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Fort Apache(1948)

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teaser Fort Apache (1948)

SYNOPSIS

The rigid and arrogant Col. Owen Thursday, the new commander of Fort Apache, ignores the advice of Capt. York, his seasoned second in command, and ends up alienating his troops with his harsh treatment. Thursday is determined to boost his military honor and reputation by engaging and defeating the Apache warrior Cochise. At the same time, Thursday interferes in the relationship between his daughter and a young lieutenant he considers unworthy of his daughter. Refusing to accept criticism or acknowledge any mistakes in his command, Thursday eventually puts his regiment in great danger culminating in a near-disaster for the troops.

Director: John Ford
Producers: Merian C. Cooper, John Ford
Screenplay: Frank S. Nugent, based on the story "Massacre" by James Warner Bellah
Cinematography: Archie Stout
Editing: Jack Murray
Art Direction: James Basevi
Original Music: Richard Hageman
Cast: John Wayne (York), Henry Fonda (Thursday), Shirley Temple (Philadelphia), Victor McLaglen (Mulcahy), John Agar (Lt. O'Rourke), Ward Bond (Sgt. O'Rourke).
BW-128m. Closed captioning.

Why FORT APACHE is Essential

The great film director John Ford needed a hit after the end of World War II. His first effort after the war, The Fugitive (1947), starring Henry Fonda, was met with critical derision and audience indifference. In fact, Ford's production company, Argosy Pictures, had a devil of a time finding a new project that financiers would back and also attract audiences. Ford and Argosy could not afford another noble failure like The Fugitive, a film that even Ford acknowledged at the time was a risky venture.

Ford had met the writer James Warner Bellah in India during the war. The two became acquainted, and Ford took notice of Bellah's series of cavalry stories that were being printed in The Saturday Evening Post. Argosy bought from Bellah a number of his stories, for prices that usually ran around $4,500 apiece. One of these stories, "Massacre," served as the basis for Fort Apache (1948), the film that marked Ford's return to critical and commercial success. Despite a dispute over the depiction of the Indians, Ford and Bellah agreed on one thing: the valor and pride of the military. To capture this long-gone military tradition of the U.S. Cavalry, Argosy hired a researcher named Katherine Spaatz and sent her to Arizona to interview an old cavalry sergeant's widow. Spaatz also talked to her own grandmother, who began her marriage to a soldier in the famed Seventh Cavalry in Arizona during the 1880s.

As the script was nearing completion, Ford, together with producer and Argosy co-founder Merian C. Cooper, realized they lacked a title for the film that would become the first of an informal trilogy of cavalry pictures, the others being She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950). So the duo held a contest amongst the Argosy employees with a promised prize of $100 going to anyone who came up with a winning title. The story's original title, "Massacre," was considered too graphic. Ironically, it was John Ford himself who suggested Fort Apache. There is no record whether or not he claimed the $100 for himself.

Fort Apache was not John Ford's first Western. He had been working in the genre since the silent era. It was not even his first great Western; that distinction usually goes to Stagecoach (1939). But Fort Apache is the picture that arguably established the John Ford and the Ford film that we think of today: the mythologizing of the Old West, the popular action entertainment lifted to epic heights and presented in a stunning visual style reflecting the director's early training as a painter, the use of Monument Valley as the iconic landscape of the American westward expansion, the blending of his brand of humor and whimsical Irish sentiment into an otherwise dark story of tragic defeat. Although Ford had already incorporated some of these elements into the beautiful and elegiac My Darling Clementine (1946), in Fort Apache and the two other films that make up what is known as the Cavalry Trilogy - She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande - Ford went deeper into his personal vision of American history, one that projected a sense of melancholy for lost innocence and a vanished way of life, plus an insistence on "printing the legend" instead of the harsher and more complicated facts.

If Fort Apache defined for us the John Ford we think of now, it also greatly expanded the screen image of John Wayne, or as film historian David Thomson has noted, "radically enlarged his image," along with his other great film the same year, Howard Hawks' Red River (1948). Although not always recognized by audiences and reviewers at the time, we can look back at Fort Apache and subsequent films and see what a deceptively fine actor Wayne was, and chart the progression of his screen persona from basic action roles to performances of greater warmth, humanity, and complexity.

Fort Apache is not just a showcase for Wayne, however. Henry Fonda turns in one of his best performances in an atypical and unsympathetic role. It also features most of the director's famous stock company, and former child star Shirley Temple, who was gamely attempting to move into adult roles (she retired from the screen a year later after a handful of other films). But mostly, this is Ford's picture, as ultimately they all were, with dynamic action scenes and an intimate depiction of lives and relationships under unusual and stressful conditions, set against a mythic landscape captured with stunning beauty.

by Rob Nixon & Scott McGee

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teaser Fort Apache (1948)

Pop Culture 101 - FORT APACHE

John Ford explored similar themes of leadership, heroism, and a doomed battle against superior hostile forces in his earlier World War II action drama, They Were Expendable (1945), which also starred John Wayne as a second-in-command (to Robert Montgomery's leader).

Fort Apache (1948) was the first of a trilogy of pictures John Ford made about the U.S. Cavalry in the Old West. It was followed by She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950).

John Agar, who plays 2nd Lt. O'Rourke in this picture, also appears in Ford's follow-up, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, playing Lt. Flint Cohill. In James Warner Bellah's story "Massacre," on which Fort Apache is based, that was the original name of the character played in this film by John Wayne and here called Capt. Kirby York. And in this picture, Dick Foran plays the small part of Sgt. Quincannon. That's the name of the character in both She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande played by Victor McLaglen (he plays Sgt. Mulcahy in Fort Apache). There was even a B-movie Western with the title Quincannon, Frontier Scout (1956) starring singer Tony Martin but it had no connection to Fort Apache.

In Rio Grande, Wayne reprises his role as York, promoted to Lt. Colonel, commander of Fort Stark.

Capt. York's noble gesture of telling an official lie about Col. Thursday's leadership, for the sake of honor and the good of the community, is similar to the outcome of Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). In that film, a character (also played by Wayne) allows the town to believe James Stewart's character was the one who rid them of the villain Valance, when in fact it was Wayne himself who shot him. A famous line from the later picture may serve not only as a summary of the ending of Fort Apache but also as a thematic statement relevant to almost all of Ford's movies eulogizing the Old West: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Ford's beloved Monument Valley was a prominent location in many of his films, including Stagecoach (1939), My Darling Clementine (1946), Cheyenne Autumn (1964), and the entire Cavalry Trilogy. The iconographic Utah location has been used in dozens of films, not only traditional Westerns but also the musical The Harvey Girls (1946), the counter-culture classic Easy Rider (1969), and the drama Forrest Gump (1994).

The idea of a beleaguered outpost in hostile territory with a seasoned pro and a tough commander was updated to a police action drama in urban New York in Fort Apache the Bronx (1981).

The fort built for Fort Apache stood for years and was used in dozens of other productions. It was located at the Corriganville Movie Ranch in Simi Valley, California, a location that has been home to more than 200 film and TV productions. The site is now a city park.

The story is loosely based on the historical details of General George Armstrong Custer's defeat by the Sioux at Little Big Horn. The cover-up by the survivors and the military of Thursday's blunder mirrors the cover up of Custer's errors and his disobedience of orders that led to the famous massacre. Custer's Last Stand has formed the basis for many movies, among them They Died with Their Boots On (1941) with Errol Flynn, Little Big Man (1970) with Richard Mulligan, and Touche pas a la femme blanche (1974), an absurdist black comedy by Marco Ferreri with Marcello Mastroianni as Custer. The historical figure was also depicted on screen as a young officer (played by Ronald Reagan) in Santa Fe Trail (1940).

The Apache leader in Fort Apache is Cochise, a real-life warrior chief who opposed white intrusion into his people's territory in the Southwest for 10 years, until his surrender in 1871. He died on a reservation in 1974. He has been played by a number of actors in other films, including Jeff Chandler in Broken Arrow (1950), The Battle at Apache Pass (1952), and Taza, Son of Cochise (1954).

By Rob Nixon

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Trivia and Other Fun Stuff on FORT APACHE

Although Fort Apache (1948) and the others in the Cavalry Trilogy are now considered important films, director John Ford once described them as "potboilers" made primarily for money.

The film won awards for Best Director and Best Cinematography Black & White (Archie Stout) at the Locarno (Italy) International Film Festival.

Producer Merian C. Cooper, Ford's partner in their independent Argosy Pictures company, had been making movies since 1925, and his career would continue for another 14 years after Fort Apache, often in collaboration with Ford. One of his most famous productions was King Kong (1933), a success he emulated at Argosy with another hit about a giant gorilla, Mighty Joe Young (1949).

Both Henry Fonda and John Wayne were long-time favorite actors of Ford. Fonda appeared in nine movies by the director and made his early mark in such notable Ford films as Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940), for which he received his first of three Academy Award nominations as Best Actor.

John Wayne is most often associated with Ford, with whom he made more than 30 pictures. While still just an extra, he appeared in several Ford silents. He became a bona fide star with Stagecoach (1939). Oddly, he never received an Oscar® nomination for any Ford film, although his performances in such films as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), and The Searchers (1956), are considered among his best.

Even Shirley Temple had worked with Ford before. He directed her in Wee Willie Winkie (1937) when she was only nine - and one of Hollywood's biggest stars. Fellow Fort Apache cast member Victor McLaglen also appeared in that earlier film.

Many of the supporting cast of Fort Apache appeared in several John Ford Westerns, enough to earn them recognition as his "stock company," and includes Ward Bond, Pedro Armendariz, Victor McLaglen, Anna Lee, Mae Marsh, Jack Pennick, and Grant Withers. John Agar and Guy Kibbee were also directed by Ford in other films.

McLaglen, who played in all three pictures of the Cavalry Trilogy and nine other Ford films, won a Best Actor Oscar® in the director's The Informer (1935).

Ben Johnson was a stunt double in this picture. He had acting roles in five other Ford films. Johnson won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show (1971), a film whose imagery and themes strongly reflect Ford's cinematic contributions.

John Agar never forgot the generous and patient help Wayne gave him as an inexperienced young actor on this production. "I would go to hell and back for Duke," he later said. They worked on five more films together.

George O'Brien, an old friend of Ford's who had starred in his silent The Iron Horse (1924), came out of retirement to play the fort commander replaced by Fonda in this story. Perhaps his most famous role was the young husband with murderous intentions in F.W. Murnau's masterpiece Sunrise (1927). His last movie was Ford's Cheyenne Autumn (1964).

Mae Marsh made her film debut in 1910 and was a noted actress in silents, starring in D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916). She was directed by Ford 17 times, including her last film role in Cheyenne Autumn.

Anna Lee, who died in 2004, had more than 70 film roles between 1932 and 1994 but is probably best known as matriarch Lila Quartermaine in the TV soap opera General Hospital. Ford was godfather to two of her sons and gave her away at her third wedding in 1970.

Danny Borzage, who Ford liked to have around to play accordion on the set, appeared uncredited in dozens of the director's films. He was the brother of director Frank Borzage.

Degrees of separation: Movita (who plays Col. Thursday's cook Guadalupe) was the wife of Marlon Brando from 1960 to 1962. She played opposite Clark Gable in the earlier version of Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). That story was remade in 1962 with Brando in the Gable role. Brando subsequently married his co-star Tarita, who played the part originated by Movita.

First assistant cameraman William Clothier became Wayne's favorite cinematographer after Fort Apache. They worked on 17 films together.

James Warner Bellah, who wrote the short story on which Fort Apache was based, contributed stories and/or screenplays to nine Westerns, including the entire Cavalry trilogy and Ford's later film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

by Rob Nixon

Famous Quotes from FORT APACHE

THURSDAY (Henry Fonda): Pour me a drink of that scripture.

YORK (John Wayne): The Sioux once raided into Apache territory. Old-timers told me you can follow the line of their retreat by the bones of their dead.

THURSDAY: I suggest the Apache had deteriorated since then, judging by a few of the specimens I have seen on the way out here.
YORK: Well, if you saw them, sir, they weren't Apaches.

RECRUIT: Yes sir. I had the honor of serving with General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
BEAUFORT: I would like to shake your hand. You are now an acting corporal. I hope you have the honor of buying me a drink on your next payday.

COLLINGWOOD (George O'Brien): Philadelphia, were you born in Philadelphia?
PHILADELPHIA (Shirley Temple): No, I was born in New York City. I was named after my mother.
COLLINGWOOD: Oh, then she was born in Philadelphia.
PHILADELPHIA: No, she was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. She was named after her mother; she was the first Philadelphia.
COLLINGWOOD: Oh, then she was...
PHILADELPHIA: No, Boston, Massachusetts.

SENTRY: Halt! Who goes there?
BEAUFORT: New commanding officer.
SENTRY: Holy Moses!
BEAUFORT: No, the new commanding officer.

YORK: They'll keep on living as long as the regiment lives. Their pay is thirteen dollars a month, and their diet is beans and hay. They'll fight over cards or rotgut whiskey, but they'll share the last drop in their canteens. Their names may change, and their faces, but they're the regiment. The regular army, now and fifty years from now. They're better men than they used to be. Thursday did that. He made it a command to be proud of.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

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teaser Fort Apache (1948)

The Big Idea Behind FORT APACHE

After World War II, more and more filmmakers began forming their own production companies independent of the big studios. Director John Ford and producer Merian C. Cooper had already discussed such a venture before the war, and once Ford returned from the Navy, they jumped on that independent bandwagon. In April 1946, shortly before Ford left for Monument Valley to begin shooting My Darling Clementine (1946), they formed Argosy Pictures with Cooper as president and Ford as chairman of the board.

Ford didn't care much for producers and claimed he had no idea what they did, but he respected Cooper, who gave him total artistic control while Cooper handled all the financial demands. Their first picture was The Fugitive (1947), a strange and haunting story about a priest (played by Henry Fonda) in Mexico living under an anti-clerical regime. It received mostly glowing reviews but the movie was a commercial failure, prompting Argosy to look for projects that would be solid box office successes.

Ford decided to produce a Western since it was more likely to reach the largest audience at that time when the genre was extremely popular. So he turned to a series of stories written by James Warner Bellah for the Saturday Evening Post. Fort Apache (1948) was based on the story "Massacre."

Bellah was not a natural fit for Ford. The right-wing writer (described by his own son as "a fascist, a racist, and a world-class bigot") had great contempt for Ford, who he considered a tyrant (which wasn't entirely off base) and referred to as a Shanty Irishman. But although he disliked Hollywood (because it was "full of Jews and crass commoners," according to his son), he loved money and knew there was plenty to be made in motion pictures. So he managed to swallow his "ideals" to collect his checks.

One aspect of Bellah did make him an ideal source: he wrote exciting action stories with strong, concise dialogue that adapted well to the screen. Ford read Bellah's "Massacre" on board a ship for Hawaii and instructed Cooper to buy the movie rights. He decided to use it to tell his version of the legend of George Armstrong Custer, a real-life Cavalry officer who ignored the best wisdom of his advisers, scouts and superiors and led his troops to their death in the famously disastrous Battle of Little Big Horn.

To adapt the story, Ford hired Frank Nugent, a former New York Times critic who had been brought to Hollywood in 1941 by Darryl Zanuck to be a script doctor. This was Nugent's first screenplay, and he was determined to avoid Bellah's harsh view of the Indians as rapists, thieves, and murderers and portray them with the sympathy he felt they deserved.

As they outlined the script, Ford told Nugent that in all the Westerns he had seen, the cavalry only functions to ride into the story, save the main characters, and ride off again. "I've been thinking about it - what it was like at a cavalry post, remote, people with their own personal problems, and over everything the threat of Indians, of death," he said. So the two set out to create not just a rousing action entertainment but a human story of the lives of military men in the old West and their families.

Ford handed Nugent a list of 50 books to read covering all aspects of the setting and period. He also sent Nugent to Apache country to get a sense of the land; the writer hired a University of Arizona anthropology student as his guide. After he returned, Ford asked him if he thought he had gathered enough information. When Nugent answered yes, Ford told him, "Good. Now forget everything you've read and we'll start writing a movie."

Nugent sensed that Ford had vague story ideas in mind but didn't know how to develop them, so his working method became a simple routine: write a rough scene, then send it to Ford for comments. He focused mainly on character development, aware that Ford hated exposition and would supply much of his own dialogue.

Ford had Nugent do something on this project that the writer continued throughout his career - write out complete biographies for every character: birth details, education, politics, drinking habits, quirks, etc.

Although they would work together on 11 pictures, writer and director did not establish the same close relationship Ford had with Dudley Nichols, nor did Ford have the same level of respect for Nugent, even though Nugent married Ford's daughter. "Once the script is finished, the writer had better keep out of his way," Nugent said. "The finished picture is always Ford's, never the writers." Nevertheless, Ford was lucky to receive both Nugent's and Cooper's contributions to the project. According to screenwriter Philip Dunne, who worked with Ford on How Green Was My Valley (1941), "Ford doesn't really understand scripts. He has no story sense. He has a great sense of scenes. But Ford should never be the producer of his pictures."

Ford made certain that the story included several Irish characters; he wanted to include "a bit of Americana" by depicting the type of Irish-American who headed west after the Civil War.

Movie censor Joseph Breen had some problems with the script. He was concerned about a scene of the men working at a manure pile as possibly offensive and insisted that a shot of two dead troopers be handled discreetly without any overt gruesomeness. He also gave orders that no toilet should be shown on screen and that drinking scenes be kept to a minimum. Breen also instructed Ford to keep constant contact with Mel Morse, regional director of the American Humane Society, regarding any scenes involving horses or other animals.

While Nugent completed the script, Ford went scouting locations in Monument Valley. Fully aware that he needed a moneymaker to keep Argosy solvent, Ford spent six months carefully planning a shooting script and pre-production set-ups so that he was able to cut his budget from $2.8 million to $2.1 million and shorten the planned shooting schedule from 77 days to 44.

By Rob Nixon

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Behind the Camera on FORT APACHE

Shooting began in Monument Valley late in July 1947. Ford had an almost spiritual attachment to the place and was largely responsible for making it the definitive location for Western films. Besides, Ford would never consider shooting one of these films on a backlot. "I think you can say that the real star of my Westerns has always been the land," he said later.

Battle sequences were shot on the Arizona side of Monument Valley since insurance rates for stunt performers were lower there than on the Utah side.

Ford used Navajo to play the Apache, regarding them as "natural-born actors" and very dependable. He respected these people and they enjoyed working for him. They loved it when a movie was being shot anywhere nearby because it meant work. They would travel by wagon many miles for a job and knew they could count on a big lunch on a Ford set. The movie required 200 Navajo as Apache warriors and another 100 Navajo women and children. It also required 100 non-Indian extras as cavalry troops.

Conditions were difficult, with temperatures sometimes rising to 115 in the day and cooling only to 90 degrees at night. Shooting was delayed several times by high winds and desert storms.

Although Ford would not allow wives and girlfriends onto his locations, John Wayne was allowed to bring his son Michael with him to Monument Valley. He later described the rugged conditions and the long, six-days-per-week working hours. "The only thing people could do in Monument Valley was work; there was no other diversion," Michael Wayne said. "But the rougher it was, the more Ford seemed to like it."

Ford also seemed to enjoy creating difficulties among cast and crew, starting fights and behaving abusively, all of it designed to make everyone fearful of him and obedient. Although Henry Fonda would work with Ford nine times over the course of their careers, the actor found the director's unwillingness to rehearse emotional scenes frustrating. He noted how if he wanted to discuss a scene, Ford would just change the subject or tell him to shut up. And Fonda never became comfortable with Ford's foul language and bullying ways. "I literally saw tears coming out of Henry Fonda's eyes on Fort Apache," Michael Wayne recalled. "He just turned and walked away."

Fonda had his own personal problems at this time: lack of rewarding roles; the difficulties of shooting his last movie with Ford, The Fugitive (1947), and its complete failure at the box office; failed marriages; alienation from his children and some of his friends over the years. His biographer Peter Collier asserts that "the ramrod cavalry martinet he played in John Ford's Fort Apache was perhaps closest to his off-screen personality at this time."

Although he had problems with Ford, Fonda also admitted the director was responsible for some of his best work. Film critics have often agreed, noting that before working with Ford, Fonda was a star but after, we was an actor.

The cast member who had the hardest time with Ford, however, was John Agar, making his film debut. Whether it was because Agar was newly married to Ford's beloved Shirley Temple or because he wanted to test him, the director rode him mercilessly, calling him "Mr. Temple" in front of everyone, criticizing the way he delivered lines, chastising him for his lack of expert horsemanship. One day, Agar stormed off, vowing to quit the picture, but John Wayne took him aside and helped him with some of the more difficult aspects of his job.

Frequent Ford player Ward Bond (they made 26 pictures together) got his share of abuse and ribbing, not only from Ford but Wayne, too. The two used to tease him mercilessly about what they said was the enormous size of his rear end. The burly, rough-edged Bond harbored ambitions of becoming a romantic lead, much to everyone's amusement, and kept complaining throughout the picture that he should have been playing Wayne's role. Ford simply dismissed him with the nickname "Big and Double Ugly."

When working with Ford, John Wayne gave himself over completely to the director's intentions and orders and had great respect for Ford's talent. "When he pointed the camera, he was painting with it," Wayne said. "He didn't believe in keeping the camera in motion; he moved his people toward the camera and away from it."

Another mainstay on the set was Danny Borzage, brother of director Frank Borzage, who Ford would hire as a bit player so Danny could be around to play the director's favorite songs on the accordion between takes to keep the mood lively. Michael Wayne also recalled that sometimes the sound of Borzage's accordion, or someone singing without accompaniment, would be all that pierced the silence at night, while heat lightning flashed in the distance.

Shirley Temple, in one of her first adult roles, was pregnant during shooting and worried that riding horses or wearing her corset too tight would induce miscarriage.

It wasn't just cast members who had a hard time with Ford. Cinematographer Archie Stout quarreled with him frequently and even refused to shoot certain scenes the way Ford wanted them.

Although accidents on Ford's sets were seldom occurrences, there were some close calls in the stunt work on this movie. One stunt performer broke his back during shooting. And in a shot of a speeding munitions wagon going around a sharp bend, the vehicle turned over, dragging the four people on board right toward a rock wall. Luckily stuntman and occasional actor Ben Johnson galloped in and prevented a potentially deadly accident. He was rewarded with a seven-year contract with Argosy and substantial roles in the years to come.

During shooting of one scene, it began to rain, but Ford kept right on filming. Fonda later noted that although you didn't see the rain on screen, the light moisture on the leather of the saddle and harness added an unusual quality. "That was Pappy taking advantage of whatever presented itself," Fonda said.

Location filming wrapped on August 11 and work resumed two days later back in California. A fort was built and all interiors were done there. Filming was completed by October.

Realizing the director needed expert, fast-paced editing to make his pictures work, producer Cooper managed to get Ford to turn over control of this and other films once principal photography was over.

By Rob Nixon

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The Critics' Corner on FORT APACHE

Fort Apache (1948) proved to be a tremendous hit for John Ford and producer Merian C. Cooper. It made almost half a million dollars in profits above its approximately $2 million budget. Of that, Ford made a flat $150,000 while John Wayne, Henry Fonda, and Shirley Temple were each paid $10,000 a week.

Frank Nugent received a Writers Guild of America nomination for his screenplay.

"A vigorous, sweeping western adventure drama...shocking dramatic effects and spectacular action sequences." - Hollywood Reporter, 1948

"Film captures the flavor of the early west, and whams over high-pitched, stirring scenes, of U.S. Cavalry and Indians in action. ... Mass action, humorous byplay in the western cavalry outpost, deadly suspense, and romance are masterfully combined...to stir the greatest number of filmgoers." - Variety, March 10, 1948

"Folks who are looking for action in the oldest tradition of the screen, observed through a genuine artist's camera, will find plenty of it here...In his rich blend of personality, of the gorgeously picturesque outdoor western scenery, plus his new comprehension of frontier history, Mr. Ford here again fires keen hope that he will soon turn his unsurpassed talents to a great and sweeping drama of the west." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, June 26, 1948

"This is one of Ford's beautiful but irritating epic Westerns. The fights and dances and other big scenes are triumphs of staging, but the coy love interest...and the Irish horseplay are infantile. And the whole picture is bathed in a special form of patriotic sentimentality: scenes are held so that we cannot fail to appreciate the beauty of the American past." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies

"From Fort Apache on, Ford's films seemed to have abandoned the Tradition of Quality for the Cult of Personality. Ford seemed to let everything hang out, and especially his boozy, misty-eyed Irishness. ... The iconographical tension alone makes Fort Apache one of Ford's most absorbing entertainments..." Andrew Sarris, The John Ford Movie Mystery (Indiana University Press, 1983)

"The film's ending makes an interesting statement - later echoed in Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance [1962] - about the importance of preserving heroic myths even when they are contradicted by facts. Rio Grande [1950] is lustier and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon [1949] more mature but Fort Apache, the first of Ford's cavalry trilogy, is grand entertainment, justly regarded as a classic Western." - Brian Garfield, Western Films

"It is more interesting in its conception and for its implications than as a realized work of art." - Lindsay Anderson, About John Ford (McGraw-Hill, 1983)

"An intriguing development of questions of leadership, responsibility, heroism, and legend.... Not for the last time, Ford gives us telling evidence of tragic ambiguity, but none the less decides to 'print the legend.'" - Paul Taylor, Time Out Film Guide (Penguin Books, 2000)

"Ford detractors won't like his sentiment, Irish humor, chaste romance, and musical interludes, but it you're a Ford fan you'll love it all and be inexplicably choked up by such things as Bond smiling as he dances with Temple, the cavalry singing as they ride off, and the wives and lovers watching solemnly as their men disappear into the sunset." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic

The film's warm depiction of daily life among the military has won it acclaim as more than just a routine action Western. Film historian Michael Goodwin has noted, "Ford invites us to join the men and women of the 7th Cavalry, to share their time and place in history, to dance with them, drink with them, die with them."

"Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Fort Apache. I think it is a wonderful American picture and the direction is great. I was thrilled by the picture from start to finish, and my only regret was that it wasn't in Technicolor." - producer Walter Wanger in a 1948 letter to Ford

By Rob Nixon

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teaser Fort Apache (1948)

The great film director John Ford needed a hit after the end of World War II. His first effort after the war, The Fugitive (1947), starring Henry Fonda, was met with critical derision and audience indifference. In fact, Ford's production company, Argosy Pictures, had a devil of a time finding a new project that financiers would back and also attract audiences. Ford and Argosy could not afford another noble failure like The Fugitive, a film that even Ford acknowledged at the time was a risky venture.

Ford had met the writer James Warner Bellah in India during the war. The two became acquainted, and Ford took notice of Bellah's series of cavalry stories that were being printed in The Saturday Evening Post. Argosy bought from Bellah a number of his stories, for prices that usually ran around $4,500 apiece. One of these stories, "Massacre," served as the basis for Fort Apache (1948), the film that marked Ford's return to critical and commercial success. Of course, adapting the story was no simple task, as many of Bellah's own personal beliefs ran contrary to Ford's, and naturally some of the author's strong views found their way into "Massacre." One of Bellah's tenets that Ford disagreed with was the depiction of Indians. Bellah's viewpoint, never straying far from a racist doctrine, saw Indians as the "red beast in the night." Nevertheless, Ford went out of his way to grant Indians a dignity and sense of humanity, as he does in Fort Apache, by clearly making the Indians not the villains, but the victims of government-sanctioned rogues.

Despite the dispute over the Indians, Ford and Bellah agreed on one thing: the valor and pride of the military. And to capture this long-gone military tradition of the U.S. Cavalry, Argosy hired a researcher named Katherine Spaatz and sent her to Arizona to interview an old cavalry sergeant's widow. Spaatz also talked to her own grandmother, who began her marriage to a soldier in the famed Seventh Cavalry in Arizona during the 1880s.

As the script was nearing completion, Ford, together with producer and Argosy co-founder Merian C. Cooper, realized they lacked a title for the film that would become the first of an informal trilogy of cavalry pictures, the others being She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950). So the duo held a contest amongst the Argosy employees with a promised prize of $100 going to anyone who came up with a winning title. The story's original title, "Massacre," was considered too graphic. Other briefly considered titles: War Party, Dragoon (which was suggested by special effects artist Ray Harryhausen who was on the RKO lot working on Mighty Joe Young, 1949), Indian Fighter, Glory, Thursday's Folly, Trumpet Call, Boots and Saddles, Indian Country, Rampage, Valley of Death, The Apache Fight at Dawn, Red, White and Untamed, and Failure Then Defeat. Ironically, it was John Ford himself who suggested Fort Apache. There is no record whether or not he claimed the $100 for himself.

Producer: Merian C. Cooper, John Ford
Director: John Ford
Screenplay: James Warner Bellah (story "Massacre"), Frank S. Nugent
Art Direction: James Basevi
Cinematography: William H. Clothier, Archie Stout
Costume Design: Michael Meyers, Ann Peck
Film Editing: Jack Murray
Original Music: Richard Hageman
Principal Cast: John Wayne (Captain Kirby Yorke), Henry Fonda (Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday), Shirley Temple (Philadelphia Thursday), Pedro Armendáriz (Sergeant Beaufort), Ward Bond (Sergeant-Major Michael O'Rourke), John Agar (Lieutenant Michael Shannon O'Rourke), Victor McLaglen (Sergeant Festus Mulcahy), George O'Brien (Captain Sam Collingwood).
BW-128m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Scott McGee

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