Saturday, November 17, 2012

Broken Arrow (TV)

Broken Arrow(1956-60)
Based upon the novel
  Blood Brother by Elliott Arnold
Starring John Lupton, Michael Ansara
IMDB Entry (pretty sparse)

In the 50s, the western was king of TV.  And the major villains of the westerns were the Indians.*  Oh, there were cattle rustlers and outlaws and bank robbers, but the go-to villains were usually the Indians.  Broken Arrow was one of the few shows that portrayed Indians in a positive light.**

It was based upon the novel Blood Brother, about the actual friendship between Tom Jeffords (John Lupton), an Indian agent, and Cochise (Michael Ansara), chief of the Apaches.  The TV show took this further, showing Jeffords working with Cochise for justice for the Apaches on the reservation.

Cochise was shown to be strong and noble.***  Jeffords was a TV western hero, except that he considered Cochise his friend and worked to balance the white man’s laws and desires with those of the Apaches.  He fought against criminals, both white men and Indians. 

Not that all Indians were this way: Geronimo was a frequent villain, though he was described as a renegade who split away from the rest of the Apaches

The title refers to a custom that you broke an arrow it indicate you were no longer fighting with a foe.  Also, Jeffords and Cochise were blood brothers; I bet a bunch of kids from that era took up the idea.

The show was successful enough to run two season, and was rerun another year on ABC to fill programming time.  It certainly was not one of the biggest westerns of the era, but its point of view made it different from the rest.

* “Native Americans” had not come into popular use, so I’m sticking with the 50s term.

**There were examples from the movies.  She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and other John Ford films were sympathetic, even in Fort Apache, where they attacked the soldiers, but were clearly provoked.  And Key Largo is sensitive to the Seminoles, though that wasn’t in the old west.

***Possibly too much so.  Ansara complained that the role only allowed him to stand around looking noble.

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