|Directed by||John Ford|
|Written by||Frank S. Nugent|
1947 story The Saturday Evening Post
by James Warner Bellah
|Cinematography||Archie Stout, ASC|
|Edited by||Jack Murray|
|Music by||Richard Hageman|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures|
|Box office||$3 million (US rentals)|
Fort Apache is a 1948 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda. The film was the first of the director's "Cavalry Trilogy" and was followed by She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), both also starring Wayne. The screenplay was inspired by James Warner Bellah's short story "Massacre" (1947). The historical sources for "Massacre" have been attributed both to George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn and to the Fetterman Fight.
The film was one of the first to present an authentic and sympathetic view of Native Americans. In his review of the DVD release of Fort Apache in 2012, New York Times movie critic Dave Kehr called it "one of the great achievements of classical American cinema, a film of immense complexity that never fails to reveal new shadings with each viewing" and "among the first 'pro-Indian' Westerns" in its portrayal of indigenous Americans with "sympathy and respect".
The film was awarded the Best Director and Best Cinematography awards by the Locarno International Film Festival of Locarno, Switzerland. Screenwriter Frank S. Nugent was nominated for best screenplay by the Writers Guild of America.
After the American Civil War, highly respected veteran Captain Kirby York (John Wayne) is expected to replace the outgoing commander at Fort Apache, an isolated U.S. cavalry post. York had commanded his own regiment during the Civil War and was well-qualified to assume permanent command. To the surprise and disappointment of the company, command of the regiment was given to Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda). Thursday, a West Point graduate, was a general during the Civil War. Despite his Civil War combat record, Lieutenant Colonel Thursday is an arrogant and egocentric officer who lacks experience dealing with Native Americans, and in particular local tribes with their unique cultures and traditions.
Accompanying widower Thursday is his daughter, Philadelphia (Shirley Temple). She becomes attracted to Second Lieutenant Michael Shannon O'Rourke (John Agar), the son of Sergeant Major Michael O'Rourke (Ward Bond). The elder O'Rourke was a recipient of the Medal of Honor as a major with the Irish Brigade during the Civil War, entitling his son to enter West Point and become an officer. However, the class-conscious Thursday forbids his daughter to see someone whom he does not consider an equal and a gentleman.
When unrest arises among the Apache, led by Cochise (Miguel Inclán), Thursday ignores York's advice to treat the tribes with honor and to remedy problems on the reservation caused by corrupt Apache agent Silas Meacham (Grant Withers). Thursday's inability to deal with Meacham effectively, due to his rigid interpretation of Army regulations stating that Meacham is an agent of the United States government, so entitled to Army protection (despite his own personal contempt for the man), coupled with Thursday's prejudicial and arrogant ignorance regarding the Apache, drives the Apaches to rebel. Eager for glory and recognition, Thursday orders his regiment into battle on Cochise's terms, a direct charge into the hills, despite York's urgent warnings that such a move would be suicidal. Thursday relieves York and orders him to stay back, replacing him with Captain Sam Collingwood (George O'Brien).
Following Thursday's orders, York spares the younger O'Rourke from battle. Thursday's command is nearly wiped out, but a few soldiers manage to escape back to the ridge where Captain York is positioned. Thursday himself survives, but then returns to die with the last of his trapped men. Cochise spares York and the rest of the detachment because he knows York to be an honorable man.
Several years later, a now Lieutenant Colonel Kirby York commands the regiment. Meeting with correspondents, he introduces Lt. O'Rourke, now married to Philadelphia Thursday with a young son. A reporter asks Colonel York if he has seen the famous painting depicting "Thursday's Charge". York, about to command a new and arduous campaign to bring in the Apaches, while believing that Thursday was a poor tactician who led a foolhardy and suicidal charge, says it is completely accurate and then reminds the reporters that the soldiers will never be forgotten as long as the regiment lives.
Note: At the time of filming, Shirley Temple and John Agar were married in real life.
The Irish theme to the background of some of the troopers may be a nod to the service on both sides during the Civil War, as does the recruit who had allegedly served under Nathan Bedford Forrest. The role of Sergeant Major Michael O'Rourke (and his son) may be a thinly disguised tribute to 'Paddy' Patrick O'Rorke killed leading the 140th New York Volunteer Regiment in a desperate charge to shore up the right flank of Strong Vincent's Brigade on Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2, 1863.
Some exteriors for the film's location shooting were shot in Monument Valley, Arizona. The exteriors involving the fort itself and the renegade Apache agent's trading post were filmed at the Corriganville Movie Ranch, a former Simi Hills movie ranch that is now a regional park in the Simi Valley of Southern California.
The film recorded a profit of $445,000 (equivalent to $4,070,000 in 2021).
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in its 2008 AFI's 10 Top 10: Nominated Western film.
Fort Apache is commonly ranked among the most significant films of the "cowboy/western" genre, including these rankings:
Additionally, the principal actors were ranked (for this and their other films):