Robert Aldrich’s APACHE is a testament to the not so old timey racism of Hollywood movies. The fact that stars are white actors are in “red face” isn’t even the most egregious aspect of the movie. The dialogue is incredibly racist and sexist, too. In addition, the movie has a studio forced ending that sees the hero submitting to the white man’s heel.
Burt Lancaster plays the “last Apache warrior” Massai – who is loosely based on a real person by the same name, who did some of the same things, but was probably murdered in cold blood with his family by US Troops while travelling back to a Reservation.
Jean Peters plays Nalinle, Massai’s woman. She suffers greatly at the hands of the movie. She is brutally tortured by Lancaster, made to crawl across mountain rocks, and finally wins him over through her diligence and sacrifice. In fact, she taunts Massai into storming out to his death and thus becoming legend. Of course, he does not – instead he drops his rifle, hangs his head, and returns to his family hut.
So. There is an interesting tension in the first half of the movie. After Massai escapes the prison trains, he encounters a fellow Native American who has adapted to the life under white domination on the reservation. He hands Massai the keys to the kingdom – CORN.
Massai returns to his people and is immediately betrayed. Nalinle’s drunkard father alerts Charles Bronson to Massai’s presence, thus smashing the dreams of a peaceful agricultural future. This is a pregnant metaphor – as social control alcohol is more effective than farming because it reduces the Native American to a subservient tattletale.
Overall, this relic is not as offensive as others, but is still highly problematic to the point where I was genuinely uncomfortable watching it.