Fort Apache (film)

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This article is about the 1948 film. For other uses, see Fort Apache.
Fort Apache
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Ford
Produced by
Written by Frank S. Nugent
Based on "Massacre"
by James Warner Bellah
Music by Richard Hageman
Cinematography Archie Stout, ASC
Edited by Jack Murray
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • March 27, 1948 (1948-03-27)[1]
Running time
125 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.1 million[2]
Box office $3 million (US rentals)[3]

Fort Apache is a 1948 American Western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and Henry Fonda.[4][5] The film was the first of the director's "cavalry trilogy" and was followed by She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950), both also starring Wayne. The screenplay was inspired by James Warner Bellah's short story "Massacre" (1947). The historical sources for "Massacre" have been attributed both to George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn and to the Fetterman Fight.[6] The film was one of the first to present an authentic and sympathetic view of the Native Americans involved in the battle (Apache in the film, Sioux in the real battles).[citation needed]

The film was awarded the Best Director and Best Cinematography awards by the Locarno International Film Festival of Locarno, Switzerland. Screenwriter Frank S. Nugent was nominated for best screenplay by the Writers Guild of America.

Plot summary[edit]

After the American Civil War, highly respected veteran Captain Kirby York (John Wayne) is expected to replace the outgoing commander at Fort Apache, an isolated U.S. cavalry post. York had commanded his own regiment during the Civil War and was well-qualified to assume permanent command. To the surprise and disappointment of the company, command of the regiment was given to Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda). Thursday, a West Point graduate, was a general during the Civil War. Despite his Civil War combat record, Lieutenant Colonel Thursday lacks experience with the Indians he is expected to oversee, and is an incompetent, arrogant and egocentric officer.

Accompanying widower Thursday is his daughter, Philadelphia (Shirley Temple). She becomes attracted to Second Lieutenant Michael Shannon O'Rourke (John Agar), the son of Sergeant Major Michael O'Rourke (Ward Bond). The elder O'Rourke was a recipient of the Medal of Honor as a major with the Irish Brigade during the Civil War, entitling his son to enter West Point and become an officer. However, the class-conscious Thursday forbids his daughter to see someone he does not consider a gentleman.

When there is unrest among the Indians, led by Cochise (Miguel Inclan), Thursday ignores York's advice to treat the natives with honor and to remedy problems on the reservation caused by corrupt Indian agent Silas Meacham (Grant Withers). Thursday's inability to deal with Meacham effectively, due to his rigid interpretation of Army regulations stating that Meacham is an agent of the United States government and therefore entitled to Army protection (despite his own personal contempt for the man), coupled with Thursday's prejudicial and arrogant ignorance regarding the Apache drives the Indians to rebel. Eager for glory and recognition, Thursday orders his regiment into battle on Cochise's terms, a direct charge into the hills, despite York's urgent warnings that such a move would be suicidal. Thursday relieves York and orders him to stay back, replacing him with Captain Sam Collingwood (George O'Brien).

Following Thursday's orders, York spares the younger O'Rourke from battle. Thursday's entire command is nearly wiped out, but a few soldiers manage to escape back to the ridge where Captain York is positioned. Thursday himself survives but then returns to die with the last of his trapped men. Cochise spares York and the rest of the detachment because he knows York to be an honorable man.

Subsequently, now Lieutenant-Colonel Kirby York commands the regiment. Meeting with correspondents, he introduces Lt. O'Rourke, now married to Philadelphia Thursday. A reporter asks Colonel York if he has seen the famous painting depicting "Thursday's Charge." York, about to command a new and arduous campaign to bring in the Apaches, while believing that Thursday was a poor tactician who led a foolhardy and suicidal charge, says it is completely accurate and then reminds the reporters that the soldiers will never be forgotten as long as the regiment lives.



Some exteriors for the film's location shooting were shot in Monument Valley, Utah. The exteriors involving the fort itself and the renegade Indian agent's trading post were filmed at the Corriganville Movie Ranch, a former Simi Hills movie ranch that is now a regional park in the Simi Valley of Southern California.


The film recorded a profit of $445,000.[7] In 2013 dollars, this amounts to U.S. $4,365,450.[8]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Fort Apache: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved May 10, 2014. 
  2. ^ U-I BOYS 2 STORIES TO BE MADE FILMS: Studio Acquires 'Beauty and Beast' and 'Velvet Fleece' -- Kanin to Produce Former By THOMAS F. BRADYSpecial to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 19 Sep 1947: 27
  3. ^ "Top Grossers of 1948", Variety 5 January 1949 p 46
  4. ^ Variety film review; March 10, 1948, page 10.
  5. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; xxx.
  6. ^ Howze, William (2011). "Sources for Ford's "Cavalry trilogy:" The Saturday Evening Post and James Warner Bellah".  Section of Howze's doctoral dissertation.
  7. ^ Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p228
  8. ^
  9. ^ "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Crowther, Bosley (June 25, 1948). "Fort Apache, RKO Western, With Fonda, Wayne and Temple, Bill at Capitol". The New York Times.  In his contemporary review, Crowther writes "apparent in this picture, for those who care to look, is a new and maturing viewpoint upon one aspect of the American Indian wars. For here it is not the "heathen Indian" who is the "heavy" of the piece but a hard-bitten Army colonel, blind through ignorance and a passion for revenge. And ranged alongside this willful white man is a venal government agent who exploits the innocence of the Indians while supposedly acting as their friend."
  • Levy, Emanuel. "Fort Apache (1948)".  Recent, highly favorable review of "John Ford's superb black-and white elegiac Western".
  • Schwartz, Dennis (August 15, 2001). "Fort Apache". Ozus' World.  Schwartz summarizes the film as "a reworking of the Custer myth, in a film that over sentimentalizes Army life and chivalry."

External links[edit]