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DonRocks

"Broken Arrow" (1950) - Director Delmer Daves' Historical Western, Set in Apache Territory and Tuscon, and Starring James Stewart

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"Broken Arrow" (1950) is Director Delmer Daves' Western in Technicolor, Starring James Stewart as Tom Jeffords and Jeff Chandler as Cochise, the Chief of the Chokonen Band of the Chiricahua Apache Tribe. Though clearly Hollywood-ized, it's also based on a true story, and if the viewer is willing to do some digging, can learn quite a bit from it.

I have mixed feelings about watching old Hollywood Westerns for obvious reasons, but for me it's easy, because I generally pull for the Native Americans, and look at any type of "loss" as a tragic element - plus, I learn something, no matter how small, from each film I watch: I know less about Native American history than I do just about anything, and I'm well-aware that these "red-face" movies are filtered through the prejudiced eyes of Hollywood and America, so I adjust accordingly, and invariably walk away more educated. I did not know, for example, exactly where the Chircahua Apaches were based, and that led me to an article entitled "Apache Wars" on wikipedia.com - that's just one example.

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Not to mention that if you come across a decent one, these movies are action-packed and (dare I say it?) just plain fun. James Stewart played a wonderful character in Broken Arrow, and for someone not to see it just because they were "anti-Native American movies" would be a loss.

Stewart plays an ex-Union soldier, Tom Jeffords, who was prospecting for gold before a new Colonel rode into Tuscon to see him. The Apaches were attacking the Pony Express, and Stewart volunteered to go meet with the Apache equivalent of Keyser Söze, Cochise. After Stewart assured Cochise that the Pony Express contained no messages of war (whch were all sent by telegraph), Cochise promised not to attack the carriers, and he kept to his word.

Milt Duffield, mail superindendent (Arthur Hunnicut) is the only man courageous enough to test Cochise's promise not to attack mail delivery, and when he returns unscathed, gets a hearty ovation from the townspeople. Incidentally, you might recognize Hunnicutt from one of our favorite Twilight Zone episodes, "The Hunt."

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Stewart had earlier saved a 14-year-old Apache boy - whose brother and sister were both killed - from dying of thirst, and Cochise returned the favor both by letting him go earlier in the film, and by keeping his promise about the Pony Express - this can easily be seen as a metaphor for larger situations in life.

Ben Slade (Will Geer) doesn't understand why Jeffords didn't kill the 14-year-old boy, and is suspicious enough to lead an attempt to *hang* Jeffords after the fifth mail rider returns unscathed - Slade convinced people that Jeffords was spying for Cochise. Not only that, but Duffield, the mail supervisor, thinks Jeffords is daft for wanting to learn to speak Apache - Jeffords wants to meet with Cochise on his own turf, and figures knowing some Apache is the best way to make entry (not to mention the fact that he has fallen *very* deeply in love with an Indian maiden).

However, Cochise in no way agreed to end the war - when white soldiers weren't killed in raids, they were tortured to death in unspeakable ways: Of three wounded soldiers, two were suspended from a tree branch while an Apache shot the trunk with a burning arrow, allowing the flames to slowly expand outward, and the third had it even worse: He was buried up to his neck, and his face was smeared with Mezcal juice so the ants would slowly eat his face off. None of this was graphic, of course (it was 1950), but just thinking about it is enough to give anyone the shivers.

"They say that cat Cochise is a bad motha-f ..."
"Shut yo mouth!"

(Name the song! Hint: It's what Native Americans got in this country.)

Sonseeahray ("Morning Star," played by Debra Paget), a fictional character - note the pronunciation: "Sun, see a ray" - is experiencing a holy ("coming-of-age") ceremony, and blesses Jeffords' old, wounded arm, saying that it will never hurt again. Jeffords' arm has been a source of constant pain, and this young, beautiful girl looking after him goes straight to his heart.

There is a genuinely tender, albeit dated, moment when Jeffords falls in love with Sonseeahray - there is absolutely *nothing* sexual about this (at first); he simply realizes, after seeing her for the second time, and still having strong feelings for her, that he has fallen in love for the first time in his life - this may seem "awkward" to today's woman - a man in his 40's falling in love with a young maiden who probably just turned 15, but it works here, and I found it incredibly touching because Jeffords makes no attempt at physical contact; he merely tells Sonseeahray that, for the first time in his life, he's going to miss somebody.

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And, because the mail is getting through, but an entire wagon train was slaughtered, Jeffords is - as mentioned above - accused of being Cochise's spy: No good deed goes unpunished. The townsmen, with their mob mentality, go so far as to drag Jeffords out of a bar, string a rope up, and prepare for a public hanging (think: "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street").

This is big-deal stuff - just as Jeffords is about to be hanged, a General (a full-fledged General - Oliver Otis Howard (Cochise is mentioned on his Wikipedia page), known as "The Christian General," and played by Basil Ruysdael) arrives - yes, yes, I know, yet another Deus ex Machina - pulls Jeffords into his office, and tells him that he has authority from President Ulysses S. Grant to make a peace treaty with Cochise. I mean, that is pretty bad-ass, especially considering that the gist of the story is true.

Could it be, that Geronimo, whom we *all* know of, but none of us know anything about, is *the* Geronimo who "walks away" in this film? My initial impression, upon seeing the moment, is, 'Yes, he is.' I don't know enough about Geronimo to say for sure, but if he was any type of Apache split-off, then this was most likely him, lending even more historical significance to what is already a great movie.

Damn I wish I had been sober enough to remember how it ended.

In all seriousness, this is an excellent movie - I have been choosing particularly well of late. If you're in the mood for an action-packed Western, with plot, seriousness, historical importance, and great depth and substance, this would be a good film for you to choose.

Pathetically, screenwriter Alfred Maltz was blacklisted as one of the Hollywood Ten. Hey, if being a commie means I can write this well, color me red any day of the week.

Here is an excellent review:

Oct 9, 2010 - "Groundbreaking Western" by James Hitchcock on imdb.com

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"Broken Arrow" is a Hollywood-ized version of the Old West, but it is an entertaining film, and I feel like I learned something about American history watching it. Jimmy Stewart is a wonderful actor, and his character, Tom Jeffords, is extremely likable. The age difference between Jeffords and his young bride didn't bother me. He shows respect for her parents and her tribe's traditions, and their affection for one another seems genuine and sweet.

Westerns are not my favorite movie genre, but I liked this film very much. It is one of the best movies about the Old West that I have seen.

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4 hours ago, DIShGo said:

"Broken Arrow" is a Hollywood-ized version of the Old West, but it is an entertaining film, and I feel like I learned something about American history watching it. Jimmy Stewart is a wonderful actor, and his character, Tom Jeffords, is extremely likable. The age difference between Jeffords and his young bride didn't bother me. He shows respect for her parents and her tribe's traditions, and their affection for one another seems genuine and sweet.

Westerns are not my favorite movie genre, but I liked this film very much. It is one of the best movies about the Old West that I have seen.

The thing is, if you research this film, you'll see that it might be the very first Hollywood Western ever to treat Native Americans as equals (or, possibly even as superiors) to the white man - it is considered "revolutionary" in this sense, and just about all that came before it was white = good; Indian = bad. In this way, "Broken Arrow" is considered groundbreaking, perhaps even the first of its kind.

I don't consider this a "Western" so much as I do a "Romance" and a "Moral Drama that takes place in the American West."

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17 hours ago, DonRocks said:

The thing is, if you research this film, you'll see that it might be the very first Hollywood Western ever to treat Native Americans as equals (or, possibly even as superiors) to the white man - it is considered "revolutionary" in this sense, and just about all that came before it was white = good; Indian = bad. In this way, "Broken Arrow" is considered groundbreaking, perhaps even the first of its kind.

I don't consider this a "Western" so much as I do a "Romance" and a "Moral Drama that takes place in the American West."

Native Americans were portrayed in a very positive light in this film which was unheard of at the time. It was a groundbreaking movie in that sense. I am glad I saw it.

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