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John Ford
John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, Pedro Armendáriz, Ward Bond, George O'Brien, Victor McLaglen, Anna Lee
Writing Credits:
Frank S. Nugent, James Warner Bellah (story)

John Ford's Masterpiece of the Frontier!

This classic Western from legendary director John Ford explores the darker side of the Old West. When arrogant Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) takes command of Fort Apache, he's determined to make a name for himself. Against the advice of seasoned soldier Capt. Kirby York (John Wayne), Thursday wages war against Apache chief Cochise and his tribe - and the Fort Apache troops must follow the misguided command of their glory-seeking leader.

Box Office:
$2.5 million.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English Monaural
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 128 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 2/21/2012

• Audio Commentary With Film Historian FX Feeney
• “Monument Valley: John Ford Country” Featurette
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Fort Apache [Blu-Ray] (1948)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 28, 2012)

Over their long, legendary careers, John Ford and John Wayne worked together multiple times. For a collaboration smack-dab in the middle of this run, we go to the 1948 western Fort Apache.

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) gets assigned to Fort Apache, a location in “middle of nowhere” Arizona. He takes his teen daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple) but doesn’t feel happy about this job, as he thinks the remote spot is beneath his talents. He needs to fight off incursions with the Apaches, a tribe he feels can’t offer much of a battle, though Captain Kirby York (Wayne) disagrees and believes the Apaches demonstrate greater strength.

Thursday finds a crew that he feels has gone soft, so he attempts to enforce greater strictness and discipline. He also tries to use the post to his advantage; while Fort Apache looks like a nothing assignment, Thursday desperately seeks glory and greatness, so he’ll aspire to make what he can out of this job.

When the troops encounter Apache leader Cochise (Miguel Inclan), Thursday pounces on the chance to achieve his desired “glory”. He launches a campaign to kill Cochise and thereby prove his supposed greatness – even in the face of warnings from subordinates and the potential of dire consequences.

For the modern viewer, one potential attraction here comes from the sight of an adult Temple. This wouldn’t have been as interesting in 1948, as moviegoers would’ve seen Temple grow up on camera. I doubt most of her post-childhood flicks have gone viewed by many since the 1940s, though; when I looked at the films she made, the only one I recognized was 1947’s The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer. Since I never took in that one, I thought it was fun to get a look at a grown-up Temple.

Alas, her role becomes the movie’s weakest link. Much of the film devotes itself to the exploration of Philadelphia’s chaste romance with 2nd Lt. Michael Shannon O’Rourke (Temple’s one-time husband John Agar) and these sequences couldn’t be less interesting if they tried. While Temple turned into a lovely young lady, she didn’t demonstrate much skill as an actor. Without her kiddie cuteness and spunk to rely on, she seems pretty but bland, and she shows little to no chemistry with Agar; whatever zing they enjoyed in real life, it doesn’t translate to the screen. Anytime we see Philadelphia and/or O’Rourke, the movie sags.

Unfortunately, they’re not the only drag on the flick, as Apache spends far too much time with character elements not connected to the overall plot. Had these developed Thursday and/or York, they’d help embellish the film, but instead, we find plenty of unessential material with secondary roles. While these aren’t bad in their own right, they cause the movie’s first two acts to meander. Perhaps they were meant to convey a feel for life on the frontier, but instead, they simply seem unnecessary and distracting.

Which is too bad, for when Apache stays on target, it’s quite good. It’s certainly more ambivalent about its subject than most westerns. While Ford occasionally indulges in standard shots of “heroics” when US soldiers attack Indians, these are strongly tempered by a more civilized view. We clearly see York as the most rational and logical of the bunch, and he’s the one who shows the most respect to the Apaches.

I suppose York could’ve been painted as some sort of mealy-mouthed appeaser, but Ford doesn’t do so – and with Wayne in the role, such an interpretation becomes even less likely. Wayne gives the part the necessary “manliness” but also allows us to see his intelligence and desire to avoid battle.

Thursday’s brainpower seems unclear; I don’t think he’s a dope, but he’s so arrogant and concerned with personal glory that he ignores all logic. Thursday plays like the “ugly American” stereotype: he blunders into a foreign circumstance but never attempts to understand and adjust to the native mindset. With his own rampant biases behind him, he makes stupid decisions that endanger his men.

I’m glad Fonda took on the part, for just as Wayne prevents York from coming across like a coward, Fonda adds warmth to a potentially cold, dense character. Fonda still keeps Thursday as arrogant as he should be, but he manages to create a nearly three-dimensional personality, one who doesn’t seem as stupid and self-destructive as he otherwise might.

I wish Apache had better developed the Thursday and York roles during its first two acts. While they receive ample screen-time during the last third, they occasionally feel like afterthoughts in the preceding moments. I think the film could’ve built up the characters and their relationship in a more satisfying way; the ending pays off quite well, but it can be a tough slog to get there.

And that leaves Fort Apache as a good but flawed Western. It enjoys a solid story with uncommon depth in its portrayal of the military mindset, but it strays off-topic too much of the time. It’s close to being a classic but doesn’t quite get there.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

Fort Apache appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Despite a few minor problems, I thought this was a pleasing presentation.

For the most part, sharpness seemed strong. While occasional slightly soft shots materialized, the majority of the movie demonstrated good to great definition; the softness wasn’t a significant concern. I noticed no edge haloes, shimmering or jaggies, and I didn’t sense any signs of notable noise reduction.

As for print flaws, they were acceptably minor for a 64-year-old film. Some thin lines briefly appeared on the side of the frame, and I also noticed sporadic examples of specks and some dirt on the edge. Overall cleaniness remained good, as the image didn’t really show its age.

Blacks were dark and dense, and contrast was usually solid; a few shots came across as a little too bright, but those instances were rare, as the black and white image mostly demonstrated a nice silver sheen. Shadows appeared smooth and well-rendered. I saw a few too many issues for a grade above a “B”, but I still thought this was a pretty terrific presentation most of the time.

The monaural soundtrack of Fort Apache seemed perfectly adequate given the flick’s vintage. Speech probably fared best, as the lines were fairly natural and concise. Music showed reasonably clarity; though the score lacked much punch, it seemed acceptably robust.

Effects worked about the same. Though these elements didn’t demonstrate a lot of range, they sounded accurate and clean enough. I noticed a light layer of hiss during the movie but no clicks, pops or other distractions. While nothing here excelled, the audio remained more than acceptable.

A handful of extras round out the set. First comes an audio commentary from film historian FX Feeney, as he offers a running, screen-specific look at haracter notes, cast and crew, themes and interpretation, locations, editing and music, and other production areas.

Feeney provides a competent commentary. At his best, he gives us good insights and information, but he also drops out at times and can tend to simply narrate the movie. Nonetheless, Feeney sticks with useful material more often than not, so the track's worth a listen.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a program called Monument Valley: John Ford Country. It runs 14 minutes, 41 seconds and includes comments from John Ford historian Michael F. Blake, biographer Scott Eyman, author Joseph McBride, and Monument Valley resident Benny Cly. We also get some archival recordings of John Ford. “Country” looks at Monument Valley and its use throughout Ford’s films, with an emphasis on Fort Apache. The show acts as a nice overview of the famous location.

With John Ford behind the camera and Henry Fonda and John Wayne in front of it, Fort Apache boasted the potential to become a great film. And it threatens to reach the level, but its first two acts meander too much for it to get there. The Blu-ray provides very good picture, perfectly acceptable audio and a reasonably informative commentary. While I think Apache comes with too many flaws to become a classic, it still has enough strengths to make it worth a look, and I feel pleased with the quality of this Blu-ray.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.037 Stars Number of Votes: 27
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