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Fort Apache
Fort Apache
Reviewer: Richard Tara
Director: John Ford
Cast: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Pedro Armendariz, Shirley Temple, Ward Bond

A passed over and bitter Lt. Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) is assigned to command the remote Fort Apache, near the Mexican border. During the civil war, Owen Thursday was made a temporary general (brevet general, in army language.) After the war Thursday, like many other generals, has been demoted to a lower rank. The land is hostile and so are the Indians. Colonel Thursday is a strict disciplinarian and holds his men in disdain and thinks of Indians as stupid savages. To top it all, his very young daughter, who has accompanied him, falls in love with the son of a Sergeant Major. He tries to resurrect his career by stirring up the Indians and luring them into a trap. The wily Cochise, chief of the Indian Nation, sees through his subterfuge and deals with him decisively. Even though Thursday is killed in a losing battle in an ambush that he set himself and is responsible for the death of most of his command, he is glorified after his death as a great hero.

John Ford was a real Irishman. It is said that if he liked you, he would spit on the palm of his hand before shaking yours. He made many memorable Westerns and directed Fort Apache with his favorite actors, John Wayne as Captain Kirby York, Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen and Pedro Armendariz. But, the real accolade belongs to Henry Fonda, as a cantankerous snob who is willing to provoke a war to further his career without regard for the life of his soldiers. As a West Point educated officer, he holds the Indians in contempt and cannot believe that they could know a thing or two about strategy.

The parallels and references to George Armstrong Custer are clearly identifiable. Custer was a general during the civil war but was demoted to Lt. Colonel and sent to a remote outpost to face the Indians. He stirred up the Indians and got himself and his soldiers killed at “Little Bighorn”, only to be lionized later as a great hero of the West. Henry Fonda wears an army cap with light colored neck protection linen on the back (ala French Foreign Legion.) It is a virtual portrayal of Custer and his long flowing blond hair. Even Captain Sam Collingwood (George O'Brien) one of Lt. Colonel Thursday's officers is a copy of major Reno, Custer's second in command who was known for his drinking problems.

This was the first of three movies John Ford made about the US cavalry all starring John Wayne. The next two were “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” in color and “Rio Grande.” Victor McLaglen was cast in all the three as well. A colorized version of Fort Apache is also available.