Run of the Arrow (1957)
By Bosley Crowther
August 3, 1957
Screen: 'Run of the Arrow'; Steiger 'Stars in New Film at the Palace
By Bosley Crowther
That is to say, a Confederate soldier, embittered after the Civil War, goes to the West, joins a Sioux tribe and takes unto himself a beautiful Indian maid as squaw. When the cavalry comes into the region to build itself a fort, this naturalized Sioux, still sore at the Yankees, is attached to accompany it as scout.
Then along comes a renegade Indian—there's always one in every decent, respectable tribe—and starts shooting arrows at the soldiers. As usual, this means war! The cavalry goes after the Indians, the Indians retaliate. The first thing you know, tents are burning and everybody is having a high old time.
Meanwhile, what's with our turncoat? Well, the cavalry blame him at first, and that damyankee he all but killed at Appomattox is all for stringing him up. But then the Indians arrive, take over and are skinning the damyankee alive, which so horrifies our ex-Confederate that he—guess what!
Don't expect "Fort Apache." This is just an ordinary cavalry-Indian film, conspicuous for a lot of raw blood-letting and the appearance of Rod Steiger in the leading role. Mr. Steiger, familiar as a sullen tough guy in a number of gangster films, slightly overworks the Actors Studio method out there on the dusty frontier.
By William Jones
There's a huge chasm that separates these two similar-on-the-surface but stylistically different movies and the great film critic Manny Farber really nailed it (for me anyway) in a famous essay written many years ago entitled "White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art."
Here, Costner's is the lumbering, overly praised and prized (it won the Academy Award for Best Picture) prestige film while Run of the Arrow is the modest but fast-paced, low-budget yet laudable "B" picture. You'd be wise to pass on the former (Costner's white elephant) and seek out the later (Fuller's industrious termite).
Cliches about the Civil War, about the "frontier," about "Indians" about the simplicity of the human character," about the ways we can characterize people into simple codes of good and evil--all are exploded. Before "Broken Arrow," before "Dances with Wolves" this movie shows more than we have seen in westerns or movies in general. Even the "villain" (Ralph Meeker) is not a cardboard cutout. People act because they have made themselves into a certain way of seeing the world--this brings out conflicts and there are no simple villains. The very act that begins the story and the drama, also ends it--but the meaning changes. A great piece of work!
An ugly, off-beat Western from director Fuller. Steiger, with a thick accent and a intense performances, is a rouge Southerner who can't accept his loss in the Civil War and joins a Sioux tribe; Monteil was dubbed by Angie Dickinson. Fuller's examinations of civilization, ethnic identity is weak and doesn't have the same impact as his later films. Fine, but dull. I give it a 3/5.
Also, Broken Arrow (1950) preceded Run of the Arrow by seven years.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.