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teaser Comanche (1956)

"Filmed entirely near Durango in Old Mexico for historical authenticity' this picture is dedicated to the people and the government of Mexico with sincere thanks for their cooperation. Most of the characters' places' dates and events in the story are factual." Thus reads the opening titles of Comanche (1956)' a story that IS actually based on a real person - Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Comanches. But as to how much of the film's events are actually true versus Hollywood's version of history is another matter. Still, Quanah is a truly unique film character - an Indian hero in an American Western. And his story - fact or fiction - makes for an entertaining historical drama in Comanche.

The film begins with a Comanche attack on a Mexican village and several women and children are captured (among the captives' look for Mexican actress Linda Cristal in her first Hollywood film). Soon Jim Read (Dana Andrews)' a scout' rides out to meet with Chief Quanah in an attempt to restore peace between the Indians and the white men. Interestingly enough' Quanah was the son of Comanche Chief Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker' a white girl taken captive in an 1836 raid on Parker's Fort in Texas. Cynthia Parker spent some 24 years among the Comanche. Her capture and rescue form the basis of John Ford's western The Searchers (1956). Parker never made the adjustment to living with white settlers again. But her son' Quanah' adapted quite easily to the white man's ways and methods' waging several successful battles against them before giving up the fight. Comanche marks one of those instances where a white actor (Kent Smith) was correctly cast in an Indian role.

In 1867 - when the Treaty of Medicine Lodge confined the Southern Plains Indians to a reservation - Quanah decided not to go peacefully. Instead, he skillfully outmaneuvered the Army with raids through Texas and Mexico. But the U.S. troops would not back down and eventually the Comanches grew weary. A young scout named Jacob Sturm was then sent to meet with Quanah and negotiate a surrender. And - as legend has it - when Quanah rode away to make his decision he encountered two good omens - a wolf that howled and, as he put it, an eagle that "glided lazily and then whipped his wings in the direction of Fort Sill." And so, on June 2, 1875, Quanah and his people surrendered at that very fort.

After that, Quanah played the white man's game, but he abided by his own rules. He refused to give up polygamy or peyote. But at the same time, he learned English, invested in a railroad, lobbied Congress and became a reservation judge. In his biography, The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker, Quanah's ability to walk in two worlds is summed up this way, "not only did {he} pass within the span of a single lifetime from a Stone Age warrior to a statesman in the age of the Industrial Revolution, but he accepted the challenge and responsibility of leading the whole Comanche tribe on the difficult road toward their new existence." He died on February 23, 1911 and was buried beside his mother in Fort Sill cemetery.

Similar to the way Quanah moved into a new world of compromise with the white man' the film Comanche ventured into new territory in the Western genre' one where the Indian wasn't always the bad guy. Along with other films like Broken Arrow (1950)' Sitting Bull (1954) and Run of the Arrow (1957)' Comanche preached peace and brotherhood in the midst of the "Cold War" era when such a concept was rare among the rampant paranoia over communism and the A-bomb.

Producer: Carl Krueger' Henry Spitz
Director: George Sherman
Screenplay: Carl Krueger
Cinematography: Jorge Stahl
Film Editing: Charles L. Kimball
Music: Herschel Burke Gilbert
Cast: Dana Andrews (Jim Read)' Kent Smith (Quanah Parker)' Nestor Paiva (Puffer)' Henry Brandon (Black Cloud)' Stacy Harris (Art Downey)' John Litel (General Miles).
C-88m. Letterboxed.

by Stephanie Thames

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