I recently watched Raoul Walsh's A Distant Trumpet (1964). I wasn't expecting too much. It's rating on IMDB was 6.4 and the critics hadn't been kind to it. They liked the color, and some were impresses with the use of subtitles for the Apaches speaking their own language but overall it was seen as dull.
But I decided to watch it myself and I wasn't too impressed. The movie had the obligatory love story as Troy Donahue is tempted by his commander's wife, just as his fiance arrives at the fort.
Early in the movie we see some Apache atrocities as men are buried alive up to their neck to allow the ants to eat out their brains, and we later see some troopers who were burned to death. Lt. Hazard (Troy Donahue) says: "There are the bodies of Kroger and Florita. Piper, tell Captain Gray that we will pursue the Indians as long as we have food and water. All right, now take a good look at them. It's going to make killing Apaches a lot easier They were buried alive. Those ants are eating their brains out!"Lt. Hazard has an Apache scout, White Cloud, who was once a great chief. But White Cloud was conquered by the whites and then became friends with them. General Quaint, the man who conquered and then became friends with White Cloud, sends Lt. Hazard and White Cloud, to negotiate with War Eagle, the last Apache hold out. The movie does have War Eagle speaking in Apache, and there are English subtitles.
War Eagle : For many days my eyes watched you. You followed you like the wolf across many mesas, down the canyons. Why?
Lt. Hazard : I search for War Eagle.
War Eagle : I am War Eagle
Lt. Hazard : I come from General Quaint.
War Eagle : I know Quaint
Lt. Hazard : And he knows you. War Eagle : I do not believe you know him
(Hazard hands War eagle a jeweled lizard that Quaint has given him)
War Eagle : The lizard. What does Quaint want?
Lt. Hazard : Your surrender
War Eagle : You say this to me? Do you know I can kill the two of you! I lift my hand and you are dead!
Lt. Hazard : If i do not return General Quaint will find you and you will be dead and all of your people. But if you surrender to General Quaint you will live a long time.
War Eagle : The hang me?
Lt. Hazard : No. you will take your people to the border where General Quaint awaits you. You will not be punished. By his word you will live on your own land. On your own reservation in Arizona. And I promise that I will protect you and give you food and clothing. You will live in peace. And you will remain their chief.
War Eagle : How do I know this?
Lt. Hazard: Because you must trust me.
War Eagle : Why?
Lt. Hazard : Because I'm here. Because I trusted you.
War Eagle : (Asking White Cloud) You are a brother of the Chiricahua. You trust the Blue Coats?
White Cloud nods yes
War Eagle : You are a snake who crawls on his belly. You think you are one of them. But they will spit on you when they no longer need you. You do not believe me! You are a fool!
Lt. Hazard : No. He is not a fool. You are. A man is not a man who lets his people die when it is hopeless. These are your children. Will you let them die because of the anger in your heart. Be like a father who loves his sons. Tell them to live. War Eagle : I am a father and I love my sons. Tell me again what I must do.
Lt. Hazard : You must trust my promises and surrender.
War Eagle : I hear you speak. I do not hear it in my heart.
Lt. Hazard : We will camp down the mountain.
War Eagle : No! He will stay with me! Then he will see who is the fool and who speaks the truth.
Lt. Hazard : By the time the sun comes up I want your answer
The next day War Eagle said : I surrender. Not because I am afraid but because I am tired of war. Always I wanted peace. But your men in Washington, no, they sent soldiers. They killed out women and children. They destroyed our men with bullets and whiskey. They took our land, our freedom. They drove us like animals.
Lt. Hazard : Those days are over
War Eagle : My heart has found faith in your words. I dream of my Arizona Valley. The trees with nuts, the bushes with berries, the antelope standing where water runs.
Lt. Hazard : That's right War Eagle. You're valley. Let's take your people home.
At the end of the movie we have War Eagle and White Feather riding together in to the fort.
What makes the movie interesting to me is whether Raoul Walsh was commenting on the 1964 Civil Rights situation in America. At this time we had two different approaches that were advocated. Malcolm X led a group that wanted the separation of blacks and whites, and rejected any discussion of integration. Malcolm X wanted to continue to fight, and use any means necessary, to achieve their goals. Martin Luther King, on the other hand was in favor of peaceful integration.
Was Walsh commenting that he felt that the best path for black Americans was to go the way of Martin Luther King, and peacefully integrate? When War Eagle first talks to White Cloud he sounds like Malcolm X. "You are a snake who crawls on his belly. You think you are one of them. But they will spit on you when they no longer need you. You do not believe me! You are a fool!" Lt. Hazard tells him "No. He is not a fool. You are. A man is not a man who lets his people die when it is hopeless. These are your children. Will you let them die because of the anger in your heart. Be like a father who loves his sons. Tell them to live." War Eagle says "I am a father and I love my sons. Tell me again what I must do."
The heroic character in the movie, Lt. Hazard, tells War Eagle that he must think of his people and give up the anger in his heart. He tells him that to fight is hopeless. It was at this time that Martin Luther King was saying "We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools" and "I have decided to stick to love...Hate is too great a burden to bear." It seems that the movie, and Walsh, agreed with the viewpoint of Martin Luther King and used the movie to express that point.
A subpar movies becomes much more interesting if we look at it as Raoul Walsh's commentary on the contemporary Civil Rights movement in the U.S.