Robert Aldrich’s "Apache" – an approval for Native American assimilation in the Fifties?

Hausarbeit, 2009

18 Seiten



I. Introduction

II. Analysis of the scene
A) Description of the scene
B) Interpretation of the scene
C) Place of the scene within the entire movie

III. Native American life during the post-war period

IV. Robert Aldrich’s Apache – an approval for Native
American assimilation in the Fifties?


Works Cited

I. Introduction

“In the Fifties and Sixties, Indians in Hollywood movies were portrayed as primitive miscreants who attack the white Heroes in their corral while yelling out loudly” as Sylvia Englert argues. (171) Massai was in Apache a proud warrior who fought against the Whites and refused to go back into the reservation, because he thought of this life as inappropriate for a warrior. Does Massai consequently fit in the image described by Englert?

Robert Aldrich shot Apache in 1954. At that time, he was somewhat a rebel in Hollywood cinema and depicting his liberal humanist thematic vision in many genres. (Miller VII) Normally, one would expect him to produce a different kind of movie as the one expressed by Englert. Well, Aldrich did, yet his attempt was stopped and altered by his producers. At first, another version with an alternative end was shot, but it never became public. This end exactly fitted Aldrich’s style: the protagonist Massai, played by Burt Lancaster, got shot by the white soldiers after he had fought them furiously. Director Aldrich had to modify it according to the producers’ will. (Aleiss 95-96) In the final version, Massai throws away his rifle when he hears the first scream of his newborn son and calls off the war. So, it is the calling family that prompts him to do so.

This paper will thus analyze which role and function the scene has in which Massai meets the Cherokee Indian who lives with his wife on a farm and plants corn. These corn seeds play an important role later in the movie for Massai, for the reason that he starts a living on them. The analysis will consist of looking at the content, the setting, the filming techniques, the background music and other cinematic elements and follow the scheme developed by Mickos (82-83). The whole scene and the dialogue in it circle around the “White Man’s way of life” or an “Indian warrior’s one”. Hence, the paper’s thesis will be that this particular scene (in connection with the end) argues that the Indians have to adapt the American way of life in order to live within the American society at the time when the movie takes place. In order to validate it, a deeper look at the historical background is required which is the topic of the next chapter. In it, the major historical developments for the Native American population will be examined and presented, so that they can eventually be linked to the movie. Moreover, the essay will place this scene in the overall plot of Apache and in a last step try to make the interrelation of all findings visible.

A final conclusion will draw all results together and summarize them briefly.

II. Analysis of the scene

A) Description

In this scene, which starts at minute 15:52 and goes on until 21:00, Massai intrudes into a wooden barn after he has wandered through rain, cold and snow. It is a closed room into which the viewer looks straight. In the background, you can hear the wind howl. The barn is only slightly illuminated and there is some cattle and chicken in it. There are some agricultural tools hanging on the walls. Massai, still wearing the rest of his handcuffs, is hungry and looks for food until he finds some corncobs, which the Native American starts to eat hurriedly. The Apache is filmed in a medium shot. His clothes are filthy and he has not got shoes on. What’s more, he looks exhausted and his face is dirty as well. While he is chewing down the corncobs, the proprietor, holding a kerosene lamp, enters the barn. Now, the background music sets in. A lot of violins are used and it is scary and intimidating. Due to the poor lighting, the face of the farmer remains invisible. His clothes look typically American; he is wearing jeans, a lumberjack shirt and a dark brown jacket. The farmer is coming to look after his cattle and to feed his cows. Massai meanwhile hides in a dark corner, so that the other man will not notice him. The music is getting even more menacing, as the violins intensify and play faster. The farmer then turns away from the Apache’s hideout and then Massai jumps up and floors his opponent. He turns the farmer around and chokes him. Massai is threatening the man with a knife. After that, Massai tries to rip his clothing off in order to wear them himself, as he suddenly realizes that the other man is a Native American as well. He has long, black hair and two plaits. The frightening music stops and Massai ceases to fight his opponent, though he is still threatening the man with his blade. The scene appears in a long shot; only when Massai and the man are brawling, they are shown in a medium shot.

The man questions the Apache warrior: “Would you kill a brother?” Massai replies with an own question: “What tribe are you?” The Native American answers that he belongs to the Cherokee Indians. Massai is not satisfied and goes on in posing his next question whether this land is the land of the so-called Cherokee mission. The Cherokee man responds that it is called “Oklahoma Territory” and inquires Massai to which tribe he belongs. As he gets the answer from him, the farmer states that Massai is far away from his home country, but invites him into his home which Massai considers “a White man’s house.” The dialogue in this scene only consists of short, alternating sentences. During the talking, the viewer recognizes the other Native American is an older Indian, because his face has wrinkles.

Subsequently, after the invitation, both men enter the house which looks like an average farmer’s home: a table covered with a red-white checked tablecloth, salt and pepper shaker and another kerosene lamp in the middle, two wooden chairs around it and other items like buckets and small furniture. The windows in the back have drapes with a floral design similar to the wallpapers. The Cherokee stays totally calm and does not accuse Massai for his attack. Massai is still holding his knife. The wife awaits the two inside the cabin and is putting firewood into an oven as the men enter. The Indian woman is wearing a white skirt and a checked shirt. Her outfit, like her spouse’s, is typically American, whereas her headband and her hairstyling look typically Indian.

The two discuss the style of the house in which the couple is living. Massai states for a second time that it is “a White Man’s house”. The Cherokee reacts and declares that it is his house. This statement consequently leads Massai to the conviction that the new owner has killed the white proprietor of the farm. As Massai and the cultivator are talking, a cuckoo clock simul­taneously rings and the farmer jokes: “See, we even keep the same birds” and smiles. Next, the two argue about whether the White Man’s life is suitable for a proud Indian warrior. Massai accuses the other man of leading a “White Man’s life” or “a woman’s life”, for the reason that he is not fighting the white man any longer. But the elder Indian firmly responds that he is neither a woman nor living such a life. Massai on the contrary regards him as an enemy due to his lifestyle, although the farmer does not react to the hostilities. Massai compares the farmer to a turtle, because he does not struggle with the Army anymore. The farmer invalidates his point by asking the rhetorical question: “Are you afraid of the turtle?” Besides, the other Native American argues that his tribe “has fought the white man many times, but has always been driven west.” After that, the chiefs realized that they could not win and embraced the new way of life. The older man is trying to convince Massai to adapt to it in order to survive and not to be stubborn and die. He additionally produces the argument that this life is not as bad for a warrior as it may look on first sight. Now, he has plenty of food, does not need to run away anymore and risk his life in stupid fights that the Indians will lose inevitably against the overwhelming power of the White Man. The Cherokee offers him some bread to eat and wants to give Massai hot water to clean his bloody feet. Therefore, he wants his wife to get the water from the well. The camera turns around to her, because she is sitting in the back of the room. She is baking bread, holding a rolling pin and only replies: ”You will have to fill the bucket.” The farmer then turns to Massai who is still sitting at the table eating and says: “Some of the white man’s ways are hard” and smiles whimsically. Then, Massai’s astonished face due to the wife’s comment is filmed and how he meets the Cherokee with disbelief. The entire discussion is shot in a close-up and alternately shows the men’s faces. This other part of the scene is filmed in a medium shot and the camera is on the same level as the actors. During it, no background music or other sounds are applied; there are just the spoken words.

Then, after a glaring cut, Massai is lying on the floor and sleeping. He is in a bedroom with a single bed standing on a dark red carpet, a stool in the front and a window in the back of the room. The window bars are covered with snow. Because of the darkness outside, it appears to be night. Again, the typical American furniture can be seen. In this room are also paintings in wooden frames on the wall, but due to the distance from the camera, they cannot be clearly identified, but seem to show landscapes. He wakes up and wants to leave the Cherokee’s home, although he did not sleep in the bed, but on the floor. There, he blanketed himself with the blanket from the bed in his room. Massai did not undress to sleep, so when he gets up, one can see that his clothes have totally changed. At this moment, he is also wearing a lumberjack short and another pair of dark jeans and his outfit resembles the one the Cherokee wore in the scene before. There is no light in the room and again no noises. Massai grabs his leather bag and two loaves of bread and stuffs them into his shoulder bag. The Apache warrior does everything very quietly. Lastly, he also puts on a new jacket that exactly looks like the one the Cherokee wore in the barn before. After that, he walks over to the windowpane pursued by the camera and as he opens the bedroom window, a piercing sound can be heard. This action is shot in a medium long shot. A quick camera movement is then made to switch the focus to the door that is immediately opened by the house owner because of the noise. He is at this time wearing a white dressing gown, holding the kerosene lamp in one hand and a small red sack in the other saying: “No one could open that window quietly, not even an Apache.” Massai looks caught, however he answers stubbornly: “I must get back to my people.” The Cherokee man then tries once more to persuade Massai: “There could be a life for you here. On the reservation there is nothing, even if you could get there.” Massai is still convinced that he will get there, but the wise Cherokee Indian hands the warrior the red sack, which contains corn seed. Massai, however, at first refuses it, because he has food, namely the two loaves of bread. But the elder man gives him the advice to plant it. Massai angrily responds: “Apaches are warriors, not farmers!” The farmer thereupon starts a little speech in which he says that the Cherokees formerly lived similar to the Apaches; they hunted and when the hunting was good, they had a lot to eat, but when it was bad, they had to starve. The White Man nowadays outnumbers the Native Americans easily and the Cherokee compares him to “the number of leaves on the trees.” In his eyes, a war against them is stupid. He further argues that the Indians can learn from the Whites. They have food the whole year around and live very conveniently, for the reasons they raise their own foodstuff. During this speech, the camera focuses on Massai’s face with a medium close-up and shows his disbelieving face. After this, the farmer turns away and only adds that such a life would be a lot better for him and the Apache tribe and leaves the room. Before, he places the bag with the seeds on the dresser. He looks a last time at Massai and says with a smile on his face: “Next time, leave at least by the door” and shuts it. Massai pauses for three seconds until he finally decides to run off and climbs out of the window. The camera remains on the open window. Suddenly, he climbs back in and fetches the little bag.


Ende der Leseprobe aus 18 Seiten


Robert Aldrich’s "Apache" – an approval for Native American assimilation in the Fifties?
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
499 KB
Indianer, Hollywood, Kino, Amerika, Fünfziger
Arbeit zitieren
Moritz Tonk (Autor:in), 2009, Robert Aldrich’s "Apache" – an approval for Native American assimilation in the Fifties?, München, GRIN Verlag,


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