on June 14, 2004
I'm out of my element with this film. I normally don't review black-and-white classics, because I'm too cynical to view the big studio releases of yesteryear with an open mind. All of them are contrived and somewhat sappy; I watch them and envision a cherubic Mickey Rooney looking on while eating chocolate chip cookies and drinking milk. "That's a swell show, Dad!"
But I like John Ford films. And I really like FORT APACHE, despite the movie being a stereotypical product of its time. Why, you ask (or mutter indifferently)? Because this film actually depicts some range for Henry Fonda and the Duke himself. Fonda plays a very unsympathetic role, while John Wayne steps out of character (for him) to play a compassionate second fiddle. And Ford's experiment works: the two actors pull off exceptional performances; their on-screen chemistry is riveting.
Tension--that's the motor that drives FORT APACHE. A new disciplined, disgruntled, by-the-book colonel (Fonda) arrives at a remote Arizona outpost; immediately, he is at odds with the fort's seasoned and weathered captain (Wayne). The captain, who possesses a deep respect for a band of Apache that has left the reservation, has the loyalty and affection of his men; the colonel is looked upon as an unwelcome intruder and resented as a martinet. The two officers wage a battle of wills that ultimately has Fonda using an unsuspecting Wayne as a ploy to draw the Apache back for a surprise attack--a strategy that produces deadly consequences.
This is good stuff, further enhanced by some outstanding supporting roles, including Ward Bond, Pedro Armendariz, and Victor McLaglen. We're even treated to a grown-up--yet still annoying--Shirley Temple. Kudos to John Ford for creating a good-looking film that successfully had Fonda and Wayne step outside their respective boxes. FORT APACHE, despite its "Aw, shucks" big studio smarm, is solid entertainment.
on August 9, 2002
Director John Ford began his trilogy of the bluecoat versus Indian trilogy with FORT APACHE in 1948. The film was such a hit that he quickly followed with a pair of sequels, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON and RIO GRANDE. John Wayne played basically the same character in each, a grizzled, weary veteran of the Indian wars who is one of the few people in any of the three films who sees the Indians sympathetically. In FORT APACHE, he is Captain Kirby York, who has to adjust to being in second command to a martinet of a commander, Colonel Owen Thursday, played by Henry Fonda in only one of two unsympathetic roles in a very long film career (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is the other). Captain York wants to bring an end to the Indian wars, so he meets Cochise and Geronimo and gives them his word that they will be treated fairly. Of course, Colonel Thursday decides to attack the Indians in a surprise assault that fools nobody. Colonel Thursday is seen as a clone of General Custer who had much the same idea of surprising 5,000 Indian warriors. It is hard to find any sympathy for Thursday. Every word that he utters is starkly unemotional. He is about as fair with the Indians as he is with his own daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple) when he refuses consent to her marriage with a dashing cavalry lieutenant played by the blandly handsome John Agar, who, in real life, married Shirley soon after the film was released. The highlight of the film is a characteristic of John Ford, a smashingly effective use of onrushing troopers led into a cavalry charge with a bugler tooting the way. The battle scene of trooper versus Indian inevitably draws comparison with the real life massacre of the 7th Cavalry under General Custer. The role of the Indian in this and the other two installments is one of the few instances in which the Indian is not seen as the inherently bad guy. In fact, Cochise and Geronimo were both willing to abide by a verbal treaty and Colonel Thursday's verbal harangue of the two proud chiefs clearly invests them with some sympathy. The viewer is left with the distinct impression that if the west had had more Captain Yorks and fewer Colonel Thursdays, then the history of the wild west might have been written in much less blood.
This is my favorite among the several westerns which Ford directed. When seeing it again recently, I was again struck by how relevant this film is to the contemporary business world, more specifically in terms of issues which concern leadership and management. In his recently published Why Smart Executives Fail, Sydney Finkelstein identifies a number of specific lessons which can be learned from "spectacularly unsuccessful" executives such as Dennis Kozlowski, Jean-Marie Messier, and Jill Barad. In an article published by Fast Company magazine (July 2003), he lists seven self-defeating and destructive habits:
1. They see themselves and their companies dominating their environment.
2. They identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and their corporate interests.
3. They think they have all the answers.
4. They ruthlessly eliminate anyone who isn't 100% behind them.
5. They are consummate spokespersons, obsessed with the company image.
6. They underestimate obstacles.
7. They stubbornly rely on what worked for them in the past.
In Fort Apache, Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) displays all of the seven habits identified and then so brilliantly discussed by Finkelstein. Captain Kirby York (John Wayne) repeatedly tries without any success whatsoever to dissuade his commanding officer from behavior which ultimately results in his (Thursday's) death and the slaughter of most of those under his command. Near the end of the film in his final remarks to journalists, York defends "Thursday's Charge," not to protect Thursday's reputation but to protect the honor of those whom the vainglorious Thursday led to their deaths. York also wishes to preserve the honor of the U.S. Cavalry.
Brilliantly filmed in black-and-white by Louis Clyde Stouman and Archie J. Stout, Fort Apache captures the natural beauty but also the isolation in which the fort is located and to which the obviously unhappy Thursday is assigned following the reduction of his rank. (No reasons are given for the assignment and demotion, both of which Thursday bitterly resents.) Ford includes several sub plots, notably the mutual attraction of Lieutenant Michael O'Rourke (John Agar) and Thursday's daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple) and the role of the corrupt government civilian official, Silas Meacham (Grant Withers). Of course, several members of the Ford Repertory Players (Pedro Armendariz, Ward Bond, Dick Foran, Ben Jonson, and Victor McLaglen) are also in the excellent cast.
The focus of the film, however, is on the conflict between Thursday and York. More specifically, between Thursday's stubborn commitment to mindsets and habits such as those Finkelstein identifies and York's determination to avoid further hostilities. York respects Cochise and the Apaches whereas Thursday views them with contempt. Worse yet, Thursday tragically underestimates their judgment and skills as warriors. Of course, York knows better. Much as Cochise wants to avoid bloodshed, Thursday leaves him no choice after insulting him in front of other Apache leaders (including Geronimo) as well the cavalry officers nearby. I shall never forget Cochise's profound sadness when realizing that there is no longer any hope for peace. The results of "Thursday's Charge" are a foregone conclusion.
Even after 55 years, this film remains visually stunning and retains its dramatic impact. For these and other reasons, it is among my favorite westerns and, in my opinion, the best of the westerns which John Ford directed.
on August 8, 2001
To be totally honest, this is the only western I like. Now I know what my grandparents mean when they exclaim nostalgically when watching an old movie on their favorite movie channel, AMC, "They don't make 'em like they used to!" This film has made me a loyal AMC fan, and it's the only channel I tune into nowadays. Believe me, if you're looking for good old-fashioned entertainment, this one is the ideal choice. It has everything to offer: great comic relief, romance, tragedy, adventure and keeps you on the edge of your sofa throughout the whole show. By the way, if you're interested, it features an all-star cast that consists of the Duke of Western classics, John Wayne, Henry Fonda,Shirley Temple,John Agar and Ward Bond, and is directed by the movie mastermind, John Ford. All the ingredients for a true Western classic!
First of all, Henry Fonda excels in his role as the domineering, 'martinet' type Colonel Owen Thursday. Sure, I learned to scorn him in the duration of the show,but I realized that it was clearly what the character demanded. At the beginning I was already thinking to myself, ' Sheesh, where the heck did that Thursday guy get his inflated ego! What a rat!'I'd give him a big thumbs up for pulling off a real stupid role and making it the best he possibly could. But, I have to admit, in the scene where he's leading a charge at the Apaches ( the 'bad guys') in an airhead procedure, I found myself rooting for the 'savage' Indians. Oh, well . . .
John Wayne was good in his unimportant role of Kirby York, who constantly clashes with the stupidly unreasonable and egotistical Colonel Thursday. I could really sympathize with the Duke there. I mean, who wants to work with a ... mad-man like Thursday? He was always putting his men at risk in the battlefield in thrown together strategies that were given no time or thought. It made me sick. And such a big shot! It was so obvious that he considered himself hot stuff, which is totally bogus! I kinda pitied the Duke; not just because he was put under the order of Thursday, but because he was constantly in Fonda's shadow throughout the film. But, I give him a high five for playing the sensible, practical, gritty and honest 'tough-guy' hero, his trademark role.
And last, but not least, a standing ovation to Shirley and John Agar! Those two were just so unbelievably sweet and compelling as the lovers. By today's cruddy standards, where ... flicks are the general 'romance thrillers', their romance would be considered real 'cute'. But, personally, I thought they were thrilling - truly thrilling, especially during their two kiss scenes. True, they weren't extremely passionate, considering they shared their first kiss after they became engaged. But still, their delicate, gentle love scenes stole the show! Not only were they adoreable, they made the perfect couple. Gosh, Agar's good looks and debonair, yet still boyish and innocent manner made my heart stand still, and Shirley's darling smiles and simpers were real scene stealers! She looked prettier in this film than in any other I've seen her. The rest of this film could be a little lackluster, but I never failed to be spellbound during the Shirley/John scenes. What an angelic pair! They brought an innocense and sweet magic to the screen, something that's not seen often today in our jaded world. Their youth and vigor and vitality certainly won my heart. You cannot imagine how disgusted I was with that Colonel Thursday, who was Shirley's father in the movie, when he forbade the two to wed after John Agar ( Lt. Michael Shannon O'Rourke) asked him for his daughter's hand in marriage. I thought I'd blow when Colonel Thursday explained, in his cold, stern tones, " I'm afraid I must deny you my daughter's hand in marriage due to the apparent barriers between your class and mine." Shut up, Thursday! Have a little compassion here, please. Also, he was a real control ... regarding his daughter, too, beautiful and vivacious 16-year old Philadelphia Thursday, who was head over heels in love with her Lt. O'Rourke. He had a strict curfew and wouldn't let her talk or look at her rejected suitor. He even considered sending her away from the fort to an academy ' where she'd have two years to forget about Michael.' When Thursday was killed during the battle scene at the end, I felt a wave of relief flow over me. Yes, now Michael and Phil could get married. They did, and had a little boy in the last scene of the approx. two hour film. He was a real cutie, too! What a fabulous ending to a true classic! Though I'm only twelve years old and this movie would be snubbed as 'corny old junk' by my peers, I must say I sincerely enjoyed watching 'Fort Apache' and wish my age group would grow up and realize just how special and priceless this classic is, even if it is old. Entertainment, like fine wine, improves with age. I strongly recommend this movie to anyone interested in history, cowboy and indian entertainment,or Henry Fonda, John Wayne , Shirley Temple , John Agar fans, or to whomever wants a taste of some real good old-fashioned entertainment! This movie has charm and taste, and is a real pleasure to see in our now classless, charmless and tastless society. Please take the time to check it out at the nearest video arcade or store and I know you'll fall in love with it! And fasten your seatbelts for a rip-roaring good time - Yahoo!!