was a great studio for Westerns and 1953 was one of the classic years for the
genre. There were truly great ones like Shane
(Paramount), The Naked Spur (MGM) or
Hondo (Warner Bros); there were very good ones such as Escape from Fort Bravo (MGM) or The Man from the Alamo (Universal); and there were perfectly satisfactory ones
like Kansas Pacific (AA) or
Wings of the Hawk (Universal).
there were 91 in all that year (a dream year for Western lovers) and many were
inevitably below par.
Chandler’s two offerings in that year were sadly among the also-rans. A pity,
because he was good at Westerns. He did 14 before his premature death and in
them he seemed to alternate between being Cochise or an Army officer, in both
cases decent and statesmanlike and in both cases burly and tall. But earlier in
’53 he had done the very ho-hum The Great Sioux Uprising, and then he did War
Arrow, which has many aspects in common.
Jeff is being statesmanlike with the Indians, respecting them and trying to
bring peace between them and the white man. In both he succeeds, as we know he
will. And in both he gets the girl, ditto. Both films are attractively photographed
in beautiful Western locations.
there are differences. War Arrow is
definitely a better picture than The
Great Sioux Uprising, mainly because the writing and direction are
superior. Instead of the elderly Lloyd Bacon, who did a poor job directing the
first, on War Arrow there was experienced
Western hand George Sherman. He’d been directing bulk-production talkie
programmers since the mid-1930s but had done some really quite good movies like
Tomahawk with Van Heflin or The Battle at Apache Pass with Jeff
Chandler again. He knew what he was about and War Arrow, while fairly predictable and standard, moves right along
in pace and plot. Instead of the stodgy Robert
Bren and Gladys Atwater script of Uprising,
there was John Michael Hayes (later, Nevada Smith) to write the later movie. He again does a professional job.
feature Glenn Strange, which was good, but the cast of supporting character
actors is stronger in the later one. We have Noah Beery Jr. and Charles Drake as
Jeff’s sergeant sidekicks, both very good (Beery was never less than excellent),
we have Jay Silverheels as the Kiowa chief Satanta and Henry Brandon (later
Scar in The Searchers) as the
Seminole Maygro, and above all we have the formidable John McIntire as the
by-the-book, jealous Colonel Meade. That’s a damn good line-up.
Howard Hughes protégée Faith Domergue in the first and the prima donna-ish and
overacting Maureen O’Hara in the second. Both do look beautiful, though. The
ingénue in War Arrow is Suzan Ball,
one of Lucille’s cousins. In this movie and the later Chief Crazy Horse she played an Indian maid. Unconvincingly.
bunkum. In War Arrow, we are fighting
the Kiowa. Jeff recruits a small band of displaced Seminole Indians led by
Maygro (Brandon) to aid him in his guerrilla tactics against the fearsome Kiowa
chief Satanta (Silverheels) and his men. Colonel Meade (McIntire), who is no
relation to the Gettysburg Meade, I’m sure, is playing it too much by the book and
is being totally outclassed by Satanta’s clever tactics. Jeff has orders to
train up a band and fight fire with the fire. Col. Meade does not approve, also
because he has set his sights on Maureen O’Hara and Jeff looks as though he is beating
him to it.
fighting with Satanta (with the slightly patronizing suggestion that no wonder
the Indians are doing well) so he has to be foiled as well. You have to have
skullduggery. There’s an attack on one of those wooden toy forts Hollywood also
had. Satanta is killed in the attack. I’m afraid none of this conforms to
Satanta or Set’tainte,
also known as White Bear (c 1820 – 1878) was born the son of Chief Red Tipi and
a Mexican captive. He developed a reputation as an outstanding warrior and in
his twenties was made a sub-chief of his tribe, under Dohäsan, with whom he fought
at the first battle of Adobe Walls in 1864. He signed a series of treaties,
notably the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867, but neither side respected the
provisions. In 1871 Satanta led several attacks on wagon trains in Texas. He
was arrested by General Sherman and, with fellow chief Satank, put on trial for
murder, the first chiefs to be so tried. He was found guilty and sentenced to
death, commuted to life in Huntsville State Penitentiary. But he was released
on parole after two years. Satanta was present at the fight with buffalo
hunters at Adobe Walls (where young Bat Masterson made his name), which
violated his parole, and he was returned to Huntsville. There he committed
suicide in 1878 by throwing himself from an upper window. Larry McMurtry’s Blue
Duck was in some ways based on Satanta.
story, though none of this comes across from Jay Silverheels’s Satanta in War Arrow. Oh well.
Arrow can be safely passed over by Western fans in favor of many better
offerings of the same year. If they do come on TV, however, they aren’t
dreadful and both, especially the latter, have certain qualities.