Geronimo: An American Legend
|Geronimo: An American Legend|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Walter Hill|
|Produced by||Neil Canton
|Written by||John Milius|
|Narrated by||Matt Damon|
|Music by||Ry Cooder|
|Edited by||Donn Aron
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$18.6 million|
Geronimo: An American Legend is a 1993 film, directed by Walter Hill from a screenplay by John Milius, and stars Wes Studi, Jason Patric, Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall and Matt Damon. It was released on December 10, 1993 by Columbia Pictures.
The film loosely follows the events leading up to the surrender of Geronimo in 1886. The Apache Indians have reluctantly agreed to settle on a U.S. government approved reservation. Not all the Apaches are able to adapt to the life of corn farmers, and one in particular, Geronimo (Wes Studi), is restless.
Pushed over the edge by broken promises and unnecessary actions by the government, Geronimo and 30 other warriors form an attack team which humiliates the government by evading capture, while reclaiming what is rightfully theirs. The plot centers upon Charles Gatewood (Jason Patric), the U.S. cavalry lieutenant charged with capturing the elusive Apache leader with the assistance of a scout leader Al Sieber (Robert Duvall) and a young graduate Britton Davis (Matt Damon).
Gatewood is torn by a grudging respect for Geronimo and his people, and his duty to his country. Brigadier General George Crook (Gene Hackman), charged with overseeing the forced settlement of the Apaches on reservations has nothing but admiration for Geronimo.
Geronimo surrenders to Crook but later escapes, taking half of the reservation with him. Gatewood, Sieber, Davis and a group of soldiers set out to capture Geronimo. Crook later resigns from the army and is replaced by General Nelson Miles. The next day Gatewood Sieber Davis and Apache Chato come across some slaughtered Indians. then they stop at a bar but there are bounty hunters there and they threaten to kill Chato for money which results in a shootout in which Sieber is shot and mortally wounded.
Gatewood, Davis and Chato carry on to capture Geronimo. Geronimo makes peace with Gatewood and surrenders along with the other Apache to General Miles. Gatewood is transferred to a remote garrison in North Wyoming while Davis resigns from the army and Chato is shipped off to Florida with the rest of the renegades.
- Wes Studi as Geronimo
- Jason Patric as 1st Lt. Charles B. Gatewood
- Gene Hackman as Brig. Gen. George Crook
- Robert Duvall as Chief of Scouts Al Sieber
- Matt Damon as 2nd Lt. Britton Davis
- Pato Hoffmann as The Dreamer
- Rodney A. Grant as Mangas
- Kevin Tighe as Brig. Gen. Nelson A. Miles
- Steve Reevis as Chato
- Carlos Palomino as Sgt. Turkey
- Victor Aaron as Ulzana
- Stuart Proud Eagle Grant as Sgt. Dutchy
- Scott Wilson as Redondo
- Stephen McHattie as Schoonover
- John Finn as Capt. Hentig
- Lee de Broux as City Marshal Joe Hawkins
- Rino Thunder as Old Nana
Walter Hill had a development deal at Carolco. They approached him wanting to make a Western that focused on an Indian and Hill was enthusiastic. He initially considering doing a movie on Crazy Horse "but for various reasons I thought it was a little too difficult." Eventually Geronimo was selected. ""I've been reading the history of the West for my entire life," Hill says, "and I felt the Geronimo story had never really been told."
"I like Geronimo just as he was, a human predator," said Milius.
"Geronimo was a man who saw the history of his people wiped out," added Milius. "I love the Apaches and Geronimo was the ultimate Apache. But Geronimo was more than an Apache he was the essence of a misfit rebel and he would never give up. He was a troublemaker and I understand that. Even among his own people he was a trouble maker."
Hill said the title of the film should have been The Geronimo War. "The conception was you make the film from the last time he came in and broke off and was sent away," he said. "The last time he broke off the reservations. This had been a recurring pattern. I thought that would be more accurate."
According to Hill, Milius' screenplay was more inclusive of Geronimo's early years and Milius was reluctant to revise it so he had it rewritten by himself and Larry Gross. "This movie certainly presents a heroic view of Geronimo," said Hill. "At the same time, it suggests that the times were complicated.... The audience doesn't go to a movie for a history lesson; it wants entertainment. At the same time, they don't want something that trashes history; so it's a delicate line."
"Movies tend to develop a life of their own," added Hill. "We had to deal with Geronimo a lot better than what our original intention was. The more we found out, the more interesting the story became."
Among the changes were removing a sequence (based on historical fact) where Geromino surrendered to General Crook in Mexico in March 1886, pledging to return under escort to Arizona, where he would be disarmed and sent to exile in Florida; two nights later Geronimo got drunk and took off into the mountains again, going on a five month rampage until he surrendered once more. Milius said he thought the script was changed because "We don't want to see our heroes getting drunk and running off. We want to see them as wonderful freedom fighters." "History is fascinating, but history is not a good dramatist," said Hill.
The film's narrator, Second Lt. Britton Davis, was a real officer who participated in these events. In 1929 he published a memoir of the time called The Truth About Geronimo. The narration uses many quotations from Davis that featured in his memoir, like his description of the endless search for Geronimo's camp: "At times it seemed we were chasing a spirit more than a man." However it did not include Davis's personal assessment of Geronimo: "This Indian was a thoroughly vicious, intractable and treacherous man. His only redeeming traits were courage and determination. His word, no matter how earnestly pledged, was worthless." 
Hill thought the cavalry officers "were the most sympathetic to the Indians of the Southwest. They knew them and understood that what was happening was a tragedy. They understood that the imposition of the reserve system was going to have tragic consequences. Yet, they were the ones being asked to carry out this policy. They were the ones being asked to fight, so there was this kind of conflict between feelings and duty."
Wes Studi was cast in the lead after impressing in The Last of the Mohicans (1992).
The character of Sieber was meant to ride off into the sunset at the end of the movie but during filming Hill felt that the running time was going to be too long and so decided to kill off the character. "If I'd known I was going to die I might not have done the movie," said Duvall. "I've died nine times in films." 
Another film on Geronimo came out around the same time, a made-for-TV movie show on Ted Turner's movie channel.
Walter Hill later expressed dissatisfaction with the title:
It’s not about Geronimo. It should have been called The Geronimo War... It’s as much about the Army as it is Geronimo. That came out of my reading of historical accounts, and realizing that so much of what we think we know about the Indian campaigns is wrong. The Army is generally depicted as the enemy of the Apache, but in many cases, the people who were most sympathetic to their plight were those soldiers.
According to one pair of writers:
The film was no Dances with Wolves. It cost about $50 million, boasted no major stars, no love story, and a meandering storyline. It was hard to see how the studio ever expected to make its money back - and it didn't come close. Columbia had not shown Geronimo to Jason Patric... before the premiere at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Theater in Beverly Hills. That turned out to be a mistake. Patric was so dismayed by the way the film turned out that he ran out of the theater and into his limo. He had himself driven around for a while as he raged abot the sheer awfulness of the movie. Then he pulled himself together and went back to the premiere. Geronimo lost $40 million - far more than Last Action Hero - without a fraction of the fanfare.
Hill blamed this poor reception on the screening of the TV movie. Hill said, "I don't think there are a hell of a lot of movies where you can take basically the same story, show it to 50 million people and bring yours out a week later and think that you're going to do great. What can you say, `My Geronimo has better locations?' "
The film was admired by Quentin Tarantino who said "I thought with Geronimo he [Hill] went to a really fantastic place. Everybody talked about how boring it was. But I didn't. I thought he made a really great classic Western and America just wasn't worthy of the privilege."
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