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Major Howell Brady and two non-coms are assigned to go to Indian territory and recruit peaceful Seminoles relocated from Florida to aid the army in fighting the larger, rampaging Kiowa tribe. Brady promises them better land than the subsistence reservation they have been assigned to. Maygro, their chief, although initially reluctant, finally agrees for the good of his people. However, Brady's superior, Col. Jackson Meade, is hostile to the idea and distrusts having Indians as allies. Beautiful widow Elaine Corwin, proves a pleasant distraction for Brady although her husband, a unrepentant Confederate whose body was never found, may still be alive and leading the savage Kiowas against the hated Yankees. Written by
Stereotypical (white) Natives, but Chandler, O'Hara and Ball make it worthwhile
The setting of 1953's "War Arrow" is Fort Clark in West Texas near Brackettville during the Indian Wars of the late 19th century. Major Brady (Jeff Chandler) arrives from D.C. to utilize a small band of transplanted Seminoles to aid the US Army against the marauding Kiowas. Brady conflicts with the Colonel of the fort (John McIntire) and romances a redheaded widow (Maureen O'Hara) while a Seminole woman takes interest in him (Suzan Ball).
Chandler was 33 during filming and is great as the masculine protagonist with Hollywood looks, but his greying hair makes him look at least a decade older. Sadly, he'd be dead in less than ten years due to a botched surgery. McIntire as the by-the-book and jealous CO is odious, but maybe redeemable.
The women, O'Hara and Ball, are another highlight. Maureen was 32 during filming and looked great, but she's one of those women who became more exquisite as she got older (to a point, that is). In the early 60s she was one of the most beautiful women to walk the face of the planet. In "War Arrow" she hadn't reached her voluptuous peak yet and she was hardly a good actress at the time, but it is interesting to see her when she was younger. Just as beautiful and perhaps even more so was the rising brunette Suzan Ball. She was only 18 during filming and is just stunning as the Seminole Avis. Sadly, she would pass away a mere two years after "War Arrow" was released due to cancer.
Another positive for me is the Agoura, CA, locations, which surprisingly are a decent stand-in for West Texas. In any event, the film has a great Western "look."
Unfortunately, the film loses points due to using white actors in the main Native roles, like Dennis Weaver as the Seminole brave who loves Avis and Henry Brandon as Avis' father, Maygro, not to mention Ball as Avis. But this is forgivable since this was the standard practice of the time and there were no Native actors available. Less forgivable is the stereotypical portrayal of the Indians (the haltingly way they speak English, dancing around the fire and the music), but actually it's not as bad as you would think.
The biggest negative is the old-style of filmmaking of Westerns at the time. This is clearly a Hollywoodized portrayal of the Old West that could never be mistaken for reality. Yet there are a number of Westerns that broke out of the these limitations of the era, like 1950's excellent "The Sundowners" (not to be confused with the 1960 film of the same name) and 1956's "The Last Wagon," both of which rank with my favorite Westerns of all time. I point this out to show that some Westerns rose to the top in the 1930s thru 1950s, but "War Arrow" wasn't one of them. Still, it's certainly worth catching for the positives noted above. For me, it's like going back in time and it's enjoyable for this alone.
The film runs 78 minutes.
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