The US Army is under pressure from the desperate relatives of white prisoners of the Comanches to secure their rescue. A cynical and corrupt marshal, Guthrie McCabe, is persuaded by an army... See full summary »
Legendary director John Ford's final film involving seven dedicated missionary women in China circa 1935 trying to protect themselves from the advances of a Mongolian barbaric warlord and his cut-throat gang of warriors.
A Union Cavalry outfit is sent behind Confederate lines in strength to destroy a rail/supply center. Along with them is sent a doctor who causes instant antipathy between him and the ... See full summary »
When the government agency fails to deliver even the meager supplies due by treaty to the proud Cheyenne tribe in their barren desert reserve, the starving Indians have taken more abuse than it's worth and break it too by embarking on a 1,500 miles journey back to their ancestral hunting grounds. US Cavalry Capt. Thomas Archer is charged with their retrieval, but during the hunt grows to respect their noble courage, and decides to help them. Written by
On the set of this movie, Sal Mineo recommended to Peter Bogdanovich the book 'The Last Picture Show', by Larry McMurtrey. Bogdanovich would direct that movie several years later, starring Ben Johnson, who also appeared in 'Cheyenne Autumn.' See more »
The Navajos travel 1500 miles but never seem to leave Monument Valley, except for some snow scenes. See more »
Capt. Thomas Archer:
Dull Knife! Little Wolf! What happened today changes nothing. The Indian Bureau is still pledged to provide you with adequate clothing and rations. And you're still pledged to abide by the law. Remember that!
We are asked to remember much. The white man remembers nothing.
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This was John Ford's last Western and it is generally viewed as a weak film. It has been described as his "apology" to Indians for his allegedly negative portrayal of them in his earlier films. If you read the statement he made to Peter Bogdonavich, he doesn't actually use the word "apology". He says he just wanted to a make movie told more from the Indian point of view.
This makes more sense, because most Ford Westerns, with perhaps the exception of "Stagecoach" and "Rio Grande" dealt relatively fairly with Indian characters. I don't think he had much to apologize for.
This movie is underrated by critics. I'm not sure why. I thought it compared favorably with his better work.
Here are the positives about the movie:
It may be Ford's most beautiful film. He lingers in Monument Valley
far longer than the logic of the script would dictate. He knew this would be that last time he would shoot there. The results are spectacular.
The film has a stately, almost regal pace with an excellent
accompanying soundtrack. This matches the pace of the central plot element a six month journey by foot.
It manages to never be dull. This is quite an accomplishment since
there is no real hero, no real heavy and very little violent conflict. It's an example of very fine low key storytelling.
Although this is a strong Indian point of view movie, it never
becomes condescending or maudlin. Both sides are presented with respect and complexity.
I've read much criticism of the Dodge City comic relief interlude. I
thought this was fantastic segment. What a pleasure to see old pros like John Carradine, James Stewart and Arthur Kennedy do cameos in Ford's last Western. Ford understood the importance of inserting comic relief into Westerns, which are normally tense dramas in need of counterpoint. This is even more effective in the fundamentally somber "Cheyenne Autumn".
Almost all strong Indian point of view movies are relentless downers
that include no comic relief. For example, "Devil's Doorway", "Broken Arrow", "Dances With Wolves". Ford doesn't compromise on his traditional heavy use of humor in this movie and he also includes a somewhat optimistic ending. The ending may seem unrealistically positive, but it is actually at least partly rooted in historical accuracy, from what I've read. Of course, in the big historical picture there was no happy ending for the Indians. The question is: who wants to watch a movie that is that depressing? Ford strikes a good compromise here.
Carol Baker is an underrated actress. She has a great screen presence
and is very good in this film. Her character was very credible, if maybe a little too good looking. If she's a typical 1880's Quaker chick, I would have had to rethink my religious affiliation.
Now here are some things that kept the movie from being better:
Widmark looks great, but I wish his character had been a more active
player in plot developments. It's not best for the male lead to be too much of an observer. Also, he is way too old to be Carol Baker's romantic interest.
The Indians are poorly cast with the use of mediocre Hispanic actors.
I can't believe those weird bangs are authentic hairdos either. If they are, I would have invoked artistic license to change them.
The subplot with the split between the Cheyenne leaders and the final
confrontation at the end was poorly drawn, poorly acted and pointless.
There are a few plot holes. The only one that really bothered me was
the Cheyenne somehow managing to smuggle 20 rifles into their holding facility in the fort in Nebraska.
Finally, this isn't really a fault, but I wanted to mention that I'm
torn about Karl Malden's character.
On the one hand, it seems very odd to introduce a German officer who's oppressing the Cheyenne because "he's only following orders." Do we have to implicate the Germans in our genocide? Don't they have enough problems of their own on this issue?
On the other hand, I guess the point was to draw a comparison between the Holocaust and the destruction of the American Indian population. This was probably a very aggressive and controversial idea in 1964, for Americans anyway. The Germans I've known over the years never had a problem mentioning it to me. In fact, often they would talk of little else.
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