Monday, September 4, 2023

Fort Apache - 1948 Movie

Movie Poster showing John Wayne and Henry Fonda at top, text in middle, and a scene from the movie at the bottom
Opening with shots of a stagecoach traveling through Monument Valley, viewers soon find out that Colonel Owen Thursday, one of the passengers, is on his way to assume command of Fort Apache.  It’s clear that he does not look forward to his new posting but the young woman accompanying him is pleased because she was not able to be with him while he was in Europe and can be now.  At a stage stop, they learn that news of his arrival has not yet reached the fort.  This is the first of many foreshadowing scenes in Fort Apache, an enjoyable if somewhat predictable film.
Henry Fonda plays Owen Thursday in this 1948 movie directed by John Ford.  Shirley Temple is his daughter Philadelphia, the young lady traveling with him in the stagecoach.  Glimpses of her persona as a child star percolate through her performance in Fort Apache as a headstrong woman unused to life in the West but for the most part, she is convincing as the daughter of an Army colonel.  John Wayne is a supporting character, Captain York, who repeatedly clashes with Colonel Thursday. York is the commanding officer of Sergeant O’Rourke, played by John Agar, who becomes Philadelphia’s love interest and was her husband in real life.
At one point Thursday states, “I’m not a martinet but I do want to take pride in my command.”  Which is emblematic since he says that as he dresses down his senior officers for not wearing their uniforms properly.  There are several conflicts between various groups of men in Fort Apache, especially between Thursday and York, and especially over how to handle the Apaches who have left the reservation they were forced onto.
The women at the fort – the wives of the soldiers stationed there and the Spanish-speaking servants – all seem to get along with each other, though.  Sprinkled throughout Fort Apache are several domestic scenes showing what their life was like at a frontier fort; at least, what it was like according to John Ford.
The plot of Fort Apache is both a “fish out of water” story and the story of one man’s hubris.  But the quality of acting elevates this 128-minute movie and makes it worth watching.  Colonel Thursday, who thinks he knows more than the seasoned soldiers who have been stationed at the fort far longer than him and who have dealt with the Apaches many times, forces the troops to engage in activities and battles the others know are foolhardy.
Just before the end, there’s a scene with journalists that reminded me of another John Ford movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, even though that film was shot many years later.  It made me wonder if the scene in Fort Apache was the inspiration for the famous quote from that movie.