(1948)4Lucia BozzolaThe first film of John Ford's "cavalry trilogy," Fort Apache (1948) pits an arrogant Henry Fonda against an Indian-savvy John Wayne in a myth-making confrontation with Apache leader Cochise. A key antecedent to Ford's later The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), Fort Apache deflates mythic lore about the cavalry's triumph over the West's "savages" while revealing how and why such myths were created. Fonda's Custer-esque Col. Thursday is highly disciplined yet fatally racist and self-aggrandizing, while Wayne's Capt. York is an experienced Westerner who sees the wisdom in making peace with Cochise. Still, when Thursday ignores his advice and makes a troop-annihilating charge against the Apaches, York maintains the fiction that Thursday was a valiant leader. Devoting substantial screen time to community dances, domestic details, and a romantic subplot involving Thursday's daughter, Ford celebrates the "civilization" that the cavalry defends even if the fort itself is not an ideal operation; Wayne's final speech attests to the need to support the honorable tradition of that defense. Hardly politically correct, despite sympathetic acknowledgement of the Apaches' plight, Fort Apache still offers Ford's striking black and white Monument Valley vistas and assured performances from Ford stalwarts Wayne and Fonda.