I remember listening to Phil Ochs, 60s protest singer, talk about the John Ford/John Wayne films. Although he saw them as reactionary, etc., he still recognized that there was beauty and poetry in them. Ochs’ song “Pleasures of the Harbour” may be subtitled “My life as John Wayne” and was inspired by “The Long Voyage Home”.
Well, the 1948 film “Fort Apache” certainly stands as one of the greats of the Ford/Wayne productions. The first of the “cavalry trilogy”, this one was loosely based on the Custer battle.
As this blog notes, this is a morally complex film and ahead of its time in terms of racial politics and a realistic telling of the history of the American southwest. The Apache are played by Native American actors. There’s jingoism to be found, but not after the US Army gets its butt kicked, and the cavalry commander (Henry Fonda) leads his troopers to their doom. It’s pretty clear that he never learns that he should have paid more attention to the veterans under his command (particularly Wayne) who were pursuing a path of peace with the Apache. No ‘cavalry coming over the hill’ ending here, but the film does end with Wayne leading the renewed cavalry and upholding the army tradition.
Glad I watched this one. The scenery is stunning, of course.