At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

BROKEN ARROW (KINO/Lorber)

By • Apr 24th, 2017 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

The film begins with a kind of disclaimer, as the narrator tells us that what follows will be factual…except that the Indians will all be speaking English. The screenplay is by respected, black-listed, ‘Hollywood Ten’ writer Albert Maltz, and I believe that he meant well with this narrative device, but it took a good chunk of Act One’s precious time before I was able to accept the native American cast, many of them real native Americans, speaking fluent if poeticized, English. It seemed a hopelessly misconceived path to have taken, although it was probably the only option that made commercial sense in the 50s.

But then, I’m happy to report, slowly but inexorably the truth of the characters, and of the story, rose to the surface, and the dialogue, which thirty years later would have been subtitled and accepted in that form by theater audiences, became (barely) livable, with the aid of a hefty does of good-natured willing suspension of disbelief.

Jeff Chandler plays Cochise, an Indian leader who leaned more toward conciliation with the whites than one of his fellow native Americans – Geronimo, well and grimly played by Jay (Tonto) Silverheels. Chandler is serious and noble…and sympathetic. We can see him thinking, trying to solve the irreconcilable problems between his tribes and the onslaught of settlers from the East. It’s the best Chandler performance I can remember.

Similarly, I cared about Debra Paget, a relative newcomer to film (she had acted with Elvis, but…). Though never for a moment looking like an Indian, her instincts, and her smile, were so spontaneous and genuine that I just loved her. As did Jimmy Stewart’s character, a loner who incurs the enmity not only of the more hostile Indian tribes, but of his own people, when he pushes for a truce to let the mail get through – one small step towards what he hopes will lead to a larger treaty between the two dissident peoples.

I did feel like I was getting something close to a realistic history lesson. Both sides are presented with pernicious detractor as well as cynical supporters, and we know the outcome of the native American plight, so the narrative is always undercut by a feeling of dread.

Ernest Palmer’s cinematography is more Hallmark Greeting card-like than, say, William Daniels in the Anthony Mann/Jimmy Stewart westerns WINCHESTER 73 (released the same year as BROKEN ARROW), and THE FAR COUNTRY. But Mann had just come off several tight noirs, and his vision might have been a bit more gritty and realistic. Nonetheless, the look of BROKEN ARROW is fine, the costume design is quite extraordinary, and the drama is augmented by an excellent score from Hugo Friedhofer (ONE EYED JACKS) that never goes stupid on us.

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