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Film / Apache

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Apache is a 1954 American western film directed by Robert Aldrich and starring Burt Lancaster, Jean Peters, and John McIntire. The film was based on the novel Broncho Apache by Paul Wellman, which was published in 1936. It was Aldrich's first color film.

Following the surrender of Geronimo, Massai (Lancaster), the last Apache warrior is captured and scheduled for transportation to a Florida reservation. Instead, he manages to escape and heads for his homeland to win back his girl and settle down to grow crops. His pursuers have other ideas though.


  • Army Scout: Chief of Scouts Al Sieber becomes the Inspector Javert to renegade Apache Massai. He assembles an elite squad of Indian scouts who travel light and move fast, including Massai's nemesis Hondo, to accompany him on his manhunt.
  • Arrows on Fire: Massai uses a flaming arrow to set fire to the army wagon hauling ammunition and gunpowder.
  • Badass Native: Massai, the last Apache warrior, is a One-Man Army waging a guerilla war against the entire US Army, and usually winning.
  • Bound and Gagged: Santos leaves his daughter Nalinle bound and gagged so she cannot interfere with his plan to hand Massai over to the troops.
  • Brownface: All of the Native American characters are played by white actors in makeup. For some, like the already swarthy Charles Bronson, this is not too jarring. However, for others like the blue-eyed Burt Lancaster—and especially the redheaded, green-eyed Jean Peters—it does not work at all.
  • Call to Agriculture: After his encounter with Clagg in Oklahoma Territory on his way to back to Arizona, Massai is convinced that he should abandon the warrior's path and turn to farming to meet the white man as equal, When Santos betrays him and hands him over to the army, Massai abandons this idea and returns to waging his one man war against the white man. However, Nalinle saves the seed corn he brought with him, and when she is pregnant with his child, persuades him to return to the corn.
  • Death Seeker: Massai is this at the start of the film: attacking the surrender in the hopes that he will be killed and die a warrior. Instead, he is captured and shipped in chains to Florida. At the end of the film he becomes this again, leaving the cabin to face the soldiers who are coming for and not planning to return: stating that no one sings songs of farmers. However, he changes his mind when he hears the cries of his newborn son.
  • Handy Cuffs: The shackles on Massai's wrists when he is being transported have enough length of chain between them that he is able to throw them round Weddle during his escape; pinning Weddle's arms to his side. Massai then draws Weddle's gun from his holster and shoots the shotgun guard. He then uses the chain to choke Weddle into unconsciousness.
  • Hard-Work Montage: Nalinle and Massai preparing the soil, ploughing, and planting the corn: including Massai acting as a beast of burden and pulling the plough.
  • Historical Domain Character: Massai, Geronimo, and Al Sieber are all historical figures.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Massai and Al Sieber are portrayed as Worthy Opponents who happen to be fighting on opposites of the conflict. Neither is as purely heroic as the film portrays them. Massai was more outlaw than freedom fighter and, unlike the film version, did not restrict his attacks to the US Army. He robbed, murdered and (according to some accounts) raped civilians. Sieber is known to have perjured himself to ensure Massai received a heavier sentence.
  • Inspector Javert: Al Sieber takes on the job of hunting down Massai with a single-minded dedication: to the point where other folks regard him as touched in the head. However, his seeming madness pays off, as he is able to identify that Massai must be holed up in the high mountains. Then he just has to wait till the weather changes, and he and his scouts can move in.
  • It's Not You, It's My Enemies: Massai attempts to use this argument to dissuade Nalilne from accompanying him: telling her that wives are for men who do not have to keep looking over their shoulder. Nalilne ignores him and just keeps following him until he gives in.
  • One-Man Army: Massai wages a one man war against the US Cavalry, and seems to be winning.
  • One-Word Title
  • Pistol-Whipping: Sieber captures Massai when he tries to disrupt the surrender by slamming him with a rifle while he is attempting to kill Weddle.
  • The Remnant: Massai refuses to surrender when Geronimo does, and escapes to wage a one-man war against the US Army.
  • Spare a Messenger: After escaping from the wagon that is transporting his to the railroad to be sent back to Florida, Massai leaves Mr. Weddle alive to bring a message back to the fort telling them what has happened and that he is free again. In a slight twist, Massai then returns to kill Weddle after he has delivered the message.
  • Stripping the Scarecrow: After escaping from the train, Massai steal a hat off a scarecrow to replace his headband.
  • Throwaway Guns: During his final confrontation with the Army, Massai empties his Peacemaker at a group of scouts, then throws the empty gun at them, and then launches himself at the group. Justified because Massai is a Death Seeker at this point and isn't expecting to survive the confrontation.
  • Throwing the Distraction: When returning to the mine, Massai throws a rock to draw one of the soldiers out of hiding so he can shoot him. Later, while hiding in the cornfield, he throws his empty rifle to distract Sieber, and then tackles him.
  • Travel Montage: The progress of the train taking Geronimo and the braves to Florida is depicted by shots of the train superimposed over a map with a dotted line showing the train's route.
  • Tricked into Escaping: Weddle wants Massai to escape while transporting him to the train so he will have an excuse to kill him. He removes the prisoners' leg irons so they can climb a steep hill. However, when one of the other prisoners makes a break for it, Weedle stupidly shoots him rather than immediately shooting Massai. Massai instead counterattacks while Weddle is distracted and overpowers Weddle and the other guard.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There really was a renegade Apache warrior named Massai (a.k.a. "the Apache Kid") who waged a campaign of terror across the US southwest in the late 1880s, and he was pursued by Al Sieber, Chief of Scouts for the 6th Cavalry. However, most of the events of the film—including Massai's attack on Geronimo's surrender, and the mawkish sentimental ending—are complete fabrications.
  • Villain Protagonist: Massai is a renegade warrior waging a one-man war against the white man, and especially the US Army. While he has justifications for his actions, they are still criminal. However, what really pushes him into this category is when he admits that he is no longer fighting for the Apache cause, which he considers lost. He is now just fighting for the sake of fighting.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Massai hits Nalinle with a stick and knocks her out to prevent her from following him.