Cole Thornton, a gunfighter for hire, joins forces with an old friend, Sheriff J.P. Hara. Together with an old Indian fighter and a gambler, they help a rancher and his family fight a rival rancher that is trying to steal their water.
Texas Ranger Jake Cutter arrests gambler Paul Regret, but soon finds himself teamed with his prisoner in an undercover effort to defeat a band of renegade arms merchants and thieves known as Comancheros.
Deep into the territory of the great Apache chief, Cochise, the demoted Civil War general, Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday, reports for duty as a commanding officer at the remote U.S. cavalry outpost known as Fort Apache, along with his daughter, Philadelphia. There, the arrogant commander will soon lock horns with the realistic and sensible second-in-command, Captain Kirby York, who, as an expert in the local Apaches, disagrees with Thursday who wants to make a name for himself in the Arizona frontier. In the end, is it wise to engage in battle when personal glory is all you seek?Written by
This beautifully shot western—the first in John Ford's so-called Cavalry Trilogy—about a fatuous lieutenant (Henry Fonda) whose hubris seriously endangers an isolated frontier outpost, grabbed me by the throat in its quietly scathing indictment of military leaders who needlessly risk the lives of their soldiers to win vague notions of heroism for posterity.
Fonda's Lieutenant Colonel Thursday seems an obvious stand-in for General Custer and the film, despite its reputation, seems less derogatory toward Native Americans than keen to extol the virtues of honorable combat agreed upon between two forthright leaders. Note the penultimate scene, occurring after the massacre, in which Wayne, Thursday's successor, wearily addresses reporters eager to talk about Thursday's "legacy." A glossy portrait of the lieutenant lords over the room. As Wayne discusses Thursday's merits, he looks out fondly at his battalion, their reflections superimposed over Wayne's gaze. This film is not anti-war, rather pro-service and pro-battle. It is not, however, supportive of egregious affronts to the sanctity of human life; a rather interesting contra-distinction, to be sure.
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