Broken Arrow (1950)

Broken Arrow (1950), directed by Delmer Daves.

A sort of docu-Western inspired by the histories of Tom Jeffords and Cochise. Narrator James Stewart claims that all the incidents happened as shown -- I doubt that is true -- with the exception that "the Indians will speak our language".

During the Apache Wars, a scout and mail superintendent helps an Indian boy wounded during his walkabout and decides to become a peacemaker. He meets Cochise and arranges talks. Falling for an Indian maiden he has to endure a lot of "Injun-lover" abuse from the whites, but is successful in bringing the two sides together.

This is famous for trying to be fair to the Apaches, although that was not unknown in earlier Westerns. Both sides show savagery and race hatred. Some good period detail: in 1870 not everyone had lever action rifles; some are single shot.

Cochise as played by Jewish actor Jeff Chandler is a great man, intelligent and kingly. The love interest is 16 year old Debra Paget, of Anglo extraction.

I mention the ethnicity of the actors because recently it has been a sensitive issue, that roles be played only by actors who match the race of their characters. I can see this in some circumstances, as when going for realism: when making a historical film about 1776 you would not have a black actor signing the Declaration or a white actor on the slave auction block. For more stylized forms like opera or ballet then anything goes. And how about voice actors?

But in general the idea that acting must rely on identity seems a poor choice to me. That's why they call it acting. And who gets to play mixed race characters? Who do you have to be? While watching John Ford's The Hurricane (1937) I noted a mixed race Polynesian character was played by an obviously Anglo actor and I thought "Couldn't they have found someone a little more appropriate?" Then I read that the actor was indeed mixed race Polynesian. The joke was on me for attempting to apply my own standards of skin grading.

Other well-known faces: Will Geer, Arthur Hunnicutt (beardless), Jay Silverheels, John Doucette.

Available on Blu-ray with fair image quality. The Technicolor registration is not terrible, but is noticeably off in a few spots.