Sunday 19 March 2023

Movie Review: Broken Arrow (1950)

Genre: Western
Director: Delmer Daves
Starring: James Stewart, Jeff Chandler, Debra Paget
Running Time: 93 minutes

Synopsis: In Arizona of the 1870s, ex-Union Army scout Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) heals an Apache youth, earning a reputation for compassion. Despite the vicious war raging between the Apache tribe and settlers, Tom reaches out to Apache leader Cochise (Jeff Chandler) to negotiate safe passage for mail carriers. Tom also falls in love with young Apache woman Sonseeahray (Debra Paget). But with deep suspicions on both sides, building a lasting peace will remain a challenge.

What Works Well: Inspired by Jeffords' actual life adventures as chronicled in Elliot Arnold's book Blood Brother, Broken Arrow treats the Apache with notable sympathy. The Albert Maltz screenplay never hedges: the natives are defending their land and families from aggressive invaders, and most of the irredeemable white characters treat the Apache with subhuman disdain; the quest for peace is consequently challenged by both sides. Director Delmer Daves invests plenty of time appreciating tribal culture (doubtless Hollywoodized), including touching wedding vows. Ernest Palmer's cinematography makes excellent use of Arizona locations, and the tendency for thoughtfulness does not preclude traditional Western action set-pieces.

What Does Not Work As Well: The final chapter crams personal and epochal resolutions into a rushed few minutes. Consistent with the cinematic era, the main Native American characters are played by white actors with tan makeup, although Cochise's rival Geronimo is portrayed by Indigenous Canadian Jay Silverheels. The romantic subplot is tender, but partners 16-year-old Debra Paget with the 41-year-old Stewart.

Conclusion: An impressive leap forward in the depiction of a defining culture clash.

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