Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Fort Apache


The first of John Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy,” all starring John Wayne, the second being She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and the third Rio Grande. It’s not as good as the second one, but it’s pretty damn good. Henry Fonda steps out of his usual character to play stiff, bitter, and ultimately disastrous Colonel Thursday, newly in charge of the fort, in over his head and unable to admit it. His bitterness comes from having been a general during the Civil War and then demoted afterwards. This was common, I understand; Custer was in the same situation. He doesn’t listen to more experienced men than he, and it leads to his death and the deaths of a lot of good men. Here as in all three movies Indians are portrayed as basically responding to abuse by the white man when they go on the warpath. And as in the second movie, Wayne is the peacemaker. There is the usual cast of John Ford regulars, including Victor McLaglen as a hard-drinking Irishman. Shirley Temple is here, too, as Fonda’s daughter, 20 years old but playing 16, and her cute little-girl pout is not as endearing as it was when she was five. Her character is named Philadelphia Thursday. Sounds more like an appointment than a name.