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:
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).