Film Review of Fort Apache: Shirley Temple in 1948 Western With Henry Fonda and John Wayne

by DerdriuMarriner

Characters played by John Agar, Henry Fonda, Shirley Temple, and John Wayne impact Cochise and Geronimo in the 1948 film version of "Fort Apache."

A decade earlier, director John Ford (Feb. 1, 1894 – Aug. 31, 1973) directed Shirley Temple in the 1948 western, "Fort Apache." "Fort Apache" is the first of two films that Shirley Temple made with her first husband, actor John Agar (Jan. 31, 1921 – April 7, 2002).

A teenager carries her mother’s and grandmother’s name despite no family member being from Philadelphia. She finds love in a remote fort despite no love being lost between pale-skins and redskins.

Will life and love survive bloodbaths around “Fort Apache”?

scenic background for "Fort Apache"

Monument Valley, southeastern Utah
Monument Valley, southeastern Utah


Tempers flare in Fort Apache by writer Frank S. Nugent; producer Merian C. Cooper; and producer/director John Ford. Archie Stout, Jack Murray, and Richard Hageman handle cinematography, editing, and music. Filming showcases:

  • California;
  • Utah.

James Warner Bellah’s (September 14, 1899 - September 22, 1976) 1947-published story “Massacre” inspired the film. The film was distributed by RKO. It was Phoenix- and Chicago-premiered on March 27 and 29, 1948.

The movie begins with stagecoachmen (Cliff Clark, Francis Ford) having widowed Lieutenant Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda) rest at Ma’s (Mary Gordon) 35 miles/56.33 kilometers south of Hassayampa. Owen dislikes:

  • Being demoted from General;
  • Getting Fort Apache’s cavalry command;
  • Relocating daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple) from Europe and New England.

Sergeant Festus Mulcahy (Victor McLaglen) escorts godson/Second Lieutenant Michael Shannon O’Rourke (John Agar) from Ma’s.

Captains Kirby York (John Wayne) and Sam Collingwood (George O’Brien) brief Owen. Sergeant Major Michael O’Rourke’s (Ward Bond) Medal of Honor from 69th NY Irish Brigade service explains son Mickey’s West Point commission. Owen opposes Philly marrying any non-commissioned officer’s son even though Mary O’Rourke (Irene Rich) helps Emma Collingwood (Anna Lee), cook Guadalupe (Movita), and Philly embellish Thursday quarters.

Mickey and Philly gallop towards Blue Mesa. They hasten back to report Barry’s and Williams’ massacres. Owen orders:

  • Mickey to lead corpse-retrieval detail.
  • A platoon to counterattack armed Apaches.

Owen and Kirby track Winchesters to reservation agent Silas Meacham (Grant Withers). They uncover:

  • Fixed scales;
  • “Rotgut” whiskey in Bible-marked boxes.

Owen accedes to Kirby’s and Spanish-speaking Sergeant Beaufort’s (Pedro Armendáriz) contacting Apache rebels. Cochise (Miguel Inclán) agrees to leave Mexico for peace talks in Arizona. “Johnny Reb” and Kirby return during the non-commissioned officers’ ball.

Owen announces the entire regiment’s mobilization for battle. Sam leaves without knowing about Emma’s receiving his transfer as West Point instructor. Apaches outnumber the regiment 4:1. Owen sends Kirby to negotiate peace. Cochise (c. 1805 – June 8, 1874) threatens to massacre all white-skinned people if Silas is not removed by dawn.

Owen commands four-man assault waves. He orders Kirby and Mickey to secure the supply wagons on the ridge. He puts Sam in command.

Kirby has Mickey ride to Fort Grant 110 miles (177.03 kilometers) away for reinforcements. He rides down to rescue Owen. Owen rides Kirby’s horse to the dugout which barely shelters the regiment’s few survivors. Kirby surrenders after Cochise’s warriors swoop down to kill Michael, Owen and Sam.

The movie ends with Kirby:

  • Becoming Lieutenant-Colonel/Commander;
  • Chatting with Lieutenant O’Rourke – Philly’s husband and Michael Thursday Kirby O’Rourke’s father;
  • Defending “Thursday’s Charge” to journalists (Frank Ferguson, William Forrest, Archie Twitchell);
  • Fighting Geronimo (June 1829 – February 17, 1909).


Fort Apache trailer

Uploaded to YouTube on August 8, 2008 by cushing97380 ~ URL:



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Image Credits


Monument Valley, southeastern Utah: Marc Averette (Averette at en.wikipedia), CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons @

cushing97380. "Fort Apache trailer." YouTube, Aug. 8, 2008, @


the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Fort Apache was the first of two films that Shirley Temple made with her first husband, John Agar.

Their second film together was Adventure in Baltimore.
Fort Apache (Rent or Buy with 1 Click)

Shirley Temple Black's autobiography

Child Star: An Autobiography

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DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 04/04/2024, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 02/16/2014

Mira, "Fort Apache" and "True Grit" are two of my favorite John Wayne movies; he had a naturally true grit which comes through, especially in those two. And "The Searchers." And "The Sons of Katie Elder," etc.
Yes, Shirley Temple being in the film was a special treat. She must have been so thrilled as a young actress to be in this film, with its stellar cast and crew, including John Ford as director.

AbbyFitz on 02/13/2014

This was my favorite john Wayne movie. Shirley temple was icing on the cake!

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