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Massai (Burt Lancaster) is a proud Apache chief who refuses to bend to the white man's ways. When an ageing Geronimo (Monte Blue) finally submits to the encroaching horde, Massai accuses him of betrayal and fights a lone guerrilla war, killing many whites, robbing, looting and burning. Massai becomes a prize scalp and civilian tracker Al Sieber (John McIntire) is the man leading the pack to hunt him down. In the meantime, Massai falls in love with Nalinle (Jean Peters) who is convinced Apaches can live in peace with the whites if they farm the land, but the father of her unborn child wants to fight on and resigns himself to a death with honour.

Review by Keith Lofthouse:
Children of the 1950s grew up in fear of the American Indian. "Redskins" were seen on the screen as bloodthirsty savages, who would slaughter and mutilate peaceful white settlers. And they were all the same - Apache, Cherokee, Iroquois and Sioux - as their victims, men, women and children were all the same to them. "The only good Indian is a dead Indian," became a Hollywood cliché and no teacher at my school ever attempted to right the wrong.

We were the good guys and they were the bad guys and if we were sceptical when films sympathetic to the Indians came along - like Broken Arrow, Apache and Soldier Blue - we were pretty much playing for the other side when political correctness and Dances With Wolves waved the apologist's white flag.

Of course, there is many a historian who will tell you that the Native American did, indeed, "torture for fun" and a blue-eyed, black-wigged Lancaster plays Massai with such teeth-gnashing ferocity that you don't doubt for a moment that he is capable of the worst. "There is nothing in you but hate," his future squaw (Jean Peters) hisses, expecting to die by his hand in the blink of an eye. And his murder of the racist trader Weddle (John Dehner) is a cold-blooded and calculated act of revenge that hardly redeems him.

The first film produced by Lancaster and his partner Harold Hecht was based on Bronco Apache, a novel by Paul I. Wellman which was itself based on historical fact. "Like a dying wolf biting at its own wounds," Massai was a renegade who refused to join Geronimo in surrender to the whites in 1886 and, then determined to "die a warrior's death," embarked on his own murderous rampage.

Typical of Hollywood's efforts to duplicate Indian-speak, the dialogue is more pompous than dignified and when the emphasis shifts from the legend of "the last Apache warrior" to a tame love story we suffer the verbosity of "Love is for men who can walk without looking behind; for men who can have summer and winter in the same place."

Handsomely photographed and directed with efficiency if not flair by Robert Aldrich (who capped his career with Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?), Apache is a thoughtful western that was hopelessly compromised by studio interference. The "soft" and vaguely ambiguous denouement, which was not as Wellman had written it and neither as Lancaster or Aldrich had intended it, virtually made Charles Bronson's part (then billed as Buchinsky) redundant. "I hated the idea (of alternative endings)," Lancaster said later, "but the film was successful (returning $6 million on a $900,000 budget) so I will never know how it would have done with the (truer) ending." The casting of former rugged romantic silent star Monte Blue (as an unconvincing Geronimo) may have been a concession to the fact that Native Americans were often the heroes of silent westerns. They only turned villainous when the movies turned talky.

Published: August 12, 2004

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(US, 1954)

CAST: Burt Lancaster, Jean Peters, John McIntire

DIRECTOR: Robert Aldrich

SCRIPT: James R. Webb (based on the novel Bronco Apache by Paul I. Wellman).

RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes




DVD RELEASE: August 18, 2004

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