Film Review: Run of the Arrow,
Sam Fuller, 1957
'Surprising how quick you pick up our customs,' Walking Coyote
'Well, it's not that difficult, you know' O'Meara
'A Sioux can watch an American skinned alive but an American cannot watch'
Yellow Moccasin (Sarita Montiel with voiceover by Angie Dickinson)
Run of the Arrow, Sam Fuller, 1957
As the author of the Run of the Arrow, Sam Fuller, who had also directed (and written) the excellent Forty Guns, must take responsibility for dreaming up this piece of hokum. According to this Sioux 'custom' an arrow was fired and when the subject reaches the arrow he has to try to outrun the oncoming hordes or die. Since O'Meara (Rod Steiger) is taken captive with a supposedly renegade Sioux Chief, Walking Coyote, (Jay C Flippen) after meeting and befriending him, miraculously this ancient custom gives our hero a lifeline. O'Meara shows remarkable alacrity in learning a new language and customs from Walking Coyote virtually overnight, which leads Armando Prats to observe that he is thereby asserting the superiority of his culture over that of the 'other', by possessing this ability for assimilation. ( Invisible Natives, 2002, p199)
Steiger's accent is so gash it could possibly be a send up, in fact it bares little relation whatever to Irish brogue and thankfully it disappears part way through the movie. Paul Tatar observes that 'Movie buffs will note the similarities between Run of the Arrow and Kevin Costner's Oscar-winning epic, Dances with Wolves (1990).' Both Philip French and Michael Coyne make this connection. Apart from both films containing solitary soldiers venturing west and meeting and living with the Sioux after the Civil War I can find no other similarity. There is no development of the characters of the native Americans in Run of the Arrow and little value is given to their culture beyond simple statements to that effect from O'Meara. Philip French observes that Run of the Arrow presents the Indian way of life as a valid counter culture, but surely this is in a very superficial and insensitive way. No effort is made to show his assimilation.
Sam Fuller's presentation of the one dimensional Indians is sensational. They are stereotypical and demonically whoop in the time honoured tradition begun by Buffalo Bill's Wild West in the previous century. They swill whisky in a moronic fashion. Not only does Fuller invent the custom of the title, but he introduces the custom that they skinned their captives alive. Why invent such nonsense? There is also a contorted interchange in which the Sioux leader accepts that the Christian faith is similar to Sioux beliefs. 'We have the same God with a different name'.Blue Buffalo (Charles Bronson). If only Forty Guns included few native Americans I would have had the pleasure of reviewing this film, which contains the close up eyes of gun fighters which became the trademark of the Italian Westerns and in particular Sergio Leone much later. It can't be Run of the Arrow which led Sergio Leone to admire Sam Fuller's work. I can find little if anything to commend in it. As Paul Tatara, states in his TCM review the film does explore the nature of race, identity, and loyalty, but the statements it makes are hardly 'complex'. Alec Cox speaks effusively about Run of the Arrow but I'm with Bosley Crowther on this one: 'Don't expect 'Fort Apache.' This is just an ordinary cavalry-Indian film', NY Times August 3, 1957.
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© Chris Smallbone October 2008