed picture which will a1ways have an honorable place among Westerns lies particularly in the touching dignity of Stewart's love and marriage to an Indian girl (Debra Paget). Indian haters, of course, stir up the usual sort of trouble and Stewart's bride becomes a victim with all the consequent poignancy for which the film is best remembered
The over-wise Chandler counsels him that he must learn to live with his whiteness just as his new friends must contend with their own place in the cosmic scheme of things Cochise has words of stark consolation for Stewart: "As I bear the murder of my people, so you will bear the murder of your wife."
The most interesting aspect of " Broken Arrow" is not the interracial romance between Stewart and Paget, but Stewart's relationship with Chandler's Cochise There is intra-character complexity here, as Chandler struggles to overcome his disturb of all whites, and Stewart attempts to comprehend the different philosophy and cultural of the Indians
Jeff Chandler was quite apt and professional He was so believable in the role of the Apache chief Cochise that he was to essay it again in George Sherman's "The Battle at Apache Pass" in 1952 Chandler's facial bone structure lent itself to noble, incisive Indian profiles, and unlike other Caucasian actors he did not look out of place He was even nominated for Best Supporting Actor at that year's Oscars
Tagline: Of this motion picture the screen can be proud... Today...
Tomorrow... A generation from now...
Worth repeating this tagline, because after seeing the film again for the first time in 42 years, it's right on. 50s westerns almost universally depicted Indians as pigeon-English speaking savages... or tried to talk Indian that translated to pigeon-Indian.
While the leading cast is all-Anglo, the perspective is that both sides in the Wild West were had more than a few intelligent, caring individuals among them. A willingness to sacrifice much (including renegades) to achieve a lasting peace is the message.
Jimmy Stewart had something to lose by doing a picture like this, but the acting here stands with any in his career. The portrayal of Cochise by Jeff Chandler is powerful, although unquestionably a little bit too noble-savagish.
"Let's mosey on over there" is a line spoken by Stewart toward the end of the film. Takes you back to a time when people took time to mosey.
A good-hearted picture by a little-known director standing up against the prevailing stereotypes. Wouldn't be surprised if Costner watched it more than once before making "Dances with Wolves".
In this underrated Western, Stewart is an ex-scout who tries to make peace between the Apaches and the white settlers in 1870s Arizona. For some reason this film's reputation has taken a hit over the years, but it is quite enjoyable. Stewart made several Westerns in the 1950s, starting with this and "Winchester 73" in 1950. Although the latter film is more highly regarded today, this film is actually better crafted, boasting fine cinematography and score. Chandler gives perhaps the best performance of his career as the noble Apache chief who is willing to make peace. Paget (looking like Britney Spears!) plays Stewart's love interest.
When I was a young boy I saw this picture. It was the first western in which the Indians were not uncivilised barbarians, but normal people, with their own standards. It was a revelation! At last one director had the courage to show this to us. So thank you, Delmer Daves! The performances of Jeff Chandler and James Steward were touching and also Debra Paget was fantastic. I do hope to see this film again someday on DVD. Hans Dullaart Delft Netherlands.
The movie is in the past conditional,because we know the real end of
the story and Delmer Daves who had been studying the Indians ways for a
long time did not try to fool the audience:"broken arrow" is not a nice
"peace and love" movie:there are plenty of death,violence and hatred
here ,more than in the average western.As Cochise says,living in peace
is more difficult than waging war.But Jeffords and him become legendary
figures whom we can still meet today everywhere in the world,peace on
earth and good will to men .Thus his story becomes universal.
There's a wistful,not to say very sad side:Delmer Daves is like John Lennon singing "imagine" or Neil Young singing "Pocahontas" (I wish I was a trapper/I would give a thousand pelts/To sleep with Pocahontas/And find out how she felt/In the morning in the fields of green/in the home land we've never seen):he does know that all these promises are illusive ,the two protagonists trust each other,but who else can they trust?The dice are loaded from the start.
That's why the love scenes are so important and among the most visually astounding we can see in a western.Thanks partly to Debra Paget's breathtaking beauty,the scenes between Jeffords and Sonseearhay climax the movie.They give the audience a taste of a lost paradise "the homeland we've never seen":Jefford's dream only really comes true in these sequences where the lovers are under the "big sky" in communion with nature.
Some will complain because everybody speaks English,but Tom's voice-over warns us from the very start.Kevin Costner,who makes his Oscar-winning "dance with wolves" in the early nineties ,owes a good deal to Delmer Daves.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
BROKEN ARROW 1950
It is the early 1870's in the Arizona Territory, there has been a bloody and vicious war going on for a number of years. The settlers and the Apache tribe under the command of Cochise, have being having a no holds barred fight with various atrocities being traded back and forth.
Former soldier and Army scout, Tom Jeffords (Jimmy Stewart) is out riding the hills doing a little gold prospecting. He comes across a young Apache lad suffering from a shotgun wound. He tends to the boy's wounds and helps him heal up. Several days later, a party of Apache show up. It is all the lad can do to stop them from doing in Stewart. The lad tells the leader, Jay Silverheels, that Stewart had saved his life.
Silverheels lets Stewart go with a warning to never return. Stewart then witnesses the same group, ambush, and nearly wipe out a small group of prospectors. Stewart returns to town with this tale. Stewart decides that this war needs to end. He has a "tame" Apache teach him how to speak Apache along with their customs etc.
A month later he rides off into the mountains, where Cochise, (Jeff Chandler) has his stronghold. The two meet and talk out a minor deal to let Pony Express riders through Cochise's territory. It is the first move towards peace. This effort is not met with joy from everyone. Some of the townsfolk think the only good Indian is a dead Indian. Cochise also has a few malcontents who only want war.
When a group of Army troops gets a rather sound beating for trespassing on Apache land, it looks like full-fledged war is going to start up again. However, the U.S. government has sent out General Howard to make a treaty. Howard (Basil Ruysdael) is known as a straight shooter who keeps his word.
Ruysdeal convinces Stewart to take him to see Chandler to begin talks for peace. Stewart arranges the meeting. Chandler is not all that inclined to believe a Blue Coat. Stewart tells Chandler that "he" trusts the General. Rules and terms are pounded out and it looks like it will work. Needless to say a group of Apache led by Geronimo (Jay Silverheels) decide to continue the fight.
While all this has been going on, Stewart has fallen for Apache maiden, Debra Paget. Stewart wants to marry the girl, who feels likewise towards Stewart. Chandler points out all problems that might arise from such a joining, but Stewart is determined to close the deal.
The treaty is a success with the odd hic-up caused by the Apache renegades and some settlers out looking for gold on Apache land. The wedding between Paget and Stewart goes off and the two seem very happy.
Several weeks later a lad from town is brought into the Apache camp. He was found on Apache land. The boy, Mickey Kuhn, is the son of the leader, Will Geer, of the Indian haters in town. Kuhn says that two of his young ponies had been stolen and he tracked them to Apache land. Chandler says that if this is true, he will see they are returned.
Chandler, Stewart, Paget and Kuhn head up the trail to where the pony tracks lead into Apache land. It turns out the whole thing is a plot to lure Chandler out of camp. 7-8 men led by Geer are waiting to ambush Chandler. Stewart spots the play and tells Chandler to beat it. This he does, but not before dispatching a few of the gunmen. Stewart stands his ground and likewise accounts for several before going down in a hail of lead.
Chandler returns with some braves who set off after the remaining ambushers. He finds the wounded Stewart crying over the body of Paget. She had caught a few bullets during the battle and was killed. The death of Paget deepens the bonds of friendship between Chandler and Stewart. Stewart now rides off into the sunset.
This film was one of the first to treat the North American Native as something other than brutal savages. It tries to play fair and equal when showing the mistakes and hatred that came from both sides in the conflict.
Also in the cast is, Arthur Hunnicutt, John Doucette and Iron Eyes Cody. Iron Eyes Cody was from Louisiana and of Italian decent. He moved to Hollywood, changed his name and pretended to be Native Indian. He appeared in several hundred films and TV shows playing a Native. It was not till the 1990's that it was discovered who he really was.
This very fine western was the first of a series of westerns made by director, Delmer Daves. Daves was a writer, producer and director. He started out with war films, DESTINATION TOKYO, PRIDE OF THE MARINES, switched to film noir, TO THE VICTOR, THE RED HOUSE, DARK PASSAGE, before finding himself a home with westerns. His westerns include, BROKEN ARROW, DRUM BEAT, JUBAL, THE BADLANDERS, THE LAST WAGON, COWBOY, THE HANGING TREE and 3: 10 TO YUMA.
The film features some excellent camera-work from, 3 time nominated and one time Oscar winning cinematographer, Ernest Planer.
The top flight score was from 8 time nominated, and 1 time Oscar winner. Hugo Friedhofer.
The film itself was nominated for 3 Oscars with nods for, Best Writing, Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor, Jeff Chandler. This one is well worth a watch. (Color)
While I have seen better westerns, I was really impressed with Broken Arrow. Not just because it is a very good film, but it is also different. While a lot of westerns deal with themes(some complex, some not so much)such as revenge and betrayal, Broken Arrow is a very poetic and elegiac film that you can see perfectly in how the story is constructed. Also the Indians here are portrayed as those in want of freedom with their families, which I found refreshing, seeing as I have seen them portrayed as quite brutal. Broken Arrow is a beautifully photographed film, the script flows nicely and is thought-provoking and the score is very stirring. The acting is fine, Debra Paget, breathtakingly-beautiful she is, and her scenes with Stewart are touching, is good but I couldn't help thinking they could have cast someone older. James Stewart is very believable in one of his better western performances, while Jeff Chandler gives the best performance of his career here and also the best performance of the movie too. All in all, excellent and very moving film. 8/10 Bethany Cox
A really fine movie with a different perspective and characters who
don't spout the usual clichés. Stewart gives a classic performance, one
that Wayne never could have- pacifist. The courtship of Stewart's
Indian maiden is totally believable despite their differences. Jeff
Chandler turns in a nice performance as Cochise. The rest of the Indian
chorus includes I believe ,Jay Silverheels- pre Tonto as Geronimo and
the Italian actor who later played the crying Indian in the pro
environment/anti pollution ads. Arthur Hunnicut - sans beard and pre-
El Dorado still sounds something like Levon Helm. Will Geer looks like
Strother Martin's ("failure to communicate") brother. I just wish
Stewart had been able to get a few more licks in.
I really liked the picture although I couldn't convince my wife to watch with me. Maybe I should take a trip to Arizona. :-)
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