The first of John Ford's "Cavalry Trilogy", Fort Apache stars John Wayne as captain Kirby York and Henry Fonda as Custer clone Lt. Col. Owen Thursday. Resentful of his loss in rank and transfer to the West after serving gallantly in the Civil War, the vainglorious Thursday insists upon imposing rigid authority on rough-and-tumble Fort Apache. He is particularly anxious to do battle with the local Indians, despite York's admonitions that the trouble around the fort is being fomented not by the so-called savages but by corrupt white Indian agents. Thursday nonetheless ends up in a climactic set-to with Indian chief Cochise. He and his men are needlessly slaughtered, but the Eastern press builds "Thursday's Charge" into an incident of conspicuous valor--and York, ever loyal to the cavalry, is not about to tell the whole truth. The bare bones of Fort Apache's plotline are fleshed out with several subplots, including the romance between Thursday's daughter Philadelphia (Shirley Temple) and Lt. Mickey O'Rourke (John Agar), the son of Fort Apache veteran Sgt. Michael O'Rourke (Ward Bond). There's also plenty of time for the expected drunken-brawl humor of Victor McLaglen. Not in the least politically correct, Fort Apache is a classic of its kind, and together with Rio Grande (1950) the best of the John Ford/John Wayne Cavalry films.
by Hal Erickson synopsis