Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
Cleveland Press April 16, 1965
"Cheyenne Autumn" is a near miss, a motion picture with good intentions. It achieves most of them but then spoils everything by giving in to commercial cliches.
The story is based on fact, deals with the flight of a tribe of Cheyennes from a reservation across 15011 miles of wilderness to their homeland, all the time pursued by thousands of soldiers.
As the film begins, only 300 Cheyenne remain from a band of almost a thousand forced to move to a reservation a year earlier. The rest have died of starvation and disease.
THE U.S. Government fails to give them the supplies and help promised them, so they leave the reservation with the cavalry in pursuit, heading for the Yellowstone country to the north.
The Indian leaders are well portrayed by Ricardo Montalban and Gilbert Roland and old-timers will enjoy seeing Dolores Del Rio, looking as beautiful as ever, as an Indian woman.
Richard Widmark is as convincing as possible in a stock role as an Army officer who knows the Indians' cause is just but must pursue them anyway.
CARROLL BAKER is around as a Quaker schoolteacher who elects to go with the Indians and provides romantic interest with Widmark, a touch the film doesn't need.
James Stewart appears briefly as Wyatt Earp in a short, comic sequence about a poker game. It has little bearing on the film.
A further bow to the commercial aspect of film making is Sal Mineo as a young Indian who covets Montalban's wife, just setting up a triangle within the tribe.
DIRECTOR JOHN FORD is on the side of the Indians rather than the cavalry this time. He knows how to handle action and use natural scenery to advantage. When the film deals with the plight of the Indians it is truly moving.
While Ford can raise a western out of the class of the ordinary, this is not a standard western. It cries out for documentary treatment. Shorn of its melodramatic aspects it would have been a great movie.