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Warner Home Video presents
Fort Apache (1948)

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday: We here have little chance for glory or advancement. While some of our brother officers are leading their well-publicized campaigns against the great Indian nations, the Sioux and the Cheyenne, we are asked to ward off the gnat stings and flea bites of a few cowardly Digger Indians.
Capt. Kirby York: Your pardon, Colonel. You'd hardly call Apache 'Digger Indians,' sir.

- Henry Fonda, John Wayne

Review By: Nate Meyers  
Published: June 14, 2006

Stars: John Wayne, Henry Fonda
Other Stars: Shirley Temple, John Agar, Pedro Armendariz, Ward Bond, George O'Brien, Victor McLaglen, Anna Lee, Irene Rich, Guy Kibbee, Grant Withers
Director: John Ford

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence)
Run Time: 02h:07m:42s
Release Date: June 06, 2006
UPC: 012569767003
Genre: western


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- A-B+B C-

DVD Review

Fort Apache is the first installment in John Ford's unofficial trilogy, commonly dubbed the "Cavalry Trilogy," that continues with She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and concludes with Rio Grande. It serves not only as an impressive re-creation of military life in post-Civil War America, but also as evidence of Ford's maturation. Made after his service in World War II, the film is an examination of military leadership and the high cost of war.

Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) arrives at Fort Apache as a man declining in esteem. Accompanied by his comely daughter, Philadelphia (Shirley Temple), Thursday is displeased with his most recent assignment. Stuck in the middle of nowhere to deal with the Apache, who are led by Cochise, Thursday feels slighted by his superiors. Determined to find a way to achieve his previous glory, the fort's commanding officer starts to whip everyone into shape—to the point where he bumps heads with Captain Kirby York (John Wayne). York suggests a more tempered approach to dealing with the Apache, as well as the soldiers, but Thursday will not listen to reason. Things become even more confounded when 2nd Lt. Michael O'Rourke (John Agar), fresh from West Point, begins to court Philadelphia. Determined to assert his authority over his family and soldiers, Thursday's actions put everyone at risk as his poor leadership puts them on a course for war.

The screenplay, by Frank S. Nugent, is somewhat inspired by the exploits of General Custer. Like Custer, Thursday is an atrocious leader who rushes forward to advance his own career. However, thanks to Fonda's performance, there is a buried humanity to the man. Fonda acts against type, playing Thursday as a severely rigid man that seems to be responding to his current predicament. He isn't so much hateful towards the Apache as he is desperate to regain his lost honor, which causes his failings to become more tragic. Wayne offers an excellent counterpoint as York, though his performance is far from the showy cavalry officer one might expect. He seems to be reacting most of the time, offering a moral center to the story instead of serving as a valiant warrior. The two actors work well with one another, creating a compelling conflict within the fort.

In no small part the cast is responsible for bringing these characters to life. Apart from the leading men, Shirley Temple and John Agar deliver pleasant performances that give excellent support to Fonda and Wayne. Furthermore, Fort Apache contains many memorable character moments from Ford's stock company of actors. Victor McLaglen does well as O'Rourke's sergeant uncle Mulcahy, bringing some effective comic relief. Additionally, Irene Rich as Michael's mom is quite touching. The cast works well as an ensemble, allowing each member to help flesh out the film's themes.

The filmmaking is, as usual, topnotch. Ford puts his keen eye for composition to good use, especially during scenes of the cavalry riding off to fight the Apache. There's a timeless quality that makes it surprisingly contemporary. Ford's direction sees these events as common occurrences that take on many forms—he could easily be telling a tale about corporate executives running a company into the ground or politicians implementing disastrous policies. Most importantly, Ford's work here treats the audience with respect. The ending challenges us to look deep within our own history as a means of understanding what we can do to change the future.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: The black-and-white cinematography is given a proper transfer for this DVD debut. While not reference quality, the picture is a pleasant depiction of the original theatrical experience. Contrast is fine, blacks are soothing, and detail is polished.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: The original mono mix is preserved here to good effect. The dialogue is crisp and always audible, with the musical score and galloping cavalry coming through efficiently to help enhance the experience. This is a fine piece of film preservation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The supplemental materials included here are fairly light. Monument Valley: John Ford Country (14m:40s) gives a concise overview of the famed territory's history as well as Ford's fondness for it. Various Ford biographers and historians provide interviews that help bring context to the archival footage. An especially interesting aspect of the featurette focuses on Ford's relationship with the Navajo that reside there. Fort Apache's theatrical trailer is also included in 1.33:1 and Dolby Stereo.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

Fort Apache is a thoughtful film about the nature of military life. Anchored by solid performances and John Ford's accomplished direction, the movie makes for a fine DVD despite a lack of supplemental material.

 


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