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BROKEN ARROW (director: Delmer Daves; screenwriters: from the book Blood Brother by Elliott Arnold/Albert Maltz-credited to Michael Blankfort; cinematographer: Ernest Palmer; editor: J. Watson Webb, Jr.; music: Hugo W. Friedhofer; cast: James Stewart (Tom Jeffords), Jeff Chandler (Cochise), Debra Paget (Sonseeahray), Basil Ruysdael (Gen. Howard), Arthur Hunnicutt (Milt Duffield, Mail Superintendent), Jay Silverheels (Goklia), Will Geer (Ben Slade), Joyce MacKenzie (Terry), Billy Wilkerson (Juan), Mickey Kuhn (Chip Slade), Robert Griffin (Lowrie), Raymond Bramley (Col. Bernall); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Julian Blaustein; 20th Century Fox; 1950)
“My gosh! It’s a Western with a liberal cry for peace, racial harmony and tolerance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Delmer Daves (“Dark Passage”) directs this classy and well-meaning though at times awkward and self-conscious Western; it’s adapted from the book Blood Brother by Elliott Arnold. It changed the negative way Hollywood viewed Indians ever since the days of the silent film, as it now made them the good guys and fairly presented their point of view instead of just depicting them as blooodthirsty savages. My gosh! It’s a Western with a liberal cry for peace, racial harmony and tolerance. It seems to be an authentic study of the peace efforts made in 1870 in the Arizona Territory between Cochise (Jeff Chandler), the chief of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, and ex-cavalry Civil War Captain Tom Jeffords (James Stewart). Albert Maltz, blacklisted because of the witch hunts, actually wrote this powerful social commentary script that was credited to Michael Blankfort.

While prospecting for gold in the mountains on Indian Territory, Tom finds a wounded Apache boy who was shot by cavalry troops and nurses him back to health. In town, the new cavalry commander at the fort, Colonel Bernall, asks the war-weary Tom to become a scout and help him wipe out the Apaches. Tom refuses because he doesn’t believe the colonel can win as easily as he thinks and also remembers the current war started when a lieutenant broke the truce and killed Cochise’s brother.

The whites complain that no stagecoach or mail can get through, a bitter racist rancher Ben Slade wants revenge because his wife and one of his sons were killed in an Indian raid on his ranch, and miners also want revenge because some in their group were killed and tortured in an Indian ambush. The locals express bitter disappointment that Tom refuses to help with his army scouting expertise and call him an Indian lover, but his mail superintendent friend Milt (Arthur Hunnicutt) is willing to go along with Tom’s plan to learn the customs and to speak the Apache tongue with the help of his tutor Juan by giving him office space in his station. Tom arranges a meeting with Cochise when he graduates from his course on Indian 101. At the meeting Cochise agrees to make the first move for peace by giving his word he will let all the mail deliveries through but will continue on with his war raids. The colonel’s plan to trap the Apaches by hiding troops in a wagon caravan fails, as the Indians outsmart him and leave him for dead.

President Grant expresses an interest in peace by sending a one-armed Civil War hero general, known respectfully as Oliver ‘The Christian General’ Howard (Basil Ruysdael ), to see if he can meet with Cochise and find a way to stop the war. The only one who can arrange that meeting is Tom, but the locals are about to string him up as they are aroused by the slaughter of Bernall’s troops. The general saves Tom from the lynch mob. When Tom gets the general to promise the Apaches a big chunk of land in the southwest territory, the wily prospector gets him that meeting with Cochise. In their pow-wow, Cochise wants to test the climate for peace for three moons before signing the treaty but is willing to break an arrow (which is their symbolic gesture for detente between whites and Indian). Both sides have extremist who want to continue the war, as Geronimo becomes a renegade and breaks with Cochise while crooked white traders refuse to honor the peace treaty. In the meantime, Tom fell in love with an Indian healer girl Sonseeahray (Debra Paget) and Cochise arranges for their marriage. The peace is first broken by the renegades, but Cochise comes to protect a stage they attacked. Later the sinister Slade tricks Tom and Cochise into falling for a trap over stolen horses, and in the process kills Sonseeahray. Slade is killed in return and the attack repulsed, and because of the death of Tom’s wife both sides become more determined to seal the peace forever. Tom then leaves the Apaches and returns to white man’s civilization, happy to have played an important role in securing the peace.

Though not particularly entertaining, it was still enjoyable for its excellent action scenes and intelligent script. Also Stewart gives his usual quality performance and Chandler, in his first-time playing Cochise, found himself a career identifying role playing him in two other movies (The Battle at Apache Pass and Taza, Son Of Cochise).

The film has been unfairly criticized because the leading Indians were played by whites, while only the extras were authentic Native Americans and that Chandler’s Cochise was merely an Uncle Tom figure. I found the later criticism offensive, since this film probably had a greater affect in reducing racial tensions in the country then, perhaps, any other film at the time. The film worked despite its many flaws including its contrived killing off of Stewart’s wife, which seems to have been done to please the racists and the censors because a mixed marriage was still socially unacceptable at the time.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”