Film / Broken Arrow (1950)

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Broken Arrow is a western Technicolor film released in 1950. It was directed by Delmer Daves and starred Jimmy Stewart and Jeff Chandler. The film won a Golden Globe award for Best Film Promoting International Understanding, making history as the first major Western since the Second World War to side with the Native Americans.

The story is a fictionalized account of events involving are Cochise and Tom Jeffords. Jeffords is responsible for mail delivery in the Arizona Territory in 1862. When Apache raiding parties shoot up some of his mail couriers, he rides alone to the camp of Cochise to parley for their safe passage. This act of bravery so impresses the chief that he becomes friend and blood brother to Jeffords. Their friendship tested and relied on in ending the decade-long Apache war.

The film was a success and inspired several similar Westerns through the '50s, including Devil's Doorway and Run of the Arrow. It also led to a TV series of the same name, starring Michael Ansara as Cochise.

Not to be confused with the 1996 John Woo film.

Tropes associated with this work:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: An inversion. There is relatively little action in the film, since the movie is about attempts at bringing peace in Arizona, so you have drama scenes punctuated by brief moments of action, and the biggest battle scene takes place at the end of the first third of the film.
  • As the Good Book Says: General Howard quotes from the Bible at one point and points out that there is no mention or support for racial intolerance in the good book.
  • The Cavalry: An inversion at the end, when a group of renegage Apache attacks the Butterfield Stagecoach, Tom goes to get the support of Cochise who come marching in and chasing the renegades away. One of the stagecoach drivers notes the inversion of Indians coming to rescue the white man.
  • Cowboys and Indians: A genuine deconstruction of the entire conflict and the mentality of simplistic good versus bad. It's pointed out that both sides have good and bad people, who have a laundry list of genuine grievances to justify their violent impulses.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Cochise and Tom Leffords, later we get a glimpse of the origin of Geronimo. Oliver Otis Howard is also a real-life Union General, who was indeed nicknamed the "Christian General".
  • Historical Hero Upgrade:
    • Cochise gets a rare one in this film, focusing on his later career as a peacable diplomat rather than his early years as a warrior.
    • Even though he doesn't appear, Ulysses S. Grant gets this too. The movie accurately reflects President Grant's genuinely progressive and honest attempts to make peace with native tribes and since at the time, Grant was written off as a "bad president", this counts (along with Daves' Drum Beat) as one of the few movies that portrays his administration in a positive light.
  • Never My Fault: Leffords calls out a townsman who insists that the Apaches cannot be trusted and aren't human by reminding him that it was the settlers who first broke their word to Cochise by violating Sacred Hospitality.
  • Noble Savage: The movie repeatedly emphasizes that both the settlers and the Apache tribes are people with the same mix of good, bad and gray among their people as among the settlers themselves.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Apaches have developed an identity around this, and Cochise is trying to tone down the warrior part at the very least. But others in the community want to continue defying the "white man".
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Cochise and General Howard.
  • Shown Their Work: One of the few Hollywood westerns of its time (and afterwards) to actually put some effort in getting accuracy of period and setting. Notably it uses actual Apache extras to star as Apaches (apart from the leads who are played in the usual Hollywood Brownface style), which was quite rare for that periodnote . It also features depiction of actual Apache rituals and dresses. The story of Cochise's peace treaty also happened more or less as we see in the film with only small dramatizations.
  • Witch Hunt: The crowd around Tucson barely tolerate Leffords and when they recieve word of a brutal attack, they accuse him of being a spy for the Indians, and set about grabbing him to lynch him publicly before General Howard comes to his rescue. Incidentally, the screenwriter of this film is Albert Maltz, one of the Hollywood Ten blacklisted by HUAC and who on the film's original release was uncredited, and wrote under a front. Since 1991, the original credit to Maltz has been restored.

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