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A revisionist Western that makes complex statements about the nature ofrace, identity, and loyalty, Run of the Arrow (1957) is a key film in theoeuvre of renegade director Samuel Fuller. Though Fuller was oftencriticized for lacking a social conscience - his taste for lurid pulpfiction usually excluded it - this picture paints as open-minded an image ofthe American Indian as you're likely to find in 1950s cinema. The maincharacter, played by Rod Steiger, actually sides with the Indians for thebetter part of the film, a stance that runs decidedly counter to what JohnWayne and his ilk had been doing for the previous 20 years.
Steiger plays Pvt. O'Meara, a Confederate soldier who fires what turns outto be the final shot of the Civil War. A Union lieutenant named Driscoll(Ralph Meeker) is on the receiving end of the bullet, but he recovers fromhis wound. Unwilling to accept the "death" of his beloved South once thepeace treaty is signed at Appomattox, O'Meara heads West. There, afterestablishing his worthiness through an endurance test known as "the run ofthe arrow," he joins a Sioux Indian tribe. Eventually, he falls in lovewith a beautiful maiden named Yellow Moccasin, played by Sarita Montiel, whose voice was dubbed by RKO contract player Angie Dickinson!
Tension mounts when the U.S. Army, lead by Lt. Driscoll, builds Fort AbrahamLincoln just beyond the edge of a hallowed Sioux hunting ground. When apopular captain (Brian Keith) is killed by an enraged Sioux warrior (H.M.Wynant), Driscoll uses that as an excuse to attack the Indians. This leadsto a failed peace-keeping attempt by O'Meara, and an exceptionally bloodybattle in and around the fort. The ambiguous finale suggests that O'Mearais finally done with his personal Civil War, but remains torn between theSioux and the world he left behind.
Steiger never met a piece of scenery he couldn't chew, but he's actuallywell-suited to Fuller's bulldozing method. Though he seldom enjoyed theluxury of a big budget, Fuller pushed the boundaries of what could beaccomplished by commercial filmmakers, with a blunt primitivism that waschampioned by the French New Wave critics of the 1960s, and ultimatelyinfluenced such directors as Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. Theoften hysterical melodrama of Fuller's scripts can overshadow just howbrilliantly he employs his camera. Run of the Arrow is as fluidlyand economically shot as any of his films.
In Sam Fuller: Film is a Battleground by Lee Server, the director recalled the sequence toward the beginning of Run of the Arrow where Steiger says goodbye to his mother: "The Confederate in that scene who sang the song against the Constitution was played by a Southerner, whose hobby was collecting folklore and ballads. He loved it, being a Southerner and against the damn Yankees. My art director on the picture was a very virulent Yankee. I'm only telling you this because there's an evil streak in me that I like. I thought it would be wonderful to get them together in my office. I'll never forget it; it was the most wonderful moment of my life to introduce these two men who despised each other. They immediately got into a tremendous argument. I heard the whole Civil War fought all over again in my office." Fuller also commented on the famous "run of the arrow" sequence: "I shot that scene without my star. Steiger sprained his ankle right before we shot it, and he was taken off to the hospital. I used a young Indian in his place. Nobody noticed it. They thought I was being highly creative, highly artistic: "Imagine! Almost a boy wonder, a genius! Sensational! The way he shot it by just showing the feet!" Well, I would have shot about eighty per cent of the scene with just feet anyway, because that's the whole idea of the Run. But occasionally I would have liked to whip up with the camera and show Steiger's face."
Movie buffs will note the similarities between Run of the Arrow andKevin Costner's Oscar-winning epic, Dances with Wolves (1990). Bothfilms feature disheartened lead characters who journey West at the end ofthe Civil War, only to find new strength in the culture and teachings of theSioux Indians. In due course, both men are forced to test their new-foundbeliefs when other war veterans arrive on Sioux land, guns at the ready.Fuller, however, is somewhat more inclined to let bullets and tomahawks dothe talking than Costner is. After all, he was making B-pictures, notsensitivity training films.
Though supporting actor Tim McCoy was an Indian agent who started his filmcareer as a technical advisor on silent Westerns, it seems unlikely that hedid much advising on Run of the Arrow. The Sioux, for instance,would never kiss on the lips as shown in the movie. And, though Fullersuggests they're ready to skin a person alive at one point, they were neverproponents of torture. There's certainly overstatement in the finished product, but Fuller refusedto pull punches at a time when his much more honored peers were busy mindingtheir manners. His white-hot passions permeate Run of the Arrow,making it one of the more fascinating entries in a truly American body ofwork.
Producer/Director: Samuel Fuller
Screenplay: Samuel Fuller
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Jack Okey
Cinematography: Joseph Biroc
Film Editing: Gene Fowler, Jr.
Original Music: Victor Young
Cast: Rod Steiger (O'Meara), Sarita Montiel (Yellow Moccasin), Brian Keith (Capt. Clark), Ralph Meeker (Lt. Driscoll), Jay C. Flippen (Walking Coyote), Charles Bronson (Blue Buffalo), Olive Carey (Mrs. O'Meara), H. M. Wynant (Crazy Wolf), Frank DeKova (Red Cloud).
By Paul Tatara