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Author Topic: Cheyenne Autumn (1964)  (Read 14257 times)
T.H.
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« on: June 22, 2009, 07:27:38 PM »

Despite casting what seem to be Italians as the lead Indians (Sal Mineo, are you kidding me!?), the first hour or so is pretty respectable. The Jimmy Stewart scene kills the movie, leaving no chance for recovery: the movie plods about for another hour and finally ends. I would hope that Ford was forced to include that terrible sequence. There simply isn't enough time spent with the Italians, er, Indians, either. Widmark did all he could with what he had to work with.

Flawed but worth a look. there are some very nice shots.

loved the first hour but then came the killer cameos.

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« Reply #1 on: June 23, 2009, 04:27:14 PM »

ce. There simply isn't enough time spent with the .. Indians, either. Widmark did all he could with what he had to work with.

Flawed but worth a look. there are some very nice shots.

loved the first hour but then came the killer cameos.

i did not dislike the Jimmy Stewart section.
But, you are right, the film should have been about the epic journey and stayed with it.
Another big problem: it is obvious that the Indians are simply marching back and forth on the same location!

Flawed, but mosdef check it out.

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« Reply #2 on: June 23, 2009, 04:37:32 PM »

i did not dislike the Jimmy Stewart section.
But, you are right, the film should have been about the epic journey and stayed with it.
Another big problem: it is obvious that the Indians are simply marching back and forth on the same location!

Flawed, but mosdef check it out.

I noticed that as well. I think they cross the same river 6 or 7 times.

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« Reply #3 on: December 15, 2009, 03:33:58 PM »

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John Ford's valedictory Western, Cheyenne Autumn (1963), is a noble attempt to correct his previous depiction of Native Americans. It isn't a bad film necessarily - if nothing else there is reel after reel of gorgeous Monument Valley scenery to stare at - but it's long, bloated, digressive and perhaps too concerned with making a point to tell a story. The best thing that can be said about the film is that it's never boring.

Based on a true story, the film details the attempts of 200 or so Cheyenne Indians, held on a desolate reservation in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma), to march 1,400 miles north to their homeland. A troop of green cavalrymen under conflicted Captain Archer (Richard Widmark) tries to track them down, but is humiliated in a series of skirmishes with the Indians. Eventually, with supplies dwindling and winter bearing down on them, tribal leaders Dull Knife (Gilbert Roland) and Little Wolf (Ricardo Montalban) split over their next course of action - one part of the tribe continues north, while the other surrenders under the brutal Prussian Captain Wessells (Karl Malden), suffering concentration-camp style treatment. After the Indians escape, the disgusted Archer enlists the help of Interior Secretary Carl Schurz (Edward G. Robinson) to secure peace and allow the Cheyenne to reach their homeland.

Cheyenne Autumn is a noble effort by a Ford transformed from the hopeful FDR-style progressive of The Grapes of Wrath and My Darling Clementine to the angry liberal of The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It's certainly a fair point that Native Americans have been stereotyped as murderous savages, but Ford, who in many of his films showed a fairly complex portrayal of their culture, goes too far in the other direction, making the Indians into near-flawless noble savages. Worse, perhaps, none of the Indians have any real depth or character; they essentially serve as symbols of the white man's oppression, with few actual character attributes beyond a few rote personal conflicts (Dull Knife and Little Wolf's dispute, young brave Red Shirt (Sal Mineo)'s attempts to seduce Dull Knife's wife). Being played Latin actors like Ricardo Montalban, Sal Mineo and Dolores Del Rio doesn't help either. Given this, we feel sympathetic towards the Cheyenne, but we don't really care about them.

On the white side, things are only slightly better. Aside from Captain Archer, convincingly played as a man conflicted between his duty and morality, the portrayal is largely torn between hand-wringing liberals - Interior Secretary Schurz, Quaker schoolmarm Deborah (Carroll Baker), a war-weary Polish sergeant (Mike Mazurki) - and racist whites - a murderous cowboy (Ken Curtis), a shavetail lieutenant with a grudge (Patrick Wayne) the strangely-Germanic Captain Wessels (Karl Malden) - with only a few faceless troopers in between. About mid-way through, the movie pauses for a bizarre vignette in Dodge City, where Wyatt Earp (James Stewart) and Doc Holiday (Arthur Kennedy) organize the panicked townspeople against an imagined Cheyenne. Intended as comic relief, this ridiculous scene completely distracts from the story, and serves little purpose beyond shoe-horning a few more members of the Ford stock company into the film (including John Carradine and Ken Curtis).

The opening, with the Cheyenne waiting the hot sun for a Congressional delegation, sets the oppressive tone immediately; Ford stages the battle scenes with characteristic aplomb, portraying his previously-beloved cavalry as bumbling fools. The scenes in the concentration camp at Ft. Robinson are genuinely appalling and the closest the film gets to genuine emotion, but the scene is ruined by the portrayal of Wessells as a German with a Hitler mustache, who bellows repeatedly that "I am only following orders!" Either Ford is making an awkward Nazi comparison, or implying that Wessells (in reality a New Yorker) is the problem by virtue of his Germanic ancestry (an odd claim considering Schurz, so venerated by Ford, was ALSO Prussian-born!). Either way it's obnoxious, and largely undermines whatever point Ford is trying to make.

The film ends on a characteristically hopeful note, as Schurz and Archer negotiate the Cheyennes passage, with a riding-off-into-the-sunset finale (broken by a personal duel between two Cheyennes) that seems out of sync with the film's depressing feel. Ford tries to gain the uplifting feel of most of his other films, when a darker finale a la The Searchers would have been much appropriate - especially considering the continued plight of Natives in modern society. Although Ford acknowledges white cruelty to Indians, he doesn't seem quite sure what to say about it, except that it's bad, and that he's sure we'll rise above it.

If nothing else, the film is absolutely gorgeous to behold; coming off the low-key Liberty Valance, Ford shows he still has a great camera eye. The many scenes in Monument Valley are utterly gorgeous, shot on even larger a scope than many of his other films. Ford handles the action and big set pieces well, but the script by James R. Webb fails to develop characters and gives them stilted "significant" dialogue to chew over. Alex North provides a rousing, dramatic score that works wonderfully.

The cast is bristling with fine actors given little to do. Richard Widmark (The Alamo) does a nice job with the film's one well-developed character; Carroll Baker is pretty but one-note. Edward G. Robinson does fine job showing Schurz's nobility but little more. Karl Malden's hammy Nazi performance has already been commented on. James Stewart and Arthur Kennedy (The Man From Laramie) don't contribute anything to their already-superfluous scene. As noted, the "Indian" cast members - Montalban, Del Rio, Mineo, Rolland - are still as interesting, well, wooden Indians. Pretty much every member of the Ford stock company puts in an appearance: John Carradine, Patrick Wayne, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., John Qualen, Ken Curtis, Charles Seel, Shug Fisher.

Cheyenne Autumn is one of the weaker attempts at revising Hollywood's portrayal of Native Americans. It's worth watching for Ford fans, but Ford's final Western amounts to little more than noble confusion.


http://nothingiswrittenfilm.blogspot.com/2009/12/cheyenne-autumn.html

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« Reply #4 on: December 16, 2009, 09:39:17 AM »

The streak continues. Very good review, you nailed it. I especially enjoyed this part:

but Ford, who in many of his films showed a fairly complex portrayal of their culture, goes too far in the other direction, making the Indians into near-flawless noble savages. Worse, perhaps, none of the Indians have any real depth or character; they essentially serve as symbols of the white man's oppression.

Very true.

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« Reply #5 on: December 16, 2009, 09:48:28 PM »

Ethnically incorrect casting aside, I thought it was cool that most of the Indians' dialogue was in Cheyenne. But it would have been nice if subtitles or something had been used so we could understand what the hell was going on.

Of course, it was a bigger problem that they had no characterization to speak of...

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« Reply #6 on: March 15, 2011, 03:55:36 PM »

just saw the film for the first time and I think it was terrific.

But the entire Wyatt/Doc sequence was ridiculous. ( it was rightfully cut on initial release)


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« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2013, 11:27:57 PM »

just saw the movie for the second time 8/10

-- I skipped over the ridiculous Wyatt/Doc/Dodge City sequence

-- Richard Widmark and Carroll Baker were great in the lead roles

-- Patrick Wayne may be the most annoying actor ever to appear in a Western; it's amazing how he got so many roles, (as far as I know, all in films by his daddy or Ford), he never should have appeared in a single movie, I don't care who his daddy is. he makes my skin crawl every time I hear him open his mouth

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« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2013, 02:49:08 AM »

Actually the Earp part of the film is the best of CA. Even if clearly in a different mood than the rest. Problem is that the rest is not that convincing. A good western, but a lesser one by Ford. 6/10

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« Reply #9 on: February 06, 2013, 02:52:33 AM »

Ethnically incorrect casting aside, I thought it was cool that most of the Indians' dialogue was in Cheyenne. But it would have been nice if subtitles or something had been used so we could understand what the hell was going on.


But then it is obviously that there was nothing in the dialogues which was important, or that there was nothing which couldn't be understood without understanding what actually was said.

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« Reply #10 on: February 06, 2013, 02:41:15 PM »

this film has one of the most stationary cameras I can remember seeing in a long while. If it was some soundstage drama that's one thing, but it's particularly noticeable since this is a movie with people constantly on the move in wide open spaces.

The one scene that I can remember the camera moving is when Patrick Wayne leads the charge against the Indians, (but that scene is painful to watch cuz P. Wayne may be the worst actor in screen history; I mean, a big tracking shot of an actor someone leading a cavalry charge -- in which he isn't required to say a single word -- is about as easy an opportunity as he will ever get to  "look good" in a scene; yet P. Wayne manages to look pathetic even in that scene).

Other than that scene, this movie has one of the most stationary cameras you will ever see, unfortunately; I like a camera that moves.

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