Fort Apache (1948)

127-128 mins | Western | 1948

Director:

John Ford

Writer:

Frank S. Nugent

Cinematographer:

Archie Stout

Editor:

Jack Murray

Production Designer:

James Basevi

Production Company:

Argosy Pictures Corp.
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HISTORY

The working title of this film was War Party . In the onscreen credits, technical advisor Maj. Philip J. Kieffer was credited as "Major Philip Kieffer USA, Rtd." Kieffer also appeared in the film, and in the cast credit his surname was misspelled as "Keiffer." Fort Apache was the first film in what critics now refer to as director John Ford's "Cavalry trilogy." The second film, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon , was produced by Argosy Pictures and distributed by RKO in 1949, and the third, Rio Grande , was also produced by Argosy, but released by Republic Pictures in 1950 (see entries below). John Wayne starred in all three films, and Victor McLaglen played supporting roles in all three. Frank S. Nugent, a former New York Times film critic, made his screenwriting debut with this picture, and later wrote the screenplay for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon , as well as for Ford's 1956 picture The Searchers . Various sources contend that the film's portrayal of "Lt. Col. Owen Thursday" was inspired by General George Armstrong Custer and his ill-fated stand at Little Big Horn. Unlike the Thursday character, however, Custer fought against the Sioux Indians in the Dakotas. According to modern biographical sources, Cochise, the chief of the Chiricahua Apaches in Arizona, led a band of followers into the Dragoon Mountains in 1861 and evaded capture until 1871, when he surrended to General George Crook. In 1872, he fled the reservation until the government established a new Chiricahua reservation on Apache ancestral land. He surrended a second time to Tom ... More Less

The working title of this film was War Party . In the onscreen credits, technical advisor Maj. Philip J. Kieffer was credited as "Major Philip Kieffer USA, Rtd." Kieffer also appeared in the film, and in the cast credit his surname was misspelled as "Keiffer." Fort Apache was the first film in what critics now refer to as director John Ford's "Cavalry trilogy." The second film, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon , was produced by Argosy Pictures and distributed by RKO in 1949, and the third, Rio Grande , was also produced by Argosy, but released by Republic Pictures in 1950 (see entries below). John Wayne starred in all three films, and Victor McLaglen played supporting roles in all three. Frank S. Nugent, a former New York Times film critic, made his screenwriting debut with this picture, and later wrote the screenplay for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon , as well as for Ford's 1956 picture The Searchers . Various sources contend that the film's portrayal of "Lt. Col. Owen Thursday" was inspired by General George Armstrong Custer and his ill-fated stand at Little Big Horn. Unlike the Thursday character, however, Custer fought against the Sioux Indians in the Dakotas. According to modern biographical sources, Cochise, the chief of the Chiricahua Apaches in Arizona, led a band of followers into the Dragoon Mountains in 1861 and evaded capture until 1871, when he surrended to General George Crook. In 1872, he fled the reservation until the government established a new Chiricahua reservation on Apache ancestral land. He surrended a second time to Tom Jeffords and died in 1874. As depicted in Fort Apache , Geronimo was a member of the Apache warriors council under Cochise. In 1885, he began a campaign against the whites and was finally captured by General Crook in 1886. He escaped shortly afterward, was recaptured and eventually became a farmer.
       HR news items add the following information about the production: Exteriors for the picture were shot in Monument Valley, twenty-two miles from the nearest telephone and town. (Modern sources note that because insurance was prohibitively expensive in Utah, filming was done on the Arizona side of the Valley.) Interiors were to be shot at Enterprise Studios in Hollywood, although no confirmation of this announcement has been found. (Modern sources contend that interiors were filmed at RKO's Pathé lot in Culver City.) At Monument Valley, director John Ford hired two doctors from Los Angeles to oversee his 600-person crew, which worked in 135 degree heat. The crew included at least ten stunt riders, including actor Ben Johnson, whom HR described as a "husky young cowboy from Pawhuska, Oklahoma." After his work on Fort Apache , Johnson was signed as a "termer" by Ford and Cooper and went on to appear in several other Ford westerns, including Three Godfathers , She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and The Wagonmaster (see entries below). John Agar, a former serviceman who was married to co-star Shirley Temple at the time of production, made his screen debut in the film. He and Temple, both of whom RKO borrowed from David O. Selznick's company for the production, divorced in 1949. Although HR announced that Fernando Fernández, "Mexico's Sinatra," was signed to a "singing role" in the film, his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Dick Foran sang the picture's only solo ("Sweet Genevieve"). In addition to "Sweet Genevieve," excerpts from the traditional song "The Girl I Left Behind Me" are also heard in the film. Technical advisor and bit player Major Philip Kieffer, whose name was misspelled as "Keiffer" in the cast list, was an army historian and "West Pointer."
       Although RKO distributed Argosy's first production, The Fugitive (See Entry), which was released in late 1947, United Artists was announced in Mar 1947 as this picture's distributor. In Jul 1947, however, just prior to the start of production on Fort Apache , HR reported that RKO was releasing the film because of United Artists' "unsettled status." According to HR , Argosy's deal with RKO included distribution rights to a second Ford film ( She Wore a Yellow Ribbon ). Although MPA lists the film's general release date as 9 Mar 1948, HR news items indicate that the world premiere took place in Phoenix, AZ, on 27 Mar 1948, and that a Chicago premiere occurred two days later. Proceeds from the picture's Chicago premiere, which was sponsored by the Chicago Herald-American newspaper, went to the newspaper's wounded soldier fund. In May 1948, HR announced that Argosy was planning to advertise Fort Apache and The Fugitive on KTLA, a newly formed, independent Los Angeles television station. Frozen assets from the British release of Fort Apache and The Fugitive were to be used to finance Ford's picture The Quiet Man (not made until 1952), according to an Apr 1948 HR news item.
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: As preparation for writing the film's script, Ford had Nugent read fifty books about the story's period and setting and sent him to Arizona to study Apache culture. Nugent depicted the Apaches more sympathetically in his screenplay than Bellah did in his story. (In a Jan 1949 letter to Nugent, American historian Dee Brown complimented Nugent and Ford on their accurate, sensitive portrayal of the tribe.) The film's original budget was $2.8 million, and for their work, Temple, John Wayne and Henry Fonda were each paid $100,000, while McLaglen received $75,000. The parade ground exteriors were shot at Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, CA. Cinematographer Archie Stout convinced Ford to shoot the exteriors on black-and-white infrared film, a film that produced superior day-for-night effects, but had been rarely used because of its tricky exposure requirements. Utilizing recently improved stock, Stout shot more infrared film than on any previous Hollywood picture. Production wrapped twenty-five days under schedule and $700,000 under budget. Modern sources credit William Clothier as second unit photographer, Eddie O'Fearna (Ford's older brother) as second assistant director, and Cliff Lyons as second-unit director. Modern sources add Harry Tenbrook ( Courier ), Fred Graham ( Cavalry man ), Mickey Simpson ( Noncom officer ), Archie Twitchell ( Stagecoach driver ), Dan Borzage ( Trooper ), Gil Perkins, Junior Hudkins and Hubert Kerns ( Cavalrymen/Stuntmen ) and Frank McGrath ( Bugler/Stuntman ) to the cast. In addition, modern sources note that Ford fired actor/director Paul Fix while the crew was filming in Monument Valley. The film earned $445,000 at the box office and was one of RKO's biggest moneymakers in 1948. On 5 Aug 1949, the Hallmark Playhouse broadcast a radio adaptation of the story, starring John Wayne and Ward Bond. More Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
Aug 48
p. 265, 289.
Box Office
13 Mar 1948.
---
Daily Variety
10 Mar 48
p. 3.
Film Daily
10 Mar 48
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 47
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
26 May 47
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 47
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Jul 47
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jul 47
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Jul 47
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Aug 47
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Aug 47
p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Sep 47
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Nov 47
p. 14.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Dec 47
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Mar 48
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Mar 48
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Mar 48
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Apr 48
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
5 May 48
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jun 48
p. 6.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
13 Mar 48
p. 4094.
New York Times
25 Jun 48
p. 26.
Variety
10 Mar 48
p. 10.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Pres
Exec asst
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dressings
COSTUMES
Ladies' ward
Men's ward
MUSIC
Mus score
Arr and cond
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
DANCE
Dance seq
MAKEUP
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Cost research
Research ed
Prod mgr
Asst prod mgr
Scr supv
Foreman
Asst pub
Aerial liaison
Auditor
Company clerk
Set doctor
Set doctor
STAND INS
Stunt supv
Stunt rider
SOURCES
LITERARY
Suggested by the short story "Massacre" by James Warner Bellah in The Saturday Evening Post (22 Feb 1947).
SONGS
"Sweet Genevieve," words by George Cooper, music by Henry Tucker.
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
War Party
Premiere Information:
World premiere in Phoenix, AZ: 27 March 1948
Chicago premiere: 29 March 1948
Production Date:
24 July--late September 1947
Copyright Claimant:
Argosy Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
27 March 1948
Copyright Number:
LP1568
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
127-128
Length(in feet):
11,493 , 11,489
Country:
United States
PCA No:
12019
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Arizona, after the Civil War, Lt. Col. Owen Thursday and his teenaged daughter Philadelphia stop at a rest station on the road to Fort Apache, where Thursday has just been reassigned as cavalry commander. Also on his way to Fort Apache is young West Pointer Lt. Michael Shannon O'Rourke, who is met by his godfather, the Irish Sgt. Mulcahy, and two other soldier friends. Philadelphia and Michael are immediately attracted to each other, but hide their feelings behind a facade of military decorum. Upon arriving at the fort, the exacting, strict Thursday is briefed about the Apache Indians by Capt. Kirby York and longtime acquaintance Capt. Sam Collingwood, the former commander of Fort Apache. Although Thursday, a demoted Eastern-bred Civil War general who resents his assignment to the remote fort, scoffs at reports of Apache insurrection, York, a seasoned frontier fighter, advises that the Apache threat be taken seriously. Later, Thursday confers privately with Collingwood, a fellow Civil War veteran who, unlike Thursday, has enjoyed few promotions. After discussing Collingwood's upcoming transfer, Thursday talks privately with Michael's father, who is a noncommissioned sergeant at the fort. Thursday learns that Michael, whose professional demeanor has greatly impressed him, received his West Point commission because O'Rourke won the medal of honor during the Civil War. The next day, while Philadelphia, Collingwood's wife Emma and Mrs. O'Rourke turn the barren commander's quarters into a presentable home, Thursday receives word that a general alarm has been issued at neighboring Fort Grant. Despite the alarm, Michael takes Philadelphia riding the next morning, and the couple comes across the bodies of several massacred soldiers. After riding furiously back ... +


In Arizona, after the Civil War, Lt. Col. Owen Thursday and his teenaged daughter Philadelphia stop at a rest station on the road to Fort Apache, where Thursday has just been reassigned as cavalry commander. Also on his way to Fort Apache is young West Pointer Lt. Michael Shannon O'Rourke, who is met by his godfather, the Irish Sgt. Mulcahy, and two other soldier friends. Philadelphia and Michael are immediately attracted to each other, but hide their feelings behind a facade of military decorum. Upon arriving at the fort, the exacting, strict Thursday is briefed about the Apache Indians by Capt. Kirby York and longtime acquaintance Capt. Sam Collingwood, the former commander of Fort Apache. Although Thursday, a demoted Eastern-bred Civil War general who resents his assignment to the remote fort, scoffs at reports of Apache insurrection, York, a seasoned frontier fighter, advises that the Apache threat be taken seriously. Later, Thursday confers privately with Collingwood, a fellow Civil War veteran who, unlike Thursday, has enjoyed few promotions. After discussing Collingwood's upcoming transfer, Thursday talks privately with Michael's father, who is a noncommissioned sergeant at the fort. Thursday learns that Michael, whose professional demeanor has greatly impressed him, received his West Point commission because O'Rourke won the medal of honor during the Civil War. The next day, while Philadelphia, Collingwood's wife Emma and Mrs. O'Rourke turn the barren commander's quarters into a presentable home, Thursday receives word that a general alarm has been issued at neighboring Fort Grant. Despite the alarm, Michael takes Philadelphia riding the next morning, and the couple comes across the bodies of several massacred soldiers. After riding furiously back to Fort Apache with Philadelphia, Michael relates his findings to a worried Thursday. Although appreciative of Michael's detailed report, Thursday forbids the youth to see his daughter again and orders him to lead a small detail to retrieve the corpses. While Michael's detail picks up the slain bodies, Thursday, an avid, if unimaginative strategist, orders a platoon to follow the detail's wagons. As hoped, the wagons are attacked by gun-wielding Apaches, who are then chased off by the platoon. Later, Thursday and York angrily confront Silas Meacham, the local reservation agent, about selling "rotgut whiskey" and firearms to the Apaches. Although the greedy Meacham maintains his innocence, Thursday discovers that the general store's scales have been fixed and finds liquor where Bibles should be. Once back at the fort, York convinces Thursday to allow him and "Johnny Reb" Beaufort, a Spanish-speaking soldier, to approach Cochise, the leader of the rebel Apaches, alone and unarmed. While York and Beaufort ride across the Mexican border to the Apache camp, Philadelphia and her father argue about her future with Michael, who has just proposed to her. Thursday tells Philadelphia that, as the son of a non-commissioned officer, Michael can never marry her. He also informs her that he is sending her back East, where she must remain until she reaches legal age. Later, York and Beaufort interrupt a fort dance to report that, as arranged by York, Cochise is returning to Arizona to talk peace with Thursday and Meacham. Despite York's pleas that his promise to Cochise be honored, Thursday orders that the entire Fort Apache regiment report for battle. The regiment is quickly surrounded by Cochise's superior forces, however, and Thursday is forced to order York to negotiate a peaceful settlement. The proud Cochise, who is accompanied by Geronimo and other Apache leaders, demands that Meacham be ousted as a condition for peace, and threatens to "kill the whites" if this stipulation is not met by dawn. Outraged by Cochise's demands, Thursday decides to attack the Indians and orders his troops to ride into battle in groups of four. When York protests this strategy, which he calls "suicidal," Thursday relieves him of duty and orders that Michael and he man the supply wagons. As predicted by York, Thursday's approach proves disastrous to his troops, and he, too, is shot. After sending Michael to Fort Grant for help, York rescues Thursday, who insists on continuing, despite his wounds. Thursday joins his dug-in regiment and, while fighting alongside O'Rourke and Collingwood, who is unaware that he has just received the teaching commission he has longed desired, is attacked and killed by the Apaches. York and his contingency, the regiment's only survivors, then surrender to Cochise. Years later, after Philadelphia and Michael have married, York, now the highly decorated commander of Fort Apache, defends Thursday's reputation when questioned by reporters about the massacre. After stating that the spirit of Thursday's doomed regiment lives on in every new recruit, York rides off to face Geronimo in battle. +

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

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