He’s on his way with 10,000 yelling demons!
In 1889, novelist Edward Ellis’s
On the Trail of Geronimo was one of the first of more than 150 fictional titles to treat the people commonly referred to today as the Apache.
His pioneer effort did not go unnoticed. Realizing that the topic had box office appeal, moviemakers went to work. As early as 1912, the cameras rolled for
Geronimo’s Last Raid. Regrettably this nitrate silent, which was produced just three years after the death of its main character at Oklahoma’s Fort Sill, disintegrated and is lost forever.
The appeal of Geronimo, however, was to survive. In fact, he would be portrayed in more Hollywood Oaters than any other American Indian, including Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull!
presents a pictorial of Geronimo filmography in both TV and movies, starting with 1939’s
True West Stagecoach and 1940’s Geronimo! (the source of our title art) into the 1990s, when Geronimo seemingly went into retirement. Yet his powerful legend is unlikely to rest forever. He is merely waiting for another role to be offered.
John Langellier has served as a film and TV consultant, most notably for Geronimo: An American Legend. His most recent book is Southern Arizona Military Outposts, which will be released in early 2011 by Arcadia Publishing. Photo Gallery
Fort Apache Another greedy Indian agent is the cause of war in
Fort Apache, the first installment of John Ford’s so-called cavalry trilogy. This 1948 release includes Cochise as an honorable, formidable foe respected by Capt. Kirby York (John Wayne) but seen as a barbarian by the cavalry commander, martinet Lt. Col. Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda). At a peace conference, Cochise (Miguel Inclan) is joined by an uncredited extra from the Navajo Nation who is introduced as Geronimo. In the typical formula of the era, Geronimo peers stoically at the whites without uttering a word. Inclan is shown here, at far left, with three of his headmen, including Geronimo to his left. – Courtesy Argosy Pictures –
Apache During the 1950s, Geronimo makes several more cameos. He is ably, although briefly, represented by Monte Blue opposite Burt Lancaster in the 1954 United Artists release
Apache. Lancaster, as Massai, is shipped to Florida with Blue, but his character escapes to return to his Arizona homeland, only to be pursued relentlessly by John McIntire as Chief of Scouts Al Sieber. – Courtesy United Artists –
Broken Arrow In 1950, Geronimo, with Jay Silverheels doing the honors, is cast as a foil to Jeff Chandler’s Cochise in the big budget color feature
Broken Arrow. Silverheels, who will later be recognized in households across the country as the Lone Ranger’s faithful Indian companion Tonto, is the epitome of the “bad Indian” cinematic cliché. He refuses to accept the road of peace and civilization offered by the encroaching whites. Conversely, Chandler is the quintessential “good Indian” who sees the wisdom of coexistence and cooperation. In the photo, Chandlers is seated to the left of James Stewart, who plays Indian agent Tom Jeffords. – Courtesy Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp. –
I Killed Geronimo Another 1950 production,
I Killed Geronimo (see French film poster above), fails to achieve the fame of Broken Arrow, but it does manage to resurrect Chief Thundercloud as the ill-fated Apache nemesis. In this potboiler, a U.S. Army officer (James Ellison) takes on Geronimo in a hand-to-hand duel to the death. The officer’s victory brings peace and the premature demise of his opponent. – Courtesy Eagle-Lion Films –
The Last Outpost In the 1951 Paramount Western
The Last Outpost, Geronimo (played by John War Eagle) besieges a lonely frontier fort held by Union forces. The surrounded garrison’s fate rests in the hands of noble Confederates led by a gentlemanly commanding officer, who, off the screen, will become the 40th president of the United States—Ronald Reagan. – Courtesy Paramount Pictures –
The Battle at Apache Pass A pair of 1952 features,
The Battle at Apache Pass and Son of Geronimo, allows Jay Silverheels to reprise his role as Geronimo in the former film, and features Chief Yowlachie, another of the old-time stable of bit Indian players, as the chief in the latter picture. Jeff Chandler makes a comeback as Cochise for The Battle at Apache Pass. As Chandler’s character did in Broken Arrow, he works with the whites to quell the rebellious Geronimo. In turn, the 15-episode film serial Son of Geronimo pits Clayton Moore—who has not yet donned the black mask of his “Hi Ho Silver”-proclaiming alter ego—against a bellicose upstart claiming to be Geronimo’s offspring. – Courtesy Universal Pictures –
Indian Uprising For the 1952 release
Indian Uprising, Miguel Inclan exchanges his portrayal of Cochise from Fort Apache to assume the mantle of Geronimo (notice how he’s standing on a pile of dirt to boost his height!). Indian Uprising is little more than a remake of the far better known 1948 Ford film. In fact, the same outpost used in Fort Apache serves as the garrison for Indian Uprising, as it will do in many subsequent movies and TV shows. Inclan is shown here opposite George Montgomery, who plays a fictional cavalry officer. – Courtesy Columbia Pictures –
Taza, Son of Cochise Descendants of famous Apaches continue into 1954 with
Taza, Son of Cochise. For the third time, audiences are served up pale-skinned Jeff Chandler as Cochise, but a new face stands in for Geronimo—Ian MacDonald’s; MacDonald is no less inaccurately cast than his costar. – Courtesy Universal Pictures –
Walk the Proud Land In 1956, Geronimo is once again portrayed by Jay Silverheels, who opposes the noble but tough Indian agent John Clum (Audie Murphy). The two men face off with knives in
Walk the Proud Land (shown here, with Murphy at left and Silverheels at far left). Not surprisingly, the heroic white emerges triumphant. – Courtesy Universal Pictures –
Geronimo While the 1962
Geronimo gives the Apache his day in court, casting for the film was another matter. As Geronimo, Chuck Connors, the former baseball professional-turned-Lucas McCain on the popular Rifleman ABC series, resists white incursion with the greatest resolve. That element of the script is one of the few aspects of the story that bears any resemblance to reality, as Connors (shown above, center) is anything but the embodiment of the Apache chief. Once again, Geronimo’s true story gives way to Hollywood hype. – Courtesy United Artists –
Mr. Horn Non-Indian actors are also the norm on TV. Charles Stevens plays Geronimo in an episode of the youth-oriented 1950s show
The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. In 1966, Mike Mazurki is a caricature of Geronimo in the farcical TV series F Troop (inset). Even Disney follows the trend with Pat Hogan donning a wig in 1960 for an installment in the Texas John Slaughter ABC series titled “Geronimo’s Revenge.” Nearly two decades later, in 1979, the made-for-TV movie Mr. Horn brings Enrique Lucero to the wardrobe department for a fitting in Apache costume. The Plains-style war headdress he wears in the photo at far right indicates Geronimo is the Indian leader! Next to Lucero is David Carradine, who plays his sympathetic captor Tom Horn.
Gunsmoke: The Last Apache Almost a dozen years has passed before the cinematic Geronimo (Joaquin Martinez) once more resists Gen. Nelson Miles (Hugh O’Brien), as well as crosses paths with the fictional marshal of Dodge City, Matt Dillon, in 1990’s
Gunsmoke: The Last Apache. Even though the 1955-75 CBS Western that inspired the made-for-TV film has fallen out of favor by 1990, Geronimo is a recognizable name to viewers. – Courtesy CBS –
Geronimo: An American Legend Although based in part on cavalry officer Britton Davis’s autobiographical book
The Truth About Geronimo, Columbia’s 1993 rambling release is less faithful to fact. Directed by Walter Hill, Geronimo: An American Legend concentrates on the 1880s, when nearly 20 percent of the U.S. Army’s combat forces takes to the field against the Apache chief and his handful of followers. Wes Studi, who previously was the diabolical heavy in both The Last of the Mohicans and Dances With Wolves, rides in to San Carlos (at center) with Lt. Charles Gatewood (at left, played by Jason Patric) in the photo. Two distinguishing aspects of this sprawling homage to the cavalry-versus-Indian genre are the casting of Indians in all the major roles and the use of the Apache language by the principals, with English subtitles. Many of the details, such as clothing, firearms and the like, are authentic, but, in the end, this blood and thunder epic is not a history lesson—rather, it entertains instead of educates. – Courtesy Columbia Pictures –
Geronimo For the 1993 TNT movie
Geronimo, J.T. Allen’s script begins with the tragic killing of Goyahkla’s family when he is a young man and then continues to chart the twists and turns of his life as Geronimo throughout his days as a prisoner of war. The storyline, while far from completely factual, nonetheless provides better historical insights than that of any previous fictional rendering. Joseph Runningfox’s version of Gerinomo (shown above) reaches audiences before Wes Studi’s portrayal (see last slide), since the TV version is released in advance of the feature film. – Courtesy Turner Pictures –
Stagecoach While we know little about the 1912 production, John Ford’s 1939
Stagecoach remains a staple for film fans. In this classic, set against the stunning background of Monument Valley, Ford casts Chief White Horse as Geronimo and paints him as the leader of a menacing band of savages stalking the stage to Lordsburg, New Mexico (see above French promotion of the film). At the last moment, Geronimo’s war party is kept from carrying out rape and murder. With bugles blaring and a guidon snapping in the breeze, the cavalry rides to the rescue just in time. – Courtesy United Artists –
Geronimo! By 1940, another unflattering portrait of the Apache chief hits the screen in Paramount’s
Geronimo. Stock actor Chief Thundercloud (right, shown at center) does the honors, albeit receiving only minor billing. In one of the earliest known surviving films to feature the Apache leader, Chief Thundercloud’s visage as an angry enemy seeking to kill all “white eyes” never waivers. According to a New York Times review, Thundercloud’s lines consist of a “vocabulary of one grunt and a historic repertoire of two expressions: grim and very grim.” – Courtesy Paramount Pictures –
Valley of the Sun RKO’s 1942
Valley of the Sun does little better in its depiction of Geronimo, who is played by an unlikely Tom Tyler (above, at left), a minor B-Western cowboy-turned-Apache for this less-than-memorable movie. In an even more unusual twist for casting, Tyler appears opposite Lucille Ball and James Craig (above, at right) in this tale of an undercover government agent bent on bringing a stereotypical dishonest Indian agent to justice. – Courtesy RKO Radio Pictures – What do you think?