Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thankfully not with John Travolta

Tonight TCM is premiering a bunch of Will Rogers movies that I haven't seen. Instead, I'll recommend a movie I have seen, Broken Arrow, airing tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM ET on the Fox Movie Channel.

James Stewart changed as a result of his experiences in World War II, giving him the ability to play a rather darker range, which he had already put to good use in It's a Wonderful Life and Rope. Here, he's playing a character who's seen the horrors of war -- although in this case it's the Civil War. Now, he's Army captain Tom Jeffords, out west in the 1870s who has the task of dealing with Indian insurrection; in this case that's the Apache chief Cochise (played by Jeff Chandler, who is decidedly non-Indian). Jeffords, having been through the Civil War, wants to pacify the Apache, but not by annihilating them. Instead, he's nursed one of the Apache back to health, and tries to befriend Cochise and, with Cochise, the rest of the Apaches. However, there are people on both sides, notably a rancher played by Will Geer, who don't like Jeffords' handling of the situation. Each side believes that the other is going to break any treaty and, if that's the case, why bother getting into a treaty in the first place?

That having been said, Broken Arrow is a surprisingly intelligent film by the standards of 1950. Fox had also looked at race relations from a different angle that year with No Way Out, which, to be honest is much the superior film. It probably has something to do with the fact that, although America certainly still had racial problems in 1950 (heck, America still has them today), attitudes had changed enough since the 1870s that No Way Out could be more plausibly thought-provoking. That, and there was no way that you could have white actors in blackface in No Way Out; having people like Jeff Chandler play Cochise -- or worse, Debra Paget playing an Apache with whom Stewart's character falls in love -- was not yet considered unacceptable. Still, Broken Arrow doesn't have the propagandistic attitude that later movies about Indian/white American relations did, such as Dances With Wolves.

Broken Arrow has imperfections, but is certainly worth watching thanks to strong performances by James Stewart and Jeff Chandler. It's been released to DVD, but be careful when looking for it. The title Broken Arrow was used again for a completely different movie in the 1990s starring John Travolta as a rogue Air Force man stealing nuclear missiles.

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