Cheyenne Autumn (1964)

158 mins | Western | 23 December 1964

Director:

John Ford

Writer:

James R. Webb

Producer:

Bernard Smith

Cinematographer:

William H. Clothier

Editor:

Otho Lovering

Production Designer:

Richard Day

Production Company:

Ford--Smith Productions
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HISTORY

On 3 Jul 1963, DV announced that director John Ford would reunite with How the West Was Won (1963, see entry) screenwriter James R. Webb and producer Bernard Smith to adapt Mari Sandoz’s 1953 novel, Cheyenne Autumn, which documented the plight of 960 Northern Cheyenne Indians who attempted to return to their homeland after being displaced by U.S. troops in 1877. A NYT report the following day referred to the project by the working title, The Long Flight, and stated that production was set to begin 1 Oct 1963.
       Although casting began early, a 24 Jul 1963 Var brief stated that Jeffrey Hunter was forced to relinquish his participation in the film upon receiving the leading role in the television series, Temple Houston (NBC, 19 Sep 1963—2 Apr 1964). By the fall, Ford had signed several stars to the ensemble, many of whom appeared in his previous Westerns, including How the West Was Won. However, some of the choices incited criticism from Lone Eagle, Chief of the Los Angeles Indian Center, who argued that casting an Italian actor (Sal Mineo), a Spaniard (Gilbert Roland), and a Mexican (Ricardo Montalban) in the prominent Cheyenne roles denied opportunities to Native American actors. Additionally, Mexican actress Dolores Del Rio portrayed a Spanish woman. A 31 Oct 1963 LAT item announced the casting of Montie Montana , while the 21 Nov 1963 DV brief stated that Teresa Cooper would make her theatrical acting debut as the wife of John Qualen’s character, “Svenson.”
       By the time production began, the title had been changed ... More Less

On 3 Jul 1963, DV announced that director John Ford would reunite with How the West Was Won (1963, see entry) screenwriter James R. Webb and producer Bernard Smith to adapt Mari Sandoz’s 1953 novel, Cheyenne Autumn, which documented the plight of 960 Northern Cheyenne Indians who attempted to return to their homeland after being displaced by U.S. troops in 1877. A NYT report the following day referred to the project by the working title, The Long Flight, and stated that production was set to begin 1 Oct 1963.
       Although casting began early, a 24 Jul 1963 Var brief stated that Jeffrey Hunter was forced to relinquish his participation in the film upon receiving the leading role in the television series, Temple Houston (NBC, 19 Sep 1963—2 Apr 1964). By the fall, Ford had signed several stars to the ensemble, many of whom appeared in his previous Westerns, including How the West Was Won. However, some of the choices incited criticism from Lone Eagle, Chief of the Los Angeles Indian Center, who argued that casting an Italian actor (Sal Mineo), a Spaniard (Gilbert Roland), and a Mexican (Ricardo Montalban) in the prominent Cheyenne roles denied opportunities to Native American actors. Additionally, Mexican actress Dolores Del Rio portrayed a Spanish woman. A 31 Oct 1963 LAT item announced the casting of Montie Montana , while the 21 Nov 1963 DV brief stated that Teresa Cooper would make her theatrical acting debut as the wife of John Qualen’s character, “Svenson.”
       By the time production began, the title had been changed to match the source material. According to a 4 Oct 1963 DV production chart, principal photography had been underway since 23 Sep 1963. While the 8 Aug 1963 LAT suggested that Ford would utilize the Warner Bros. studio facilities in Burbank, CA, most of the film was shot on location in Monument Valley, on the Utah-Arizona border. The 4 Nov 1963 and 6 Nov 1963 DV noted that this included a river crossing scene at the San Juan River north of Mexican Hat, and a battle sequence featuring 560 background actors. According to a 12 Nov 1963 LAT article, some 330 Navajo doubled as Cheyenne while the unit was present on their reservation. During this time, the 16 Oct 1963 DV reported a “strange desert virus” caused fourteen members of the cast and crew to fall ill, requiring the attention of a doctor flown in from the studio.
       The company then moved to Moab, UT, where roughly 125 locals were hired to work both behind and in front of the camera. A 22 Nov 1963 DV brief referred to a report in the Moab Times-Independent claiming the production’s presence in town significantly contributed to the area economy. The remainder of the winter shoot was spent in Colorado, which was plagued by freezing temperatures. A 4 Dec 1963 DV brief noted that Native American women and children working in Gunnison, CO, were provided battery operated electric blankets to combat the cold. As reported in the 24 Dec 1963 and 26 Dec 1963 DV, both Ford and Dolores Del Rio were temporarily incapacitated due to illness, and associate director Ray Kellogg assumed directorial duties. Ford resumed his position once the production returned to the Warner Bros. studio in California. Around this time, the 28 Dec 1963 NYT stated that Edward G. Robinson agreed to step in to play “Carl Shurz” after Spencer Tracy was hospitalized with a pulmonary edema. Despite an earlier report that Tracy was possibly providing narration for the film, he ultimately did not participate. A 6 Jan 1964 LAT article announced that photography was expected to be completed that day. According to the 2 Dec 1963 edition of DV, production costs were estimated at $5 million.
       On 26 Aug 1964, a Var brief announced that publishing company Avon Books printed 500,000 paperback copies of Sandoz’s novel to publicize the film’s release. A 21 Aug 1964 DV article detailing Warner Bros.’ distribution strategy stated that the studio also produced a two-reel featurette reflecting on the changes in Cheyenne travel since the events depicted in the film.
       The first premiere was held in Cheyenne, WY, on 3 Oct 1964, accompanied by a weekend-long press junket. Articles in the 21 Aug 1964 and 14 Sep 1964 DV announced that the event would coincide with a dedication ceremony of the 1,500-mile Cheyenne Autumn Trail attended by Wyoming Governor Clifford P. Hansen and Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall, who also served on the American Landmarks Celebration committee. The official “world premiere” took place 15 Oct 1964 in London, England, and a 16 Sep 1964 Var item also noted the picture’s inclusion in the 17-25 Oct 1964 International Festival of Films in Color, located in Barcelona, Spain. A series of regional engagements was planned to begin 18 Oct 1964 in Denver, CO. According to the 13 Dec 1964 NYT, the 23 Dec 1964 New York City debut at the Capitol Theatre served as a benefit for the Scholarship Fund of Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. A Los Angeles opening followed at the Pantages Theatre on Christmas Day. All “hard-ticket” engagements were presented in 70mm and Super Panavision 70.
       Running times listed in contemporary reviews varied from 145 to 170 minutes, due to changes that were made after critics were shown a completed cut. As a result, both the 20 Dec 1964 LAT and 24 Dec 1964 NYT referred to a comical interlude at the film’s midway point, which the 10 Jan 1965 NYT described as a “puzzling” thirty to thirty-five minute segment featuring James Stewart’s “Wyatt Earp” confronting three murderous cowboys in a saloon in Dodge City, KS. Following negative reactions at the preview screening, the latter half of the sequence was removed before the theatrical release. However, modern sources indicated that the footage was restored for various home video formats.
       Cheyenne Autumn received an Academy Award nomination for Cinematography (Color), and marked John Ford’s final Western. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
3 Jul 1963
p. 1.
Daily Variety
6 Sep 1963
p. 1.
Daily Variety
4 Oct 1963
p. 8.
Daily Variety
16 Oct 1963
p. 1.
Daily Variety
4 Nov 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
6 Nov 1963
p. 4.
Daily Variety
21 Nov 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
22 Nov 1963
p. 3.
Daily Variety
2 Dec 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
4 Dec 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
24 Dec 1963
p. 2.
Daily Variety
26 Dec 1963
p. 2, 4.
Daily Variety
21 Aug 1964
p. 1, 4.
Daily Variety
14 Sep 1964
p. 3.
Daily Variety
2 Oct 1964
p. 2.
Los Angeles Times
8 Aug 1963
Section C, p. 11.
Los Angeles Times
13 Sep 1963
Section C, p. 10.
Los Angeles Times
31 Oct 1963
Section C, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
12 Nov 1963
Section D, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times
6 Jan 1964
Section D, p. 17.
Los Angeles Times
19 Oct 1964
Section D, p. 21.
Los Angeles Times
20 Dec 1964
Section D, p. 3.
New York Times
4 Jul 1963
p. 9.
New York Times
28 Dec 1963
p. 12.
New York Times
13 Dec 1964
p. 106.
New York Times
24 Dec 1964
p. 8.
New York Times
10 Jan 1965
Section X, p. 1, 13.
Variety
24 Jul 1963
p. 4.
Variety
26 Aug 1964
p. 4.
Variety
16 Sep 1964
p. 12.
Variety
9 Dec 1964
p. 22.
Variety
23 Dec 1964
p. 4.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Assoc dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
Cost coordinator
MUSIC
Mus comp & cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hairstyles
Hairstyles
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Cheyenne Autumn by Mari Sandoz (New York, 1953).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
The Long Flight
Release Date:
23 December 1964
Premiere Information:
Cheyenne, WY premiere: 3 October 1964
New York opening: 23 December 1964
Los Angeles opening: 25 December 1964
Production Date:
23 September 1963--6 January 1964
Copyright Claimant:
Ford--Smith Productions
Copyright Date:
2 January 1965
Copyright Number:
LP32384
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
gauge
35 & 70
Widescreen/ratio
Super Panavision 70
Duration(in mins):
158
Country:
United States
Language:
English
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In the 1870's, the Cheyenne Indians are taken from their Wyoming homelands and moved to a barren Oklahoma reservation. After a year of waiting for Federal aid that never arrives, the original band of 1,000 has been reduced by disease and starvation to a mere 286. Desperate, the survivors decide to make a 1,500-mile trek to their former Yellowstone hunting grounds. Accompanying them is Deborah Wright, a Quaker schoolteacher sympathetic to their plight. And pursuing them is a cavalry troop headed by Captain Thomas Archer, Deborah's betrothed, who hopes to resolve the dilemma without bloodshed. But a young hotheaded Cheyenne brave named Red Shirt precipitates several skirmishes in which U. S. soldiers are killed. When the newspapers play up the incidents by depicting the Cheyennes as "marauding savages," Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are pressured into organizing a war party. Earp, however, deliberately leads his drunken posse in the wrong direction and remains on the trail until public panic subsides. With the coming of winter, the Cheyennes split into two groups: half continue their journey; half surrender to the brutal Captain Wessels at Fort Robinson. Upon learning that Wessels intends to march the Indians back to Oklahoma, Captain Archer goes to Washington to seek the help of the Secretary of the Interior. Before he can do so, the Indians revolt, kill Wessels, and flee into the snow. As they are trapped by troops prepared to massacre them, Archer arrives with the Secretary, who negotiates a treaty which permits the Cheyennes to return to their homeland. Once there, Red Shirt and Chief Little Wolf face each other with pistols to settle their dispute over the latter's wife. Red Shirt is ... +


In the 1870's, the Cheyenne Indians are taken from their Wyoming homelands and moved to a barren Oklahoma reservation. After a year of waiting for Federal aid that never arrives, the original band of 1,000 has been reduced by disease and starvation to a mere 286. Desperate, the survivors decide to make a 1,500-mile trek to their former Yellowstone hunting grounds. Accompanying them is Deborah Wright, a Quaker schoolteacher sympathetic to their plight. And pursuing them is a cavalry troop headed by Captain Thomas Archer, Deborah's betrothed, who hopes to resolve the dilemma without bloodshed. But a young hotheaded Cheyenne brave named Red Shirt precipitates several skirmishes in which U. S. soldiers are killed. When the newspapers play up the incidents by depicting the Cheyennes as "marauding savages," Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday are pressured into organizing a war party. Earp, however, deliberately leads his drunken posse in the wrong direction and remains on the trail until public panic subsides. With the coming of winter, the Cheyennes split into two groups: half continue their journey; half surrender to the brutal Captain Wessels at Fort Robinson. Upon learning that Wessels intends to march the Indians back to Oklahoma, Captain Archer goes to Washington to seek the help of the Secretary of the Interior. Before he can do so, the Indians revolt, kill Wessels, and flee into the snow. As they are trapped by troops prepared to massacre them, Archer arrives with the Secretary, who negotiates a treaty which permits the Cheyennes to return to their homeland. Once there, Red Shirt and Chief Little Wolf face each other with pistols to settle their dispute over the latter's wife. Red Shirt is killed, and Little Wolf, having broken his vow never to kill another Cheyenne, goes into self-imposed exile. As peace is restored, Archer and Deborah decide to remain with the Indians who have survived the historic ordeal. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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