Running time: 127 minutes
Process: Black & White / mono
Director: John Ford
Stars: Henry Fonda as Lt. Col. Owen Thursday
John Wayne as Capt. Kirby York
Shirley Temple as Philadelphia Thursday
Ward Bond as Sgt. Maj. Michael O’Rourke
Victor McLaglen as Sgt. Festus Mulcahy
John Agar as 2nd. Lt. Michael Shannon O’Rourke
Fort Apache was the first of John Ford’s “Cavalry” trilogy. The three films were separate stories all concerning the US Cavalry and starring John Wayne.
Henry Fonda plays an ambitious military officer who has been assigned to take command at an outpost called Fort Apache. He is disappointed by the assignment and sees it as a temporary setback to his military career. As a strict, by-the-book, regimented commander, he finds the fort much too lax and lacking in discipline. He is a widower and has been accompanied to the outpost by his 19-year old daughter, played by Shirley Temple.
Much of the film deals with Col. Thursday’s inflexibility as he butts heads with Captain York (John Wayne) who has a much better understanding of how to deal with the restless Apaches. York would prefer to use diplomacy while Thursday insists on force. And when Thursday’s daughter falls in love with a young West Point cadet (John Agar), he stubbornly forbids the courtship because it goes against military regulations.
It’s not much of a leap to recognize that the story was patterned after Custer’s Last Stand, with Thursday having Custer-like attributes, and he even suffers the same fate.
Fort Apache is a great example of John Ford’s patriotism and his love for the US Cavalry, and of course it was filmed in Ford’s favorite location, Monument Valley. He followed it up with She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in 1949 and Rio Grande in 1950.