John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn, VHS tape
Three out of five stars
While the basic storyline of this movie is a strong one, the powerful urge that dislocated Native American tribes feel to return to their homeland, there is a section in the middle that should be extricated. For it is an attempt to interject some humor into the story, but it just falls flat.
Unlike many other western movies that depict the Native Americans as savages, John Ford takes a very compassionate look at how the Native Americans were treated by the invading Europeans. A band of Cheyenne have been taken from their ancestral lands where they can grow and hunt their own food to a desolate place where they are dependent on government handouts.
When a delegation of government officials fails to arrive to address the issues, the leadership of the Cheyenne decide to leave the reservation and travel to the area known as Yellowstone, which is approximately 1,500 miles away at a time where there were no roads over the rough terrain.
Richard Widmark stars as an Army officer that dislikes the order to round up the Cheyenne and return them to the reservation. He clashes with another officer and does what he can to argue the case for the Cheyenne to simply be allowed to go back. This is a very good story and a bit of a history lesson.
What reduces the movie’s quality is a segment in the middle where Jimmy Stewart plays Wyatt Earp, a man most reluctant to enforce the law when it disturbs his card game. When a cowboy challenges Earp to a gun duel, Wyatt shoots him in the foot and then removes the bullet. The anesthetic is literally a bop on the head with a piece of wood. When a ragtag army of townspeople leave Dodge City to go deal with the Cheyenne the absurdity only expands. When a lone Cheyenne fires some shots, a carriage full of well-dressed ladies is overturned and we all see their bloomers and petticoats when they go legs up in the air. It is an attempt at humor that just seems pointless.