July 07, 2011

Chuck Connors as Geronimo

Blu Room:  Geronimo (1962) MOD-DVD

By Ron HenriquesThe 1962 Chuck Connors vehicle Geronimo purports to tell the story of the legendary Apache leader who stood virtually alone against the U.S. government, even after most of his tribe was browbeaten into surrendering. The logic at the studio at the time was that there was no actor more appropriate to play a famous Native American other than blonde-haired, blue-eyed poster boy for the Aryan race Connors who was riding high at the time as the star of the popular TV series The Rifleman. The star certainly possessed an imposing physique as well as more-than-adequate acting abilities. However, even with contact lenses and a black Morticia Addams wig, there is no doubt he was completely miscast as Geronimo. This was also the case with fellow cast members Kamala Devi, a gorgeous flash-in-the-pan actress who worked on several projects with Connors before fading into oblivion and Ross Martin, primarily known for playing Artemus Gordon in the Wild, Wild West TV series. Not only are all these folks painfully wrong for their roles, the characters talk in a modern vernacular that makes you think they must be part of an obscure Apache tribe from “Nu Yawk.”

Looking at the production values of this nearly fifty year old film, its obvious the intentions of the producers were noble. This is probably one of the first major studio releases that dared to portray Native Americans in a truly sympathetic light. The film opens with Geronimo reluctantly surrendering to the U.S. Cavalry in order to spare his few remaining followers more deprivation and starvation. Once at the reservation, he quickly learns he has been deceived and that the tribe is slated to be humiliated wards of the government, stripped of any dignity or civil rights. This bold notion is watered down, however, by a screenplay that ensures that these deceitful practices are the work of a few bad apples. By punting on presenting actual history, the story loses its impact. Geronimo and some of his men rebel by breaking out of the reservation and going on the war path. If the film goes lightly on the U.S. government, so, too does it present Geronimo in a sanctified light. There isn't a hint of the atrocities he committed against settlers, probably because Chuck Connors' fans would have marched on the studio bosses and burned them out. The film is comic book history, presenting only the barest hint of historical fact and even includes a ridiculous happy ending that absolves the U.S. government and Geronimo of any mistakes in judgment.
Comment:  Several movies took the same approach around this time. The Indians were a noble but tragic race. A few bad apples cheated and oppressed them. The US Army was like a traffic cop: a neutral force that kept the settlers and Indians from colliding. It didn't take sides against the Indians, much less implement the government's genocidal policies against them. Because "our" boys in blue would never do anything like that.

For more on what the US really did, see Wounded Knee "Delivered the Sentence" and Capitalism Killed the Indians. For more on Native-themed movies, see The Best Indian Movies.

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