“Broken Arrow” is a respectable and compassionate western when you consider the time it came out. In 1950, the villain of every western was either a lone evil cowboy or, more likely, Native Americans. “Stagecoach” started this trend, because Native Americans seemed like the natural rival to roaming cowboys of the west, who would fight for their territory. Thus, it was often shown that Native Americans were the bad guys who had to be stopped.
But then “Broken Arrow” came along to us that the Native American man was no different from any other man, and could be just as reasonable and understanding. The film follows prospector Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) as he attempts to befriend rival Native American leader Cochise (Jeff Chandler), who has been able to round-up nearly every tribe across the continent together to help their struggle and take back their land. Jeffords is convinced that he can reason with Cochise and at least get him to allow mail-carriers through their territory.
“Broken Arrow” does its best to show the struggle to maintaining peace between the Native Americans and the people of Tuscon, both of whom want to stop the continuous war and bloodshed, but are afraid of change and what the other side might be preparing for. There is this nagging lack of trust, but Jeffords and Cochise are convinced this will fade over time.
But the reason “Broken Arrow” stands out is because of what it did that no other western before 1950 did – have so much respect for the Native American community. In this film, these tribes are coordinated and calculating when they need to be, but also filled with compassion. They understand that they world around them is changed, and they must adapt to survive – whether that means fighting for survival, or lowering their weapons and offering a hand in friendship.
For this, I applaud “Broken Arrow” for destroying the cliché of the evil Native Americans in westerns and making these tribes relatable.
Final Grade: B-