50s Style Dances With Wolves
Quite often "Run of the Arrow" is compared to Kevin Costner's award winning "Dances With Wolves" and it is easy to see why with its story of an American who ends up living with the Sioux and talking a Sioux wife. But the truth is that they are very different movies because "Run of the Arrow" is all about how Rod Steiger's character O'Meara feels. It is his hatred on the Union which leads him to abandon his state and look to become a Sioux but it is also about how he feels when it comes to fighting American's who break peace treaties and whether he can truly be a Sioux. It means that as 50's westerns go "Run of the Arrow" is above average because it works as simple entertainment but offers up thoughts for those who seek more from a movie.
Refusing to accept that the Union have won the War, Confederate rebel Pvt. O'Meara (Rod Steiger - Oklahoma!) turns his back on his family in Virginia and heads west where he meets Indian Scout Walking Coyote (Jay C. Flippen) who teaches him the ways of the Sioux. A run in with Crazy Wolf (H.M. Wynant) leads to O'Meara beating the Run of the Arrow and being accepted by Blue Buffalo (Charles Bronson) as one of their own and allowed to take Yellow Moccasin (Sara Montiel) as a wife. But when a Cavalry man full of hatred breaks a peace deal and causes the Sioux to go to war to protect their land O'Meara finds himself caught in the middle with his loyalty put to the test.
Now subtlety is not a word in the vocabulary of writer and director Samuel Fuller because in the opening scene we see O'Meara shoot a soldier and then have the bullet removed, which in turn is placed back into a bullet case with an inscription on it. It is very obvious that the bullet will end up being pivotal because Fuller over emphasizes it and so what should have ended up being a cheeky twist at the end becomes a little too obvious. It is not the only time that Fuller over emphasizes things and as we watch O'Meara become a Sioux the whole speech about staying strong to his Christian faith is again over forced.
But despite these elements which feel over emphasized the actual story is good from O'Meara choosing to turn his back on being an American to his initial confrontation with the Sioux which leads to the titular Run of the Arrow. Much of it does feel typical, the fact that O'Meara takes himself a squaw bride in the attractive Yellow Moccasin feels a bit of a cliche as does the fact that Sioux rebel Crazy Wolf dislikes having O'Meara as part of the Sioux tribe. But then you get the drama be it young Silent Tongue being rescued from quicksand which has a tragic and surprising outcome or the actual battle which commences when Lt. Driscoll an Indian hater takes the opportunity to break a peace treaty by placing the fort on Indian hunting ground. And when it comes to the battle it has to be said that for a 50s western it is surprisingly violent or at least suggested violence.
But what is nice about all of this is that "Run of the Arrow" has a deeper side which is all about O'Meara and his feelings as well as loyalty. We have his refusal to accept the Union winning and being bossed around but there is also the aspect of whether when it comes down to it can he kill Americans if he is fighting for the Sioux. It isn't really deep but it makes "Run of the Arrow" a western with a meaning rather than just being visual entertainment.
Now there are moments when Rod Steiger is brilliant he delivers this mix of anger and softness which allows us to feel that sense of being stuck in the middle of who he belongs to. But at times it seems that Steiger over acts but then he is not alone and sadly Jay C. Flippen as Indian Scout Walking Coyote feels almost like a comedy character. Basically in every performance be it Sara Montiel as Yellow Moccasin or Charles Bronson as Blue Buffalo there is good and bad going on.
What this all boils down to is that "Run of the Arrow" is not your run of the mill 50 western. Whilst it does work as a bit of visual western entertainment with some surprisingly violent scenes it also has depth as it explores a man loyalty between being an American but also a Sioux Indian.