Apache (1954)

Burt Lancaster as Massai in Apache (1954)

America's Massai Warrior

Ignoring the fact that Burt Lancaster's blue eyes are just one reason he wasn't really right for playing a Native American and Robert Aldrich's "Apache" is in fact not bad. It is by no means original or complex as we follow Apache warrior Massai as he has to deal with a changing society where deep down he believes in fighting but knows the way forward is to try and live in harmony. But this simple story with some nice performances and just enough action makes it an enjoyable western more than a great one.

As Geronimo plans to surrender again, Apache warrior Massai (Burt Lancaster - Ten Tall Men) disagrees and stages a last stand only to be captured. But as he along with other Apache's are transported by train to Florida Massai takes an opportunity to escape and whilst far away from home begins the long trek back seeing the craziness of city life in St. Louis and coming across a Cherokee who owns his own house and land, living in peace with the white man. It makes Massai think and on returning to his homeland he is ready to try and live a different life until he is betrayed and finds himself a hunted man along with pretty Nalinle (Jean Peters - Three Coins in the Fountain) who whilst on the run together try and make it work as a family by planting crops high up in the hills.

Burt Lancaster and Jean Peters in Apache (1954)

So let's start with the one big negative and that is Burt Lancaster caked in make-up to look like an Apache, his blues eyes popping out to make it clearly wrong. It isn't right and not just because of a white actor playing a Native American but because it so obviously looks false especially with Lancaster being impressively tall as well. The annoying thing is that Lancaster gets across the conflicted mind of Massai because he portrays the heart of a warrior but also one of a man wanting to live peacefully. At the same time there is also Jean Peters who whilst a little more believable as an Apache woman is again a case of being wrong.

Get beyond this and "Apache" ends up an entertaining little western which focuses on Massai's point of view as he deals with a changing world where he can't believe an Indian can live in harmony with the white man. There is no great depth to this but we do see how he is conflicted by having grown up a warrior but knowing that the only way out is to try and live like the Cherokee by becoming farmers. What we also see as he has to deal with betrayal from those with in his own tribe and a sense of self preservation none more so when Nalinle ends up with him as he tries to stay one step ahead of those hunting him. You can sense his fondness for her but also that element of her slowing him down and being an influence in his life which will change him, make him think differently. So in a strange way we see him try to rebel against his feelings but unable to do so.

And to be honest that is about it, there is a nice ending which apparently is not the one which director Robert Aldrich wanted but had to bow to the studio on it. Plus there are the other actors which whilst Charles Bronson appears as an Indian cavalry man called Hondo the only other character of interest is Al Sieber played by John McIntire. I say that loosely because in truth all Sieber is is the man whose life has become all about capturing Massai but because "Apache" is all about how Massai deals with the changing world there is no depth to Sieber.

What this all boils down to is that "Apache" despite the fact that Burt Lancaster cannot pass for a Native American is an entertaining western from the view point of an Indian. It isn't complex and doesn't have a great deal of depth but is solid and well paced to be enjoyable for western fans.