Updated: 11 October, 1997



Californian-born screenwriter and director. First film Hard Times (1975), specialised in action films.


  • violent New York gang warfare in The Warriors (1979)
  • the comedy cops-and-robbers 48 Hours (1982)
  • a "war film" about members of National Guard on manoeuvres in Louisiana who are attacked by hostile locals in Southern Comfort (1981)
  • the baseball comedy Brewster's Millions (1985)
  • violent film of James the Younger Gang The Long Riders (1980).


The SW was acquired from Mexico in 1846. Between 1854 and 1861 the Army fought a dozen major offensives against Apaches, Navajos, and Utes without great success. By 1864 the Navajos had been confined to a reservation and thus "pacified". The Apaches of Arizona and SW New Mexico regarded the whites as the aggressors and refused to submit. The leader of the Chiracahua Apaches Cochise was arrested in 1861 for a crime he did not commit and several of his warriors were killed when the chief escaped. White migration to Arizona and New Mexico increased after the end of the Civil War thus sparking conflicts with the tribes. The citizens of Tuscon took matters into their own hands by massacring Apache families and enslaving many children at Camp Grant in 1871 who were nominally under army protection. Greater efforts were made by Washington to work out a better Indian policy for the SW through negotiation in 1871-2. When this failed Gen. Crook was sent to punish the "hostiles" by military means. He had only partial success until Geronimo was forced to surrender finally in 1886.

Slotkin comments on the recent attempts (since the 1960s) to retell the Geronimo and other Indian stories from the other side:

Though these usages were well-meaning, most of them subordinated the particularity of Native American values and practices to a (mainly) White agenda of cultural revision which once again construed the Native Americans as "the Other," the opposite or negation of Anglo-American culture - only now that difference was seen as healthy opposition to a sick society. There was also a downside to this mystique of "the Other," in which a naive identification with Indians, Blacks and Third World "natives" became a mythic rationale for the uncritical acceptance of "revolutionary" and even terrorist programs" (p. 630).

Odie Faulk concludes his book on The Geronimo Campaign with a chapter called "Geronimo's Triumph":

... (Geronimo's) memory was undergoing a remarkable change in the minds of many Americans. As the years passed, he gradually came to symbolize the brave fight of a brave people for independence and ownership of their homeland. Articles began to appear praising him as a great fighter and a superb tactician. For example, Maurice Salzman... (in 1909 described him as) "the Napoleon of the Indian race"...

In the decades that have passed since his death, Geronimo indeed has grown steadily in stature as a great American. Novels, movies, and television have portrayed him frequently in a sympathetic light. During World War Two, paratroopers of the United States Army began using the cry "Geronimo" when they jumped from an airplane, further popularizing the Apache war chief and enhancing his reputation. Today, Geronimo is far better known than any of his contemporaries, either friend or foe. Crook, Gatewook, Miles, Wood, Lawton - all have been forgotten by the bulk of the people, but not Geronimo.

Defeat compels a man to examine why he lost and, beyond that, to discover what he has left. Geronimo was defeated in battle. His self-examination revealed he had not lost his dignity, his heroism against overwhelming odds, and his knowledge of that bravery. These brought him to the forefront of his own people; these made him target for defeat; and these enabled him to survive as a great American. (pp. 218-20)


Meaning of the Title

Geronimo (1829?-1909) (the Mexican name for the Chiracahua Apache leader Goyathlay) was a warrior under Cochise and assumed position of chief after Cochise's death in 1874. Taken to San Carlos reservation in Arizona in 1877 but broke out in 1881, persuaded to return to reservation in 1883 by Gen. Crook, broke out again 1885 and 1886. Final surrender arranged by Gen. Miles September 1886 after pursuit by 42 companies of US cavalry and 4,000 Mexican soldiers. Geronimo sent into exile in Florida then Oklahoma. Geronimo survived by selling photos of himself to tourists and appearing in St Louis World Fair 1904 as "exhibit". Last Indian leader to surrender to US Army.


  • the Apache leader, Geronimo (Goyathlay) - Wes Studi
  • Lt. Charles Gatewood - Jason Patric
  • Ulzana (Nantan Lupan?) - Victor Aaron
  • Lt. Britton Davis - Matt Damon
  • chief of army scouts Al Sieber - Robert Duvall
  • Brigadier General George Crook - Gene Hackman
  • Brig. Gen Nelson Miles - Kevin Tighe
  • Screenplay - John Milius and Larry Gross
  • Soundtrack - Ry Cooder


Geronimo. His own Story, As Told to S. M. Barrett (1906), ed. Frederick Turner New York: Meridian/Penguin, 1996).

Robert Wooster, The Military and United States Indian Policy, 1865-1903 (New Haven: Yale University Press).

Odie B. Faulk, The Geronimo Campaign ((Oxford University Press, 1993).

Richard Slotkin, Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Harper, 1993). Chap. 10 "Last Stands and Lost Patrols: The Western and the War Film, 1940-1948", pp. 313-43 and Chap. 11 "Studies in Red and White: Cavalry, Indians and Cold War Ideology," pp. 347-78.


1. The filmmakers used old photos of cavalry uniforms and Apache dress to recreate the look of the period.

2. Filmed on location at Moab, Utah - where Ford filmed Fort Apache and The Searchers.

3. Film versions of Geronimo too numerous to mention. See Buscombe and Hutton for details. Buscombe counts 16 portrayals of Geronimo in film (more than any other Indian leader), 14 for the Sioux chief Sitting Bull, 9 for Crazy Horse, 6 for Red Cloud, and 8 for Apache Cochise.

4. Note also the "Dialect Coach" and "Native American Consultants" mentioned in the credits.

5. The problem faced by "honourable" soldiers like Gatewood (Virginia) in fighting an unconventional war on the frontier. The clash between keeping one's word to a "savage" vs. duty to one's country (Machiavellian raison d'état)

6. The many references to traditional visual images of Apaches - Ford's trilogy, Remington's paintings.

7. The references to "nation-building". Gatewood tells Geronimo "we are trying to make a country here, it's hard" to which Geronimo replies in another context "Why does the US want all the land?" Miners use argument that the land is "theirs" because the Indians did nothing to develop and use the resources.

8. The attempt to show similarities between the Apache and the American soldiers: swapping of religious symbols (blue stone for crucifix)

9. The choice the filmmakers made between using Geronimo's own memoirs (published 1906) and that of a newly arrived young officer from West Point who provides the perspective on events in the film. Faulk uses memoirs and articles by George Crook, Britton Davis, Charles Gatewood, Nelson Miles

10. The guerrilla tactics used by Geronimo and his band (and other tribes Sioux, Cheyenne, Comanche, Seminole); the tactics used by the US cavalry to oppose them.

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