Sunday, April 13, 2014

On the Big Screen :: An Afternoon at the Movies :: John Ford's Fort Apache (1948)

The Hall County Historical Society sponsored a screening of John Ford's seminal western, Fort Apache, starring John Wayne, Shirley Temple, and G.I. native Henry Fonda, this weekend and, for once, I got wind of it before the matinee actually took place. (I missed out on a similar screening of DeMille's Union Pacific by mere hours last year.) And so, I found myself at the Grand Theater Saturday afternoon, my burgh's beautifully restored show palace, a bag of peanut M&Ms clutched in hand, grinning from ear to ear as the lights dimmed, the curtain rose, the music came up, and the film began. And so, to mark this special occasion, here's a dozen random things I love about this movie:

1. The low camera angles and the resulting big sky.

2. "If you saw them, they weren't Apaches."

3. The Sergeants Four.

3A. The Privates Four.

4. Monument Valley.

5. The Birth of The Agar.

6. "Pour me some scripture."

7.  Ward Bond being awesome.

8. The non-commissioned officers dance.

8B. Henry Fonda's mad dancing skills.

8C. Spiking the punch.

9. How the girls they left behind are the true backbone of the outfit.

10. Sgt. Beaufort's snarling enunciation of "Waahhhrr!"

11. How the film makes it crystal clear that the Apaches are the aggrieved party and not the villains of this piece.

12. This shot right here.

Now take those 12 things, and everything else, and then amp them up to an 11 on the dial when experienced on the big screen. Wow. I'm telling ya, I don't care how big your TV is, how good your sound system is, or how bad the crowd you encounter (-- three old duffer's cell phones chimed off during the screening), there ain't nothing like seeing a movie on the big screen in a darkened theater.

Yeah, I've seen this film dozens of times but that was ah-mazing. And each time, I pick up something new. This time, I realized Cochise used the exact same lure and trap on Col. Thursday (Fonda), who felt the Apache's skills as a tactician were over-exaggerated, that Thursday had used earlier, with young O'Rourke (Agar) as bait to retrieve the bodies of the telegraph repair party, for the climax. There's some irony for ya.

I also love Philadelphia's (Temple) petulance, and the quiet, tender moments between her and her father -- a father whose contradictions I find fascinating. And don't forget Hank Warden, frontier idiot. We also get Guy Kibbee's last hurrah as the permanently soused company surgeon, and Victor McLaglen being Victor McLaglen. And then there's Captain York's (Wayne) visible disdain over the whitewashing and jingoistic twist on Thursday's Charge during the denouement, but holds his tongue as a matter of duty. And I'll always be curious about the unspoken grudge between Thursday and Captain Collingwood. The camaraderie, the stunts, the action, the adventure, the gallantry and the romance, yeah, if you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and visit Fort Apache as soon as possible. Forward, yo!

Fort Apache (1948) Argosy Pictures :: RKO Radio Pictures / P: Merian C. Cooper, John Ford / D: John Ford / W: Frank S. Nugent, James Warner Bellah (story) / C: Archie Stout, William H. Clothier / E: Jack Murray / M: Richard Hageman / S: John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, John Agar, Ward Bond, Pedro Armendáriz, Victor McLaglen

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