Film Review: Indian Uprising

'What are we fighting, Apaches or ghosts?' Maj. Nathan Stark
'They're the same thing, Major'. Sgt. Maj. Phineas T. Keogh

'You're the only man who Geronimo trusts'
Norma Clemson to Capt. Chase McCloud


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Indian Uprising, Ray Nazarro, 1952

This film contains most, if not all, of the clichés. The discovery of gold near Tucson Arizona leads prospectors to stray onto the Apache reservation, but the real villains are the rich, greedy gold magnates who manipulate the situation, stopping at nothing to 'prove' that the Indians are savages that must be swept aside. Only Captain Chase McCloud (George Montgomery), stands in their way, even firing on a group of white vigilantes who are in the act of shooting down innocent Apache accused by the villainous Taggart (Douglas Kennedy) of killing a popular prospector named Sagebrush (Eddy Waller).

The story is reminiscent of those in the comics I read as a child, the plot having ridiculous twists and turns which even children would not find challenging. Nevertheless the film is not without interest as some of the values it expresses raise issues which are challenging. Mixed up in the humdrum storyline is brutal treatment of whites by Apaches and Apaches by whites, for example. And the central character, while sympathetic to the plight of the Apache is not sentimental about it. He respects them but does not necessarily trust them, although he recognizes that they are capable of acting with honour. This is quite sophisticated compared to the predominantly stereotypical portrayal of the Apache and the army. When the treaty is broken (by whites) in one particularly hilarious comic strip moment the Apache break open a box of bullets which is helpfully labelled 'Ammunition'.

Geronimo is well played by Miguel Iclan and his son by Robert Dover, who played the part of the boy healed by Tom Jeffords early in Broken Arrow (1950), and who is also believable. When the easterner Major Nathan Stark (Robert Shayne) replaces Captain McCloud he leads his troops into a trap, against the advice of his experienced Sergeant (Joe Sawyer). Geronimo springs the trap to set into motion the stereotypical 'all action' sequence demanded by the studios complete with waves of mounted Indians attacking troopers sheltering behind covered wagons and rocks. The demonic Geronimo watches from the hilltop with dilating eyes of the devil, orchestrating the carnage.

We are treated to such dubious insights into Apache culture as 'war is their religion', and 'they don't fight at night as the gods cannot see them'. Finally the hero shows his true worth, he out Indians the Indian by exchanging the traditional (?) goodbye greeting with Geronimo before going to get his girl. (Audrey Long)

Here is the archetypal Indian Western: The cavalry, the good army officer, the sympathetic Indian agent's daughter, the demonic Indian leader who has a code of honour, and the conflict over Indian Land not caused by the surge of American imperialism but one or two greedy individuals who let the side down. Baloney it may be, but not a bad western film for all that. For me it would have been a whole lot better if it had had the Bud Boetticher treatment in the cutting room, because, like me, it did go on a bit!

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© Chris Smallbone October 2008
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