Fort Apache (1948)

Shirley Temple and Henry Fonda
Shirley Temple and Henry Fonda

'Fort Apache' is a Western film made in 1948, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda and John Wayne. It is the first of Ford's "cavalry trilogy" to be followed by 'She Wore a Yellow Ribbon' in 1949 and 'Rio Grande' in 1950, both also starring Wayne although none of the stories or characters are connected.

The film was one of RKO's biggest successes in 1948, earning $445,000 at the box office.


'Fort Apache' is a movie with a message. It is a reworking of the Custer story and shows an army man blinkered by his own ambition and whose poor judgement nearly wipes out his command. It was well directed by John Ford who got together a fine cast and an excellent, intelligent script which does not deal in Western stereotypes. It is a first class film which holds our attention, even today.

John Wayne plays Capt. Kirby York, who is stationed at Fort Apache. His new commander is Col.Owen Thursday brilliantly played against type byHenry Fonda. Also arriving at the fort is the Colonel's daughter, Philadelphia, played by a grown up Shirley Temple. Philadelphia begins a romance with one of the soldiers, Lt. Michael O'Rourke, played by Shirley's real life husband, John Agar. Col. Thursday proves to be an obstinate man and opposes the romance. He also has no time or respect for Indians and the movie finishes with a bloodthirsty battle sequence where the Colonel frankly gets his just deserts.


The story was inspired by the famous 1876 battle known as "Custer's Last Stand" at the Little Big Horn River in Montana. The screenplay was based on the 1948 short story "Massacre" by James Warner Bellah.

Many of the film's exterior locations were shot in John Ford's beloved Monument Valley in Arizona. The exterior shots which involved the fort itself were shot at the Corriganville Movie Ranch, in the Simi Valley of Southern California. The Fort Apache fort, built for this production, stood for years. It was reused in dozens of productions, most notably the 1954 TV series 'The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin'.

The film's original budget was $2.8 million, and for their work, Shirley Temple, John Wayne and Henry Fonda were each paid $100,000. Filming was completed twenty-five days under schedule and $700,000 under budget.

Shirley Temple, who appears in one of her first adult roles, was pregnant during shooting. One of her co-stars, John Agar, was her husband at the time.

Main Cast

John Wayne ... Capt. Kirby York
Henry Fonda ... Lt. Col. Owen Thursday
Ward Bond ... Sgt. Major Michael O'Rourke
Shirley Temple ... Miss Philadelphia Thursday
John Agar ... Lt. Michael O'Rourke
Dick Foran ... Sgt. Quincannon
Pedro Armendáriz ... Sgt. Beaufort
Miguel Inclan ... Cochise
Victor McLaglen ... Sgt. Festus Mulcahy
Guy Kibbee ... Capt. Wilkens, regimental surgeon
Anna Lee ... Emily Collingwood
George O'Brien ... Capt. Sam Collingwood
Jack Pennick ... Sgt. Daniel Schattuck
Irene Rich ... Mary O'Rourke
Grant Withers ... Silas Meacham
Movita ... Guadalupe, Col. Thursday's cook
Ray Hyke ... Lt. Gates, regimental adjutant
Mary Gordon ... Ma (Barmaid)
Philip Kieffer ... Cavalryman (credited ... Keiffer)
Mae Marsh ... Mrs. Gates
Hank Worden ... Southern Recruit
Danny Borzage ... recruit/accordionist (uncredited)
Cliff Clark ... Stage Driver (uncredited)
Francis Ford ... Fen (Stage Guard) (uncredited)


Director ... John Ford
Producer ... Merian C. Cooper, John Ford
Screenplay ... Frank S. Nugent
Based on ... "Massacre", 1947 story by James Warner Bellah
Music ... Richard Hageman
Cinematography ... Archie Stout
Production Company ... Argosy Pictures
Distribution Company ... RKO Radio Pictures
Release date ... March 27, 1948
Running time ... 125 minutesbr

Academy Awards

No Nominations: