Fort Apache
Spanish-language theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Ford
Written byFrank S. Nugent
Based on"Massacre"
1947 story The Saturday Evening Post
by James Warner Bellah
Produced by
CinematographyArchie Stout, ASC
Edited byJack Murray
Music byRichard Hageman
Distributed byRKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • March 27, 1948 (1948-03-27)[1]
Running time
125 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2.1 million[2]
Box office$3 million (US rentals)[3]

Fort Apache is a 1948 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda.[4][5] 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.[6]

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, The 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".[7]

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 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. 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. She becomes attracted to Second Lieutenant Michael Shannon O'Rourke, the son of Sergeant Major Michael O'Rourke. 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, 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. 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.

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 Patrick "Paddy" 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.[citation needed]


Some exteriors for the film's location shooting were shot in Monument Valley, Arizona.[8] 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[9] (equivalent to $4,350,000 in 2022[10]).

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in its 2008 AFI's 10 Top 10: Nominated Western film.[11]

Other rankings

Fort Apache is commonly ranked among the most significant films of the "cowboy/western" genre, including:[12]

Additionally, the principal actors were ranked (for this and their other films):

See also


  1. ^ "Fort Apache: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 10, 2014.
  2. ^ Brady, Thomas F. (September 19, 1947). "U-I BUYS 2 STORIES TO BE MADE FILMS". New York Times. p. 27.
  3. ^ "Top Grossers of 1948". Variety. January 5, 1949. p. 46.
  4. ^ "Fort Apache". Miniature Reviews. Variety. March 10, 1948. p. 10.
  5. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; xxx.
  6. ^ Howze, William (2011). "Sources for Ford's "Cavalry trilogy": The Saturday Evening Post and James Warner Bellah". Section of Howze's doctoral dissertation.
  7. ^ Kehr, Dave (March 23, 2012). "How the West Was Filled With Loss". New York Times. Retrieved June 3, 2018.
  8. ^ SILBERNAGEL, BOB (November 4, 2019). "John Ford, Monument Valley helped define Western mythology". The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Retrieved February 26, 2023.
  9. ^ Jewell, Richard; Harbin, Vernon (1982). The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House. p. 228.
  10. ^ Johnston, Louis; Williamson, Samuel H. (2023). "What Was the U.S. GDP Then?". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved November 30, 2023. United States Gross Domestic Product deflator figures follow the Measuring Worth series.
  11. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on July 16, 2011. Retrieved August 19, 2016.
  12. ^ Smith, Travis W. (2016). "Abstract". Place Images of the American West in Western Films (PDF) (doctoral dissertation). Kansas State University. Retrieved November 1, 2020.

Further reading