Broken Arrow (1950 film)

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Broken Arrow
Broken Arrow Film Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Delmer Daves
Produced by Julian Blaustein
Written by Elliott Arnold (novel Blood Brother)
Michael Blankfort (front name for Albert Maltz)
Starring James Stewart,
Jeff Chandler,
Debra Paget
Music by Hugo Friedhofer
Cinematography Ernest Palmer
Edited by J. Watson Webb Jr.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
July 21, 1950 (1950-07-21)
Running time
93 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $3,550,000 (US rentals)[1]

Broken Arrow is a western Technicolor film released in 1950. It was directed by Delmer Daves and starred James Stewart as Tom Jeffords and Jeff Chandler as Cochise. The film is based on these historical figures but fictionalizes their story in dramatized form. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, and won a Golden Globe award for Best Film Promoting International Understanding. Film historians have said that the movie was one of the first major Westerns since the Second World War to portray the Indians sympathetically.[2]


Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) comes across a wounded, 14-year-old Apache boy dying from buckshot wounds in his back. Jeffords gives the boy water and heals his wounds. The boy's tribesmen appear and are at first hostile, but decide to let Jeffords go free. However, a group of gold prospectors happens by, and the Apache gag Jeffords and tie him to a tree. Helpless, he watches as they attack the prospectors and torture the survivors. The warriors then let him go but warn him not to enter Apache territory again.

When Jeffords returns to Tucson, he encounters a prospector who escaped the ambush. He corrects a man's exaggerated account of the attack, but Ben Slade (Will Geer) asks how he knows what happened. Jeffords describes how he found the boy and the following events. Slade is incredulous and doesn't see why Jeffords didn't kill the boy. Jeffords is later asked to scout for the army but refuses.

Jeffords learns the Apache language and customs, how to make and read smoke signals and plans to go to Cochise's stronghold on behalf of his friend, Milt (Arthur Hunnicut) who is in charge of the mail service in Tucson. The Apaches have killed many couriers and for years have halted the delivery of mail.

Jeffords enters the Apache stronghold with the aid of smoke signals and begins a parley with Cochise, comparing the mail service to smoke signals. Cochise agrees to let the couriers through. Tom meets a young Apache girl, Sonseeahray (Debra Paget), and falls in love.

The Apaches allow the mail riders to travel to Tucson. However, a few of Cochise's warriors attack an army wagon train and kill the survivors. The townsfolk nearly lynch Jeffords as a traitor before he is saved by General Oliver Otis Howard (Basil Ruysdael), who recruits Jeffords to negotiate peace with Cochise.

Howard (called the "Christian General") condemns racism, saying that the Bible "says nothing about pigmentation of the skin." Jeffords tells him to read the Bible aloud because he likes the way Howard reads it.

Jeffords makes a peace treaty with Cochise, but a group led by Geronimo (Jay Silverheels) oppose the treaty and leave the stronghold. Jeffords accompanies the first Butterfield stagecoach in five years, to leave Tucson during the three months set aside by Cochise. Apache renegades ambush the coach as it stops at a river. Jeffords rides off to seek help from Cochise and the stagecoach is saved.

Jeffords and Sonseeahray marry in an Apache ceremony and have several days of tranquility. Later, Ben Slade's son rides in, accompanied by two of Cochise's tribesmen, who found him up the canyon with a rifle. He then spins a story to Jeffords and Cochise about two of his horses being stolen by Cochise's people. Cochise says that his people did not take them and that he's a liar. Jeffords also doubts his story, as he knows the boys father is an Apache hater. They then decide to go along with the boy back up the canyon so that they can prove there are no signs of his horses ever being there. They stop where the boy indicates the tracks are and are ambushed by the boy's father and a gang of men from Tucson. Jeffords is badly wounded and Sonseeahray is killed but Cochise kills most of the men, including Ben Slade, and gets away. The remaining men retreat, fearing reprisal by the military. Cochise rides back with his men but forbids Jeffords to retaliate, saying that the ambush was not done by the military and that Geronimo broke the peace no less than Slade and his men and that basically, peace must be maintained for the sake of everyone. In the end, Jeffords rides off with the belief that "the death of Sonseeahray had put a seal upon the peace, and from that day on wherever I went, in the cities, among the Apaches and in the mountains, I always remembered, my wife was with me".



Producer Julius Blaustein recalled, "We had a terrible time locating an actor with the proper voice and stature to play Cochise. Before we found Chandler we were even considering Enzio Pinza."[3]

Jeff Chandler was cast in May 1949 on the basis of his performance in Sword in the Desert. He was working in several radio series at the time, Michael Shayne and Our Miss Brooks, and had to be written out of them for several weeks.[4]

Filming started on 6 June 1949. It was primarily shot on location in northern Arizona, approximately 30 miles south of Flagstaff. Apaches from the Whiteriver agency on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation played themselves.[5] Debra Paget was only a 16 year old child when she played the love interest to 42-year-old James Stewart.

The movie was based on the 558-page novel Blood Brother (1947) by Elliott Arnold, which told the story of the peace agreement between the Apache leader Cochise and the U.S. Army, 1855–1874. The studio employed nearly 240 Indians from Arizona's Fort Apache Indian Reservation; all location scenes were shot in Sedona, Arizona. (The story of Cochise actually occurred in what is now the Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona.) The studio attempted to portray Apache customs in the film, like the Social Dance and the Girl's Puberty Rite. For the character of Cochise, director Daves eliminated the traditional style of broken English and replaced it with conventional English so that whites and Indians would sound alike.[6]

Portrayal of Indians[edit]

Many western films of the pre-World War II period portrayed American Indians as implacably hostile to the white settlers entering their domain, while the settlers were shown as peaceable people forced to defend themselves. Broken Arrow is noteworthy for being one of the first post-war Westerns to portray Native Americans in a balanced, sympathetic way – although most of the Indians were played by white actors, with Brooklyn-born Jeff Chandler portraying Apache leader Cochise. Native Canadian Mohawk actor Jay Silverheels was noted for his role as Geronimo in the film.[citation needed]

Some scholars have said that the film appealed to an ideal of tolerance and racial equality that would influence later Westerns and indicate Hollywood's response to the Indian's evolving role in American society.[7] Chronicle of the Cinema praised the film: "Based on verifiable fact, it faithfully evokes the historical relationship between Cochise and Jeffords, marking an historical rehabilitation of Indians in the cinema."[8]

In 1950, Rosebud Yellow Robe, a Native American folklorist, educator, and author, was hired by Twentieth-Century Fox to undertake a national tour to promote the film. Rosebud, who was interviewed by newspapers during the tour, explained that there were no such things as Indian princesses, and that the myth started when Pocahontas went to England and the English named her "Lady Rebecca". The Americans decided that she must be royalty, so they made her a "princess". Rosebud emphasized that the very idea of an "Indian princess" was rooted strictly in English custom, having nothing to do with Indian culture. Rosebud voiced complaints about the portrayals of Indians on radio, screen, and television to: "...a new generation of children learning the old stereotypes about whooping, warring Indians, as if there weren't anything else interesting about us."[9]

The Apache Wedding Prayer[edit]

Main article: Apache Wedding Prayer

The Apache Wedding Prayer was written for this movie.[citation needed]

Awards and nominations[edit]

In 2008, Broken Arrow was nominated for AFI's Top 10 Western Films list.[10]

Adaptations to other media[edit]

Broken Arrow was dramatized as an hour-long radio play on January 22, 1951, starring Burt Lancaster and Debra Paget. It was also presented as a half-hour broadcast of Screen Director's Playhouse on September 7, 1951, with James Stewart and Jeff Chandler in their original film roles. The film and novel also provided the basis for a television series of the same name that ran from 1956 through 1960, starring Michael Ansara as Cochise and John Lupton as Jeffords.[11]

Cultural references[edit]


  1. ^ 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1950', Variety, January 3, 1951
  2. ^ John H. Lenihan, Showdown: Confronting Modern America in the Western Film, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980, pp. 55–89.
  3. ^ Steigers Act Out Breakup of a Marriage: Breakup Acted Out by Steigers Loynd, Ray. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 June 1969: d1.
  4. ^ Big Chief Cochise Set; Sidney to Direct 'Keys;' Trevor 'Package' Looms Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 18 May 1949: A7.
  5. ^ Frank Daugherty, "Story of Apache Treaty Being Filmed in Arizona", The Christian Science Monitor (1908–Current file) [Boston, Mass] 29 July 1949: 5.
  6. ^ Angela Aleiss, "Hollywood's Ideal of Postwar Assimilation: Indian/White Attitudes in Broken Arrow", MFA Thesis, Columbia University, 1985, pp. 9–22, 25–43. Available through University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, MI.
  7. ^ Angela Aleiss, "Hollywood Addresses Postwar Assimilation: Indian/White Attitudes in Broken Arrow", American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 11(1), pp. 67–79.
  8. ^ Robyn Karney (editor), Chronicle of the Cinema; London: Dorling Kindersley, 1995; p. 400.
  9. ^ Weinberg, p 51.
  10. ^ AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
  11. ^ Broken Arrow (TV Series 1956–1960), IMDb


  • Aleiss, Angela, Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies, London & CT: Praeger, 2005; ISBN 0-275-98396-X
  • Karney, Robyn (editor), Chronicle of the Cinema; London: Dorling Kindersley, 1995; ISBN 0-7894-0123-1
  • Lenihan, John H. Showdown: Confronting Modern America in the Western Film, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980; ISBN 0-252-00769-7
  • O'Conner, John E. & Peter C. Rollins, eds. Hollywood's Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film [Paperback], The University Press of Kentucky, 2003; ISBN 0813190770

External links[edit]