September 03, 2008

Army and Apaches vs. Reagan

A Ludicrous Story--a wooden Cochise

Cavalry Charge (1951)--directed by Lewis R. Foster
starring: Ronald Reagan, Rhonda Fleming
Ironically, the first time a Native American is cast to portray Cochise in a movie, he is neither listed in the film's credits nor given an opportunity to act. On top of that, the whole premise is insulting to the point that perhaps he should have been relieved at being so far in the background: Imagine if you will that Mangas Coloradas and Cochise, along with some other Indian identified only as "Chee," have decided to let a White Man who now lives as an Indian and calls himself Chief Grey Cloud rule the Apache Nation and speak for them.

Of course that's not a complete synopsis of the movie's plot, which is not much less unlikely and involves a contingent of the Union Army trying to enlist the help of the Apaches in their drive to wipe out a small band of Confederate soldiers, led by a charming and irreverent Ronald Reagan. It's actually a Western comedy disguised as an action movie and in many ways is quite watchable, especially if you enjoy seeing a future U.S. President thumbing his nose at the American government (as a character in 1861, of course).

When we first see Cochise he is standing like a wooden cigar store Indian, facing a much more animated Mangas Coloradas (played by Iron Eyes Cody) inside a somewhat "correct" looking wickiup. Cochise is white haired and looks much older than he would have been in 1861. When we hear him speak at all, it is in an obviously fake "Indian-speak'" so typical of 1950s cowboys and Indian movies. One glaring error in the scene in which Cochise and the others appear is that they all pass around a peace pipe ... something the Apache tribe did not embrace.
Comment:  For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.

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