Jimmy Stewart found a renewed level of success in 1950. After closing out the 1940s with a series of less successful films like Magic Town and Malaya he got back on track in a big way. The biggest success of the year came with his Oscar-nominated performance as the lead in Harvey. Another stroke of luck came with the budding partnership between Stewart and Anthony Mann. The two would make the first of their eight films together with the incredible Winchester ’73. Still more success came from Broken Arrow. The film earned Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (Chandler), and Best Cinematography.
Tom Jeffords (Stewart) is a former soldier working with the United States government to secure peace with the Apache people. After gaining the trust of Apache leader Cochise (Chandler), Jeffords begins brokering a deal with the U.S. government. He also begins falling for a young Apache girl Sonseeahray (Paget). While many support Jeffords efforts to bring peace, there are some fighting against it.
This film was written by Albert Maltz (Two Mules for Sister Sara), based on the novel Blood Brother by Elliott Arnold (First Comes Courage). The movie was directed by Delmer Daves (Dark Passage) who is perhaps best known for his work on An Affair to Remember. After Stewart, the cast in this film includes Jeff Chandler (The Plunderers), who earned an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Cochise. The cast also features Debra Paget (The Ten Commandments), who was only 16 when filming started.
While real people provide the basis for the film, the writing largely fictionalized their lives for the sake of the story. Still, this movie seems to rise above the stereotypes of the early Westerns with its themes of understanding and tolerance. The dialogue is strong and the action mixes in without being overused. Albert Maltz was clearly deserving of the Oscar nomination for his ability to bring this story to life.
James Stewart does a great job with his role in this one. Like many of his other post-war Westerns, this one features a character with a deeply flawed background. This added depth gave Stewart a chance to really make this role special. His performance pays off throughout the movie. He also has really great chemistry playing the romantic lead opposite Debra Paget. (Interestingly enough, he was 26 years older than Paget.) Paget and Chandler both do nice work with their roles in this one as well.
Another great aspect of the acting is the portrayal of the American Indian people. The choice was made to do away with the broken English often used for these characters. Instead, the film allows all of the characters to speak intelligently and clearly. The cast also included almost 240 Apache people from Arizona, where production took place. These choices help to bring out some great moments of authenticity from the entire cast. This film would later be given a Golden Globe for the Best Film Promoting International Understanding.
This film looks great thanks to the cinematography of Ernest Palmer (Blood and Sand). His use of the natural landscapes of Sedona, Arizona bring this a level of authenticity that really pays off. The camera work is a great mix of wide shots of the open plains, nicely filmed action sequences, and dramatic close shots. The editing and other visuals aspects all come together to give this one a great look that holds up pretty nicely after 65 years.
This movie marks the beginning of a change in the way Hollywood portrayed American Indians. Thankfully, this was not met with resistance from the viewing public. The movie did well at the box office and furthered the careers of everyone involved. For Stewart, this was one of the four films that helped him start the 1950s off right. Following this movie, Stewart would increase his star power with the release of Harvey.