Broken Arrow (1950)

Broken Arrow (1950)

“There can be no peace if there is no good will to try it.”

Civil War veteran Tom Jeffords (Jimmy Stewart) befriends Apache Chief Cochise (Jeff Chandler) and falls in love with a beautiful young Indian woman (Debra Paget). Can Stewart help broker broader peace between whites and the Apaches, starting with securing safe passage for mail carriers?

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Cross-Cultural Romance
  • Debra Paget Films
  • Delmer Daves Films
  • Jeff Chandler Films
  • Jimmy Stewart Films
  • Native Americans
  • Westerns

Broken Arrow — scripted by blacklisted writer Albert Maltz, using Michael Blankfort as a front — is notable as one of the first Hollywood westerns to attempt to portray Native Americans in a more balanced and sympathetic light. Despite starring whites (Chandler and Paget) in the lead Apache roles, hundreds of Apaches played extras; much of the action was filmed reasonably close to where the historical events originally took place (in Arizona); and an opening voiceover by Stewart informs us that we will hear the Apaches speaking English simply for the sake of convenience (rather than using the alternative du jour of “broken English”). Indeed, Broken Arrow remains impressive as an early attempt to humanize Indians and show the appeal of their culture to whites like Stewart (at least in his choice of an Indian bride and willingness to live with the tribe). Meanwhile, the storyline is a fairly compelling one — can peace realistically be be brokered when so much ill-will and bloodshed have taken place? — and Ernest Palmer’s Technicolor cinematography is gorgeous.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jeff Chandler as Cochise
  • Jimmy Stewart as Tom Jeffords
  • Fine location shooting in Arizona
  • A refreshingly nuanced (if inevitably still somewhat inaccurate) portrayal of Apache culture

  • Ernest Palmer’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a compelling and unique western for its era.


  • Good Show
  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Broken Arrow (1950)

  1. First viewing. Must-see, for its solid place in cinema history. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “Suppose their skins aren’t white – are they still God’s children?”

    ‘Broken Arrow’ (1950): Somehow I never got around to this one until now. Oh, you know how it is: when you’ve seen so many films depicting the conflict between white men and Indians – and many of them show Indians as little more than savages – you become skeptical of them in general.

    Although – yes – Hollywoodized to a degree (there’s what seems to be an obligatory romance thrown in – still, with an interesting and compelling difference), ‘BA’ (as Wikipedia tells us) was based on the 558-page novel ‘Blood Brother’ (1947) by Elliott Arnold, which told the story of the peace agreement between the Apache leader Cochise and the U.S. Army, 1855–1874. The film is noteworthy for being one of the first post-war westerns to portray Native Americans in a balanced, sympathetic way.

    ‘Chronicle of the Cinema’ praised the film: “Based on verifiable fact, it faithfully evokes the historical relationship between Cochise and [ex-soldier] Jeffords, marking a historical rehabilitation of Indians in the cinema.” It won a Golden Globe award for ‘Best Film Promoting International Understanding’.

    What’s most impressive about the film is its believable illustration of the rough road to peace. Just because Jeffords (James Stewart) and Cochise (Jeff Chandler) are personally convinced that true understanding is possible (or at least they’re able to negotiate in order to give it a try), that doesn’t mean that all on both sides equally buy into that. Old prejudices die hard. Ain’t it the truth.

    A fine, earlier film by director Delmer Daves (‘Dark Passage’, ‘3:10 to Yuma’, etc.)

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