Plagued by ill health and hampered by the obtuse decisions of dull-witted studio chiefs, John Ford had reached a point in his life not unlike that of the tribe he depicts in CHEYENNE AUTUMN, his final Western. A large majority of the remaining 1000 members of the Cheyenne tribe forced onto an Oklahoma reservation in the 1870s have been killed by disease and starvation while waiting a year for promised government aid. Driven by the need to survive, the last 250-odd Indians begin an arduous 1,500 mile trek to their ancestral lands in Wyoming, accompanied by Quaker schoolteacher Deborah Wright (Carroll Baker). The army dispatches Capt. Thomas Archer (Richard Widmark), Deborah's fiancÚ, to pursue the Cheyenne, a task for which he has little liking. En route, the hot-blooded Red Shirt (Sal Mineo) battles with army troops, and the incidents are exaggerated by the press, which calls for a vigorous response to the "marauding savages." As the journey continues, the stoic Cheyenne must endure the rank stupidity and malign indifference of their Caucasian usurpers. The star-studded cast, including James Stewart, Edward G. Robinson, Karl Malden, Ricardo Montalban, Dolores Del Rio, and Arthur Kennedy, perform admirably in a film graced by William Clothier's epic photography of the awe-inspiring Monument Valley, a location immortalized by Ford's earlier films and here providing the perfect backdrop for the legendary director's delicate, rueful, and tremendously moving farewell to the West.
Cheyenne Indians flee their squalid Oklahoma reservation and return to their traditional homeland along the Yellowstone River in Wyoming. A U.S. cavalry officer gets the call to return the tribe to the reservations but begins to question his mission after seeing the starvation and sickness endured by the Cheyenne.
Theatrical Release |
Additional cast: Carmen D'Antonio (Pawnee Woman).
Additional credit: Mari Sandoz (source writer: suggested by novel).