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Author Topic: Fort Apache (1948)  (Read 14058 times)
drinkanddestroy
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« Reply #15 on: March 04, 2012, 12:46:10 AM »



I think Savant totally misses the point with this paragraph:

"Fort Apache's acknowledgement of the tainted roots of military glory is almost schizophrenic. After two hours showing him to be a terrible detriment to the cavalry, Thursby's ignominious blunder is publicized as the corps' finest hour, an inspiration (and justification) for more Indian wars to come. We've just been shown otherwise, yet Ford presents the contradiction without irony: it just is. Thursby was a man of honor, and that's all that matters."

It's true that in general Ford does glamorize the military even while showing its contradictions, mistakes, arrogance, mistreatment of Indians, etc.

But unless I am wrong, Savant misinterpret that scene toward the end (is it the final scene?) where York and some others see the picture of Thursday and are discussing Thursday's legacy and say he was a great man, etc. The point the movis is making is NOT that Thursday was indeed an honorable man. Rather, it's making a cynical point about military legacies, how though Thursday was arrogant, mistreated the Indians, and led his men to suicide, he will be remembered as a great military leader; and that in fact, who knows how many people we consider to be great military men were actually no better than Colonel Thursday? So this scene is the height of cynicism, a cynicism in the vein of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance -- when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. (Though Thursday may, in some weird racist way be be somewhat well-intentioned and not a classic "bad guy,") this movie does not view him as an honorable man; rather, it is making a cynical statement on what we consider "heroes," and how forevermore, only "the legend" will be printed about Thursday, and he will be remembered as an honorable man, although he was actually far from it.

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« Reply #16 on: March 04, 2012, 07:05:00 AM »

True, it seems like a variant on Liberty Valance's print the legend speech. On the other hand, the military is shown as such a perfect unit that Thursday can be viewed as an aberration.

Then again, you do see York imitating Thursday's dress in the final scene. Maybe Savant's reading isn't completely off.

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« Reply #17 on: March 04, 2012, 09:27:25 AM »

True, it seems like a variant on Liberty Valance's print the legend speech. On the other hand, the military is shown as such a perfect unit that Thursday can be viewed as an aberration.

Then again, you do see York imitating Thursday's dress in the final scene. Maybe Savant's reading isn't completely off.

It may well be that it was a criticism of the Thursday character and how we memorialize "heroes" rather than a criticism of the military as a whole. Still, I think Savant's review is a gross misinterpretation of the movie's attitude toward the Thursday character.

At the end, when York is asked something like, "Thursday was a great man," and he says "yes," I don't think really believes it in any way. Mybe he just feels it is his duty to maintain the good name of the Army, or the good name of his predecessor, or not ruin the people's views of the hero, etc. (As I recall, isn't Agar in that last scene? And/or Temple? If so, maybe he just doesn't want to destroy their memories of their father/father in law, and does whatever he could do allow them to keep their positive memories of him. But ultimately, the way I read the movie, it is certainly some sort of variant on the "print the legend" theme, but perhaps in a manner even more cynical than  in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance."

Although Ford definitely had all sorts of shtick with square dances and community events and the hopes and optimism of the pioneers, I think his films have a greater degree of cynicism than some people would have you believe. For every Wagon Master and My Darling Clementine, there is a Fort Apache, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Cheyenne Autumn. And even within the generally positive movies, there is often a dark side as well. (eg. Ethan Edwards -- his most famous hero, other than possibly Fonda's Earp -- is no optimist's embodiment of the purity of the American Dream).

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« Reply #18 on: March 04, 2012, 11:13:10 AM »

Your last paragraph is spot-on, and would be even more valid if you include The Grapes of Wrath. Cheesy

That said, I think Savant's basic analysis isn't wrong. Ford certainly views the military as an idealized perfect community, where everyone (including immigrants, ex-Rebels and minorities) can find a place in American society. On the other hand, he's frequently critical of the Indian Wars and social inequity. Ford, as an immigrant, mixes a fierce patriotism and optimism with progressive politics. One can view them as "contradictory" as Savant does, but I don't think they need be mutually exclusive.

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« Reply #19 on: March 04, 2012, 11:24:18 AM »

Your last paragraph is spot-on, and would be even more valid if you include The Grapes of Wrath. Cheesy

That said, I think Savant's basic analysis isn't wrong. Ford certainly views the military as an idealized perfect community, where everyone (including immigrants, ex-Rebels and minorities) can find a place in American society. On the other hand, he's frequently critical of the Indian Wars and social inequity. Ford, as an immigrant, mixes a fierce patriotism and optimism with progressive politics. One can view them as "contradictory" as Savant does, but I don't think they need be mutually exclusive.

I had briefly considered mentioning The Grapes of Wrath, but decided not to address that cuz  A) this discussion had been about Westerns; B)  cuz i can't stand the commie TGOR. C) With that said, TGOR does end on a very optimistic note (as opposed to the book), so I don't think is a very good example of Ford's cynicism. Ending a sad movie (based on a sad book) with a scene of great hope certainly doesn't provide ammunition to those who argue that Ford was more cynical than he is often given credit for.

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« Reply #20 on: March 04, 2012, 05:42:12 PM »

Here's Savant's weirdest paragraph from that review:
Quote
Thursday remains a mystery. Although he runs his command honestly (his attack on Cochise is sincere) he has the completely unrealistic notion that manic charges against unknown hostiles are a matter of pride and honor, not human lives. Sure, it's honorable for men to ride to their deaths without flinching ... if we're talking about the 17th or 18th century. Thursday is a prime candidate to get shot in the back by his own men, for the good of all.

So, soldiers were fundamentally different in the 17th and 18th centuries than the way they were in the 19th (where, apparently, the concept of fragging-your-officer was first developed)?

Also, it's nice to be reassured that Thursday's "attack on Cochise is sincere." It would be awful if soldiers tried to kill their opponents for frivilous or impure motives.

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« Reply #21 on: March 04, 2012, 05:49:18 PM »

Ford, as an immigrant, mixes a fierce patriotism and optimism with progressive politics. One can view them as "contradictory" as Savant does, but I don't think they need be mutually exclusive.
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« Reply #22 on: March 04, 2012, 06:36:48 PM »

Here's Savant's weirdest paragraph from that review:
So, soldiers were fundamentally different in the 17th and 18th centuries than the way they were in the 19th (where, apparently, the concept of fragging-your-officer was first developed)?

I don't understand that comment either. The distinction is between textbook soldiering and Indian fighting, two very different kinds of warfare, not any question of "centuries." Surely Thursday's actions would be as foolhardy fighting Indians in 1780 as 1880.

Quote
Also, it's nice to be reassured that Thursday's "attack on Cochise is sincere." It would be awful if soldiers tried to kill their opponents for frivilous or impure motives.

What's more baffling is that (as Savant himself notes) Thursday provokes the confrontation so he can have the glory of being "the Man Who Brought in Cochise." Not sure that's the notion of "sincerity" Mr. Erickson's implying.

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« Reply #23 on: March 05, 2012, 06:17:33 AM »

At the end, when York is asked something like, "Thursday was a great man," and he says "yes," I don't think really believes it in any way.
Be careful here. I don't remember the exact formulation, but the question is couched in such a way that York's response may be valid. He's responding to the fact that Thursday died bravely--he had the chance to flee, but returned to his men to die with them. The scene where York has to give up his horse and sabre to the returning Thursday ends with York's "No questions" remark (a meme that runs throughout the picture and acquires ever greater resonance each time it's used) and a look that shows respect. York knew that for all his faults, Thursday was no coward.

Note also that the newsmen have already developed their story. York stays mute about most of it--no good can come to the regiment by trying to set the record straight, apparently. He only offers comment on that specific question asked about Thursday's bravery or whatever it is.

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« Reply #24 on: March 05, 2012, 06:32:11 AM »

just looked on YouTube and found that scene; it's at 4:40 of this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tW0_O_R4W6A
(I was wrong about Thursday's daughter and son in law being in the room at the time). But the part when the reporter describes "Thursday's Charge," and York says "Correct in every detail," does he really believe that?

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« Reply #25 on: March 05, 2012, 09:20:54 AM »

No, he doesn't believe that, he's just allowing the reporters to proceed with the official line. But a few moments earlier he says what he really feels about Thursday: "No man died more gallantly. Or achieved more glory for his regiment." York respects a noble death; he also prizes the honor of the regiment above all things. And Ford himself is sympathetic to both positions.

Btw, this is actually somewhat unAmerican, as it elevates military service over the purpose of such service. War is not an end in itself, it is a means of ensuring the perpetuation of a country and its traditions. In fact, even the idea of a warrior class is contrary to America's citizen-soldier ethic. Citizens are supposed to serve militarily as needed, and then return to civilian life. Even most of our professional soldiers retire by the time they hit 40 (and begin second careers as civilians); those who don't, who continue to rise in the ranks, become, in effect, politicians.

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« Reply #26 on: March 05, 2012, 09:43:42 AM »

No, he doesn't believe that, he's just allowing the reporters to proceed with the official line. But a few moments earlier he says what he really feels about Thursday: "No man died more gallantly. Or achieved more glory for his regiment." York respects a noble death; he also prizes the honor of the regiment above all things. And Ford himself is sympathetic to both positions.

Btw, this is actually somewhat unAmerican, as it elevates military service over the purpose of such service. War is not an end in itself, it is a means of ensuring the perpetuation of a country and its traditions. In fact, even the idea of a warrior class is contrary to America's citizen-soldier ethic. Citizens are supposed to serve militarily as needed, and then return to civilian life. Even most of our professional soldiers retire by the time they hit 40 (and begin second careers as civilians); those who don't, who continue to rise in the ranks, become, in effect, politicians.

Yes, I can believe that York respects the fact that Thursday chose to be with his regiment (at the very beginning of that video clip), even though he knew it was almost certain suicide to do so. But other than that one point, I don't think York could really believe any of that stuff about Thursday, for he saw what an arrogant and stubborn man Thursday was, who broke an agreement that York had made with the Apaches, making York seem like a double-crosser; rebuffed Indian attempts at peace; led his men on a suicide mission, caused by a stubborn belief in his military invincibility and his hatred of the Indians. So while York may  have admired Thursday's devotion to the military, and may indeed believe that, as he says, the regiment was left in better shape than it was before Thursday got there, ultimately I think that Thursday was a pretty bad character, and York believes so  as well. And his comments to the press are basically along the lines of "when the legend becomes fact, print the legend." So I think there is a lot of cynicism there about how heroes and legacies really are made.

With that said, the closing lines about the regiment do seem to be very "patriotic" and admiring of the military, showing the regiment, with the military music playing in the background, etc. So the movie seems to be very cynical about legends vs. facts and trying to show how Thursday has essentially built an unwarranted legacy, while at the same time very pro-military in general. I've only seen Fort Apache once, and it was about 2 years ago, and all my comments on this thread were based on that one viewing. But after watching this clip, I am leaning toward actually agreeing with Savant's comment (which I criticized earlier), that this movie indeed seems to be somewhat schizophrenic about its view of the military. On the one hand, Thursday is a double-crossing Indian killer and stubborn leader who led his men to suicide, but has a good legacy, indicating a cynicism on legends vs. facts. On the other hand, there really does seem to be an admiration for the military in general.

So maybe this movie is less cynical than I'd initially believed and written; specifically, the cynicism is directed at the individual legends, rather than the overall ideals of the military, ie. the movie is saying that individual legends are often bullshit and not always based on fact; but overall, as a whole, it believes in the ideals of patriotism and the greatness of America and its military.

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« Reply #27 on: April 22, 2012, 09:37:26 PM »

No, he doesn't believe that, he's just allowing the reporters to proceed with the official line. But a few moments earlier he says what he really feels about Thursday: "No man died more gallantly. Or achieved more glory for his regiment." York respects a noble death; he also prizes the honor of the regiment above all things. And Ford himself is sympathetic to both positions.

Btw, this is actually somewhat unAmerican, as it elevates military service over the purpose of such service. War is not an end in itself, it is a means of ensuring the perpetuation of a country and its traditions. In fact, even the idea of a warrior class is contrary to America's citizen-soldier ethic. Citizens are supposed to serve militarily as needed, and then return to civilian life. Even most of our professional soldiers retire by the time they hit 40 (and begin second careers as civilians); those who don't, who continue to rise in the ranks, become, in effect, politicians.

I always love it when people use the term "unAmerican," as if there was any one thing that is clearly "American." (Not a knock on you; this is a general point). I've heard so many people use the term "unAmerican" to criticize whatever specific ideals are important to him/her. Personally, I agree with much of what you said about military service, but I'm sure there are many Americans who don't  Wink

(eg. I'd argue that the "House Un-American Activities Committee" was itself the most unAmerican thing imaginable, for it was a terrible violation of the fundamental American ideals of freedom of speech, expression, and beliefs -- ideals which, though prominent in our founding documents, are all too often disregarded).

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« Reply #28 on: April 22, 2012, 09:38:08 PM »

Just saw this review of Fort Apache in the NY Times, from 3/23/12

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/movies/homevideo/john-fords-fort-apache-on-blu-ray-from-warner-home-video.html?ref=homevideo

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« Reply #29 on: June 18, 2012, 06:13:45 PM »

the movie just played on TCM, saw the final 2/3 of it. (I only saw it once previously, and I loved it; one of my Top 5 AW's. After this partial viewing, it definitely stays on the list  Wink)

Shirley Temple doesn't look a day older than the day she had animal crackers in her soup.  She was 20 at the time of the movie, but could have passed for 12. She was real good though.

As for our previous discussion on Fonda's character Col. Thursday: He seems to have this real belief in "officialdom": no matter how detestable he finds the Indian representative, he insists that he be given due respect since he is a representative of the US Government, etc. So Thursday really cares about official stuff, symbols, that you respect must be given to a man based on who that man represents, rather than based on his own merit. That is definitely part of the criticism of Thursday.

Then, with that final speech at the end by York, (4:11 of this clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tW0_O_R4W6A ) which as we discussed seems somewhat contradictory. Firstly, he praises Thursday endlessly. The newspapermen talk about how Thursday was such a great hero, they already have mythological tales of his Last Stand ("when the legend becomes fact..."?) When the writer describes the legend of the Last Stand, York responds, deadly serious, "correct in every detail -- he insists on "printing the legend." Does he really believe it? He was there and saw how Thursday led his men into suicide. Yes. in some military sense, he died with honor, didn't abandon his men, fought till the death, etc. But York knows that the whole operation was a farce, from tricking the Apache to leading this suicidal charge. There is no way he really believes that the legend is "correct in every detail."  Yet when he gives his speech about Thursday ( "No man died more gallantly, or earned more honor for his regiment...") he seems completely serious.
Is Wayne just playing it that way -- acting as if he believes it, never winking to the audience to let on that he knows he is bullshitting to create a legend -- or does he really believe in what he is saying? Does he really believe that despite all the arrogance, trickery, and leading his men to the slaughter, that Thursday was really such a great man? That he earned honor for his regiment, who got their asses whupped after double crossing the Indians? I can't believe that. Yet York does seem deadly serious -- in the way that John Wayne gets serious when talking about something he loves, like patriotism or the military.

Even if he recognized that Thursday did have some honor in him, there is no way he can believe that he was as great as he is saying. On the other hand, York goes on to say how Thursday's greatness is reflected in the platoon. Maybe, despite recognizing Thursday's serious faults, he also recognizes that Thursday made this into a great regiment, and that they are benefiting now from the discipline and training that he instilled in them, and for that, Thursday should be commended, despite everything else.

I get that Ford/Wayne were into patriotism and the military, but this may be taking it too far -- essentially ignoring Thursday's terrible faults, just because he succeeded in the areas of patriotism/military? And if you say this is just an early manifestation of "... print the legend" and York does not believe what he is saying, well then why does he look so serious when he says it, like he believes it? is this a bad acting job, or is that the genius of it, that you don't know what he really thinks -- which is the way it often is, with history. (I have a theory that Wayne was supposed to read the lines as if he knows it's bullshit, but he couldn't help himself and got all serious as he does when speaking about patriotism/military heroism  Wink)

Either way, I do not believe the viewer is actually supposed to admire Thursday in the way York seems to be doing. Either this is an early manifestation of "... print the legend", or maybe, I just thought of this, the point is to be critical of York -- that as bad as Thursday is, York really believes what he is saying, and the point is that we need to be careful about hero worship; that despite witnessing Thursday's terrible behavior, York has himself bought into the legend?




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