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Cheyenne Autumn Reviews

This Ford frontier epic opens in 1887 with the Cheyenne nation waiting for a meeting with government representatives on a wretched Oklahoma reservation--a meeting that never takes place. When they are ignored in their pleas for food and housing, two chiefs (Montalban and Roland) defy the authorities and migrate back to their Wyoming homeland. Thus begins a heroic and tragic 1,500-mile trek--with a reluctant cavalry captain (Widmark) and his troops in unenthusiastic pursuit, intending to return the 300-strong Cheyenne to their miserable reservation. The captain's troops are outfought at every turn by the wily braves, while the press portrays the exodus as another Indian war, and even civilians Wyatt Earp (Stewart) and Doc Holliday (Kennedy) join halfheartedly in a posse to recapture the Native Americans. Stunningly photographed by William Clothier, the film, in true Fordian fashion, once again makes fine use of that great western icon, Monument Valley. The acting, too, is generally quite good, some of it (Widmark, Robinson, Del Rio) squarely on the mark, some of it (Malden, Baker, Stewart) a trifle off-key at times. No single actor, however, stands out in CHEYENNE AUTUMN: it is ultimately the director's picture, and represents Ford's attitude toward the Native American coming around full circle. Flawed on several levels, Ford's perception of a proud people seen through a white man's eyes is ultimately a highly compelling and deeply personal apologia.