Apache (1954 with Burt Lancaster and Charles Bronson)


USA / 1954

Director: Robert Aldrich
Writer: James R Webb from Paul I Wellman’s novel Bronco Apache

Cast: Burt Lancaster, Jean Peters, John McIntire, Charles Bronson, John Dehner, Paul Duilfoyle

At the time of release, a precedent had already been set in Broken Arrow (1950) where a sympathetic Indian had taken the leading role. Nonetheless, Variety’s instant reaction was understandably naïve – “Good outdoor action punch true to western film tradition” – for the time when the issue of rights for native Americans was barely on the American political agenda.

Apache is the story of Massai (Burt Lancaster), one of Geronimo’s braves who refuses to accept his chief’s surrender and be transported to an Indian reservation in Florida. In a stunning sequence, Lancaster makes a break from the deportation train and goes on to fight for his culture and people. The driving force behind his rebellion is a reluctance to surrender to the white man, and his love for Nalinle (Jean Peters). As he tries to make his way back to his squaw, Lancaster wages a heroic one-man war against the American army.

This was Aldrich’s second feature and Variety praised him for, “handling cast and action well, waste movement being eliminated and only the essential of best storytelling is retained.” The film easily stands the test of time and Time Out more recently called it a “fine, muscular piece anticipating [Aldrich’s] Ulzana’s Raid in its acceptance of the alien nature of the Apache.”