For details see the handout for Drums along the Mohawk (1939)
The short stories "War Party" and "The Big Hunt" by James Warner Bellah.
Second in the cavalry trilogy, regarded by some critics as the best of the three because of its colour photography, location shots in Monument Valley and the outstanding performance of John Wayne.
Again set in 1876, the career officer Brittles is serving out the last days of duty on the frontier of the South West during the Indian wars before he is to be forcibly retired. The action takes place after the massacre of General Custer and the 7th Cavalry at Little Big Horn when the Arapaho Indians are becomoming more assertive. On his last patrol Brittles has to escort 2 young ladies from the fort to a stagecoach station at Sudrow's Wells and protect them from the warring Indians. Because he is "handicapped" with the women he cannot help save a patrol and an outpost from attack nor stop a delivery of rifles to the Indians by unscrupulous whites. After his retirement, Brittles returns to the fort and attempts to speak directly to his Indian friend Chief Pony-That-Walks only to find that he too has been replaced by younger leaders like the warrior Red Shirt. To prevent another outbreak of war Brittles disperses the Indians' horses by driving them through the Indian camp thus preventing them from attacking the fort.
Andrew Sinclair, John Ford (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1979).
Joseph McBride and Michael Wilmington, John Ford (London: Secker and Warburg, 1974).
1. The sense of sadness and loss as Brittles serves out the last days of his commission. Sense of nostalgia for greater days when the cavalry was larger and more active during the Civil War. The sense of frustration that career officers felt when posted to frontier forts to fight a savage enemy.
2. The inscription on the watch the men give Brittles when he leaves ("Lest We Forget" the motto on many war memorials) which he cannot read because of failing eyesight.
3. The opening statement that "Custer is dead and around the bloody guidons of the Seventh Cavalry lie the two hundred and twelve officers and men he led" thus linking the film to the Custer-like massacre and defeat of Lt. Col. Thursday in the first film of the trilogy.
4. The theme of leadership, the need for experienced leaders to prevent younger "hot heads" from foolishly going to war. The idea that 1,000 men like Brittles made the USA. Chief Pony-That-Walks tells Brittles:
Too late Nathan. Young men do not listen to me. They listen to big medicine. Yellow-haired Custer dead. Buffalo come back. Bad sign. Too late, Nathan. You come with me. Hunt buffalo together. Smoke many pipes. We are too old for war. (Sinclair, p. 145).
To which Brittles replies: Yes, we are too old for war. But old men should stop wars.
5. The closing narration makes clear the role the military played in state-building:
From Fort Reno to Fort Apache, from Sheridan to Starke, they were all the same - men in dirty-shirt blue and only a cold page in the history books to mark their passing. But wherever they rode, and whatever they fought for, that place became the United States. (quoted in McBride, p. 109)