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A blue-eyed apache with his blue-eyed squaw
Member Name: sunmeilan
Advantages: Entertaining enough story
Disadvantages: Burt Lancaster is not good here
Made in 1954, it should perhaps be no surprise that the main characters, although Apache Indian, are actually played by Caucasians. For the time, it was common practice and wasn't meant to be offensive - that is a very important consideration to make when deciding whether to watch or not. I tried very hard to put any feelings I had aside while watching the film. Unfortunately, it was very hard to look at Burt Lancaster and his blue eyes, and see him as Massai, despite the make-up and the pidgin English he develops. At times, when the light shone on his face, the make-up looked patchy - and not in a natural way. When the light was less severe, it just looked as though he was coated in shoe polish. All this was deeply distracting, but a good performance could have saved it. It didn't come. Lancaster doesn't give a terrible performance, but it isn't much more than competent and it wasn't enough to convince me. He might be a great actor, but this film wasn't one of his best.
The casting doesn't really get any better. The Chief's daughter, Nalinle, is played by Jean Peters who, even caked in make-up, doesn't manage to look even vaguely American Indian. Even the way she holds herself looks Western and her accent is pure American. Again, I tried very hard to overlook all this, but just couldn't - instead I spent the whole film thinking how ridiculous she looked. The only saving grace is Charles Bronson who plays Hondo, Nalinle's original intended. I didn't recognise him, nor did I immediately think that he was a white man made up to look like an Indian. Unfortunately, he is only on-screen for a few minutes, so he didn't have the chance to do anything to improve the film overall.
Casting aside, I did enjoy the story. It's not the typical 'cowboys and Indians' film that I watched as a child, simply because it is showing Massai in a positive light and the Americans as evil people who were just trying to rid the land of its local people. The film isn't a long one, but the pacing is excellent, because there is always something going on and there is a great deal of chasing. Action aside, it isn't the most exciting story I have ever come across, but it was certainly entertaining enough. What makes it more interesting is the fact that it is based on a true story - an Apache Indian called Massai really did exist and he did escape from US troops, although his life didn't end in quite the same way as it is portrayed in this film. Some Hollywood artistic licence is acceptable, however.
Massai and Nalinle aside, the rest of the Apaches aren't really portrayed positively. Nalinle's father is an alcoholic and is eager to betray anyone so that he can stay on the good side of the Americans. Many of his tribe are prepared to conform with the Americans and have just given up fighting. In the circumstances, however, they didn't really have much choice, so it is understandable, and is probably quite realistic. In any case, the Americans are shown to be just as unpleasant, so there is little discrimination going on! There is a fair amount of violence in the interaction between the American troops and the Indians, but it isn't at all graphic. I am slightly surprised at the classification of U, however, I would have expected it to be a 12.
Directed by Robert Aldrich, perhaps best known for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and The Dirty Dozen, I expected fairly good things with regard to cinematography. Considering it was released in 1954, it was of a very high quality. The colours are vivid and there are some marvellous shots of the scenery - all blue skies, rocky outcrops and brick-red earth, and Robert Aldrich does use it to its best advantage. Unfortunately, the clarity of the picture just serves to show up the failure of the make-up department to make Caucasians look like Indians. I know I keep bringing this up, but it really is distracting and ultimately ruined the film for me.
There is just one extra with the DVD - the original theatrical trailer.
This isn't a terrible film by anyone's estimation, and, if you can place it in its time and not be distracted by all the make-up issues, then there is no reason that you shouldn't enjoy it. For me, however, it was just too much of a distraction and although I could just about accept Burt Lancaster, Jean Peters' performance is just silly and should never have been allowed. This is a film that should be watched for its historical value more than anything else, unless you are a big fan of the genre. Three stars out of five.
The DVD is available from play.com for £4.99.
Running time: 91 minutes
Summary: Average, even if you can overlook the fake Indians