Broken Arrow (1950 film)

Broken Arrow is a western Technicolor film released in 1950. It was directed by Delmer Daves and starred James Stewart as Tom Jeffords and Jeff Chandler as Cochise. The film is based on these historical figures but fictionalizes their story in dramatized form. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, and won a Golden Globe award for Best Film Promoting International Understanding. Film historians have said that the movie was one of the first major Westerns since the Second World War to portray the Indians sympathetically.[3]

Broken Arrow
Theatrical release poster
Directed byDelmer Daves
Produced byJulian Blaustein
Written byElliott Arnold (novel Blood Brother)
Michael Blankfort (front name for Albert Maltz)
StarringJames Stewart,
Jeff Chandler,
Debra Paget
Music byHugo Friedhofer
CinematographyErnest Palmer
Edited byJ. Watson Webb Jr.
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
July 20, 1950 (1950-07-20)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$3,550,000 (US rentals)[1][2]


Tom Jeffords comes across a wounded, 14-year-old Apache boy dying from buckshot wounds in his back. Jeffords gives the boy water and treats his wounds. The boy's tribesmen appear and are at first hostile but decide to let Jeffords go free. However, when a group of gold prospectors approaches, the Apache gag Jeffords and tie him to a tree. Helpless, he watches as they attack the prospectors and torture the survivors. The warriors then let him go but warn him not to enter Apache territory again.

When Jeffords returns to Tucson, he encounters a prospector who escaped the ambush. He corrects a man's exaggerated account of the attack, but Ben Slade is incredulous and does not see why Jeffords did not kill the Apache boy. Instead, Jeffords learns the Apache language and customs and plans to go to Cochise's stronghold on behalf of his friend, Milt, who is in charge of the mail service in Tucson. Jeffords enters the Apache stronghold and begins a parley with Cochise, who agrees to let the couriers through. Jeffords meets a young Apache girl, Sonseeahray, and falls in love.

A few of Cochise's warriors attack an army wagon train and kill the survivors. The townsfolk nearly lynch Jeffords as a traitor before he is saved by General Oliver Otis Howard who recruits Jeffords to negotiate peace with Cochise. Howard, the "Christian General" condemns racism, saying that the Bible "says nothing about pigmentation of the skin". Jeffords makes a peace treaty with Cochise, but a group led by Geronimo, oppose the treaty and leave the stronghold. When these renegades ambush a stagecoach, Jeffords rides off to seek help from Cochise and the stagecoach is saved.

Jeffords and Sonseeahray marry in an Apache ceremony and have several days of tranquility. Later, Ben Slade's son spins a story to Jeffords and Cochise about two of his horses stolen by Cochise's people. Cochise says that his people did not take them and doubts his story, as he knows the boy's father is an Apache hater. They then decide to go along with the boy up the canyon but are ambushed by the boy's father and a gang of men from Tucson. Jeffords is badly wounded and Sonseeahray is killed but Cochise kills most of the men, including Ben Slade. Cochise forbids Jeffords to retaliate, saying that the ambush was not done by the military and that Geronimo broke the peace no less than Slade and his men, and that peace must be maintained. Jeffords rides off with the belief that "the death of Sonseeahray had put a seal upon the peace, and from that day on wherever I went, in the cities, among the Apaches and in the mountains, I always remembered, my wife was with me".



Producer Julius Blaustein recalled, "We had a terrible time locating an actor with the proper voice and stature to play Cochise. Before we found Chandler we were even considering Ezio Pinza."[4]

Jeff Chandler was cast in May 1949 on the basis of his performance in Sword in the Desert. He was working in several radio series at the time, Michael Shayne and Our Miss Brooks, and had to be written out of them for several weeks.[5]

Filming started on 6 June 1949. It was primarily shot on location in northern Arizona, approximately 30 miles south of Flagstaff. Apaches from the Whiteriver agency on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation played themselves.[6] Debra Paget was only 15 years old when she played the love interest to 41-year-old James Stewart. Canadian Mohawk actor Jay Silverheels portrayed Geronimo.

The movie 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 studio employed nearly 240 Indians from Arizona's Fort Apache Indian Reservation; many location scenes were shot in Sedona, Arizona. (The story of Cochise actually occurred in what is now the Dragoon Mountains in the Douglas Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest in southeastern Arizona.) The studio attempted to portray Apache customs in the film, like the Social Dance and the Girl's Sunrise Ceremony (the girl's Puberty Rite). For the character of Cochise, director Daves eliminated the traditional style of broken English and replaced it with conventional English so that whites and Indians would sound alike.[7]

Portrayal of Indians

Although many Westerns of the pre-World War II period portrayed American Indians as hostile to the white settlers, others did show Indians in a positive light. Broken Arrow, however, is noteworthy for being one of the first post-war Westerns to portray Native Americans in a balanced, sympathetic way – although most of the Indians were played by white actors, with Brooklyn-born Jeff Chandler portraying Apache leader Cochise. An exception was that Native Canadian Mohawk actor Jay Silverheels was noted for his role as Geronimo in the film.[8]

Some scholars have said that the film appealed to an ideal of tolerance and racial equality that would influence later Westerns and indicate Hollywood's response to the Indian's evolving role in American society.[9] Chronicle of the Cinema praised the film: "Based on verifiable fact, it faithfully evokes the historical relationship between Cochise and Jeffords, marking a historical rehabilitation of Indians in the cinema."[10]

In 1950, Rosebud Yellow Robe, a Native American folklorist, educator, and author, was hired by Twentieth-Century Fox to undertake a national tour to promote the film. Rosebud explained that there were no such things as Indian princesses, and that the myth started when Pocahontas went to England and the English named her "Lady Rebecca". Rosebud voiced complaints about the portrayals of Indians on radio, screen, and television to "...a new generation of children learning the old stereotypes about whooping, warring Indians, as if there weren't anything else interesting about us."[11]

The Apache Wedding Prayer

The Apache Wedding Prayer was written for this movie.

Awards and honors

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Adaptations to other media

Broken Arrow was dramatized as an hour-long radio play on January 22, 1951, starring Burt Lancaster and Debra Paget. It was also presented as a half-hour broadcast of Screen Director's Playhouse on September 7, 1951, with James Stewart and Jeff Chandler in their original film roles. The film and novel also provided the basis for a television series of the same name that ran from 1956 through 1960, starring Michael Ansara as Cochise and John Lupton as Jeffords.[13]

Cultural references

  • The movie's world premiere was held at the Roxy, New York City.
  • The Blackfoot Indians would use a broken arrow to signal that they would cease fighting.
  • After watching the movie, Colombian cyclist Martin Emilio Rodriguez adopted the nickname "Cochise" from the character of the movie he liked the most.


  1. 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1950', Variety, January 3, 1951
  2. Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century-Fox: A Corporate and Financial History Rowman & Littlefield, 2002 p 223
  3. John H. Lenihan, Showdown: Confronting Modern America in the Western Film, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980, pp. 55–89.
  4. Steigers Act Out Breakup of a Marriage: Breakup Acted Out by Steigers Loynd, Ray. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 27 June 1969: d1.
  5. Big Chief Cochise Set; Sidney to Direct 'Keys;' Trevor 'Package' Looms Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 18 May 1949: A7.
  6. Frank Daugherty, "Story of Apache Treaty Being Filmed in Arizona", The Christian Science Monitor (1908–Current file) [Boston, Mass] 29 July 1949: 5.
  7. Aleiss, Angela (2005). Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies. Westport, Conn./London: Praeger. ISBN 027598396X.
  8. "Geronimo: Hollywood's Favorite Native for Over 100 Years". Retrieved 2016-04-03.
  9. Angela Aleiss, "Hollywood Addresses Postwar Assimilation: Indian/White Attitudes in Broken Arrow", American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 11(1), pp. 67–79.
  10. Robyn Karney (editor), Chronicle of the Cinema; London: Dorling Kindersley, 1995; p. 400.
  11. Weinberg, p 51.
  12. "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  13. Broken Arrow (TV Series 1956–1960), IMDb


  • Aleiss, Angela, Making the White Man's Indian: Native Americans and Hollywood Movies, London & CT: Praeger, 2005; ISBN 0-275-98396-X
  • Karney, Robyn (editor), Chronicle of the Cinema; London: Dorling Kindersley, 1995; ISBN 0-7894-0123-1
  • Lenihan, John H. Showdown: Confronting Modern America in the Western Film, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1980; ISBN 0-252-00769-7
  • O'Conner, John E. & Peter C. Rollins, eds. Hollywood's Indian: The Portrayal of the Native American in Film [Paperback], The University Press of Kentucky, 2003; ISBN 0813190770
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