Directed by John Ford
John Wayne as Capt. Kirby York
Henry Fonda as Lt. Col. Owen Thursday
Shirley Temple as Philadelphia Thursday
Pedro Armendariz as Sgt. 'Johnny Reb' Beaufort
Ward Bond as Sgt. O'Rourke
George O'Brien as Capt. Sam Collingwood
Victor McLaglen as Sgt. Mulcahy
Anna Lee as Emma Collingwood
Irene Rich as Mrs. O'Rourke
Dick Foran as Tim Quincannon
Guy Kibbee as Dr. Wilkins
Harry Carey Jr.
After the Civil War, demoted Lt. Col. Owen Thursday has been assigned to command Fort Apache in Arizona Territory, an assignment that he resents, but also sees as his chance at redemption and reassignment in the East. He brings his daughter Philadelphia with him, and along the way they meet Lt. Michael Shannon O’Rourke, who takes a liking to Philadelphia. Once Lt. Col. Thursday arrives in Fort Apache, he is briefed on the current status of the Apache insurrection by Capt. Kirby York, a veteran fighter who is very familiar with the area around the Fort. Thursday underplays the threat of the insurrection, and Kirby warns him not to take the Apaches lightly. Shortly thereafter, Thursday learns that nearby Fort Grant has gone on general alert. The next morning O’Rourke takes Philadelphia out riding in the morning and they discover the bodies of several soldiers who have been ambushed by the Apaches. They ride quickly back to Fort Apache to inform Thursday, who listens to the report and then forbids O’Rourke to see his daughter any more. He then orders O’Rourke to go recover the bodies and bring them back for burial, along with a platoon of soldiers to guard the wagons. Thursday is hoping that the Apaches responsible for the attack will be lured out to attack the wagons, and be defeated by the platoon, which is exactly what happens. Afterwards, Thursday and York question the local reservation agent, Silas Meacham, who they suspect has been selling whiskey and rifles to the Apaches. Meacham proclaims that he is doing no such thing. However, a search of the store by York quickly proves otherwise. York convinces Thursday to allow him to take a Spanish-speaking soldier known as Johnny Reb down to Mexico to speak with Cochise who is leading the Apache insurrection. York wants to convince Cochise to return to Arizona to talk peace, although Thursday has different plans. While York is away, Thursday is having domestic troubles with Philadelphia who wants to marry O’Rourke. Thursday forbids this as she is too young and O’Rourke is not an officer, and he tells Philadelphia that he is sending her back East. A while later, during a dance at the fort, York and Johnny Reb return to inform Thursday that Cochise has accepted and is riding back to Arizona. Thursday orders the entire regiment to report for battle. York pleads with Thursday to allow him to honor his promise to Cochise. Cochise, along with his right hand man, Geronimo, arrives and surrounds the entire regiment with superior numbers. Thursday is forced to negotiate with Cochise, who insists that Silas Meacham needs to be removed as the reservation agent to prevent further attacks. Cochise threatens to return at dawn and attack if this condition is not met. Thursday angrily refuses and sends his troops out to fight. York confronts the Lt. Col., calling Thursday and his plan suicidal, and Thursday strips him of command and reassigns him to the supply wagon. Thursday proudly rides out into battle with his regiment, and is gunned down along with most of his troops. York rides out to rescue him, but Thursday grimly insists on staying with his regiment despite being wounded, fighting on to the bitter end.
Notes: The story for Fort Apache was written by James Warner Bellah who loosely based it on George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn.
Fort Apache is the first of a trilogy of movies John Ford did regarding cavalry. The other two are She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande.
Fort Apache was one of the first films to portray American Indians in a sympathetic light.
Ward Bond starred with John Wayne in several pictures, including The Searchers, Rio Bravo, The Quiet Man and Hondo. It is not surprising that Wayne and Bond starred in so many movies together as they were good friends from playing football together at the University of Southern California.
Ford and Wayne had a very close working relationship spanning over 50 years that yielded some of the great classics in John Wayne’s career. It is not disputed that John Ford played a great role in making John Wayne the iconic star that he still is today. Ford gave Wayne his breakthrough role in Stagecoach, for which Ford was nominated for both Best Picture and Best Director. Films that Ford and Wayne made together include Stagecoach, The Long Voyage Home, They Were Expendable, 3 Godfathers, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon , Rio Grande, The Quiet Man , The Searchers, The Wings of Eagles, The Horse Soldiers, The Alamo , The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, How the West Was Won, concluding with Donovan's Reef.
Shirley Temple and John Agar, who portray the love interest in Fort Apache, were in fact newlyweds. This was also John Agar’s first role in a major motion picture.
John Agar, Harry Carey Jr. Ben Johnson, Pedro Armendariz and Victor McLaglen