Cheyenne Autumn (1964)




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John Ford's last western film, Cheyenne Autumn was allegedly produced to compensate for the hundreds of Native Americans who had bitten the dust in Ford's earlier films (that was the director's story, anyway). Set in 1887, the film recounts the defiant migration of 300 Cheyennes from their reservation in Oklahoma territory to their original home in Wyoming. They have done this at the behest of chiefs Little Wolf (Ricardo Montalban) and Dull Knife (Gilbert Roland), peaceful souls who have been driven to desperate measures because the US government has ignored their pleas for food and shelter. Since the Cheyennes' trek is in defiance of their treaty, Captain Thomas Archer (Richard Widmark), who agrees with the Indians in principle, reluctantly leads his troops in pursuit of the tribe. While there was never any intention to shed blood, the white press finds it politically expedient to distort the Cheyennes' action into a declaration of war. Thanks to the cruelties of such chauvinistic whites as Captain Oscar Wessels (Karl Malden), the Cheyennes are forced to defend themselves--and whenever Indians take arms against whites in the 1880s, it's usually misrepresented as a massacre. Only the intervention of US secretary of the interior Carl Schurz (Edward G. Robinson) prevents the hostilities from erupting into wholesale bloodshed. Based on a novel by Mari Sandoz, Cheyenne Autumn is a cinematic elegy--not only for the beleaguered Cheyennes, but for John Ford's fifty years in pictures. It is weakest when arbitrarily throwing in a wearisome romance between Richard Widmark and pacifistic schoolmarm Carroll Baker, who out of sympathy for the Indians has joined them in their 1500-mile westward journey. When the Warner Bros. people decided that the film ran too long, they chopped out the wholly unnecessary but very funny episode involving a poker-obsessed Wyatt Earp (James Stewart). Contrary to popular belief, this episode was included in the earliest non-roadshow prints of Cheyenne Autumn; the scene was excised only when the film went into its second and third runs in 1966 (it has since been restored).
Classics , Western
Directed By:
Written By:
In Theaters:
Warner Home Video

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Richard Widmark
as Capt. Thomas Archer
Carroll Baker
as Deborah Wright
Karl Malden
as Capt. Wessels
Sal Mineo
as Red Shirt
James Stewart
as Wyatt Earp
Edward G. Robinson
as Carl Schurz
Dolores Del Rio
as Spanish Woman
Ricardo Montalban
as Little Wolf
Gilbert Roland
as Dull Knife
Arthur Kennedy
as Doc Holliday
Patrick Wayne
as 2nd Lt. Scott
Elizabeth Allen (I)
as Miss Guinevere Plantagenet
John Carradine
as Major Jeff Blair
Victor Jory
as Tall Tree
Judson Pratt
as Mayor Dog Kelly
Mike Mazurki
as 1st Sgt. Stanislaus Wichowsky
George O'Brien
as Major Braden
Shug Fisher
as Trail Boss
Carmen D'Antonio
as Pawnee woman
Nancy Hsueh
as Little Bird
Chuck Roberson
as Trail Hand
as Running Deer
Many Muleson
as Medicine Man
John Qualen
as Svenson
Sean McClory
as Dr. O'Carberry
Walter Reed
as Lt. Peterson
John R. McKee
as Trooper
James Flavin
as Sergeant of the Guard
Stephanie Epper
as Entertainer
Mary Statler
as Entertainer
Jeannie Epper
as Entertainer
Donna Hall
as Entertainer
Ben Johnson
as Trooper Plumtree
Elena Altieri
as Duchess De Castro
Lee Bradley
as Cheyenne
Harry Carey Jr.
as Trooper Smith
Bing Russell
as Telegrapher
Sam Harris
as Townsman
Nada Fiorelli
as Isabelle
Denver Pyle
as Sen. Henry
Carleton Young
as Secretary to Schurz
Chuck Hayward
as Trooper
William Henry
as Infantry Captain
George Higgins
as Martinez
Dan Borzage
as Trooper
James O'Hara
as Trooper
Duncan Lamont
as The Viceroy
Anna Magnani
as Camilla
Ted Mapes
as Trooper
John McKee
as Trooper
Charles Seel
as Newspaper Publisher
Odoardo Spadaro
as Don Antonio
Ralph Truman
as Duke De Castro
Walter S. Baldwin
as Jeremy Wright
Elizabeth Allen
as Miss Guinevere Plantagenet
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News & Interviews for Cheyenne Autumn

Critic Reviews for Cheyenne Autumn

All Critics (10) | Top Critics (4)

A sort of frontier Exodus that's filmed with a majestic passion for the wild lands and for its indigenous dwellers.

Full Review… | December 17, 2012
New Yorker
Top Critic

Somewhere in the telling, the original premise of the Mari Sandoz novel is lost sight of in a wholesale insertion of extraneous incidents which bear little or no relation to the subject.

Full Review… | September 4, 2007
Top Critic

Over-long, often clichéd and uneven (there are comic interludes complete with cameo performances), but still imbued with moments of true poetry, thanks largely to William Clothier's magnificent Panavision landscapes.

Full Review… | February 8, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

Cheyenne Autumn is a strong film, grandly directed and expertly played by a large cast.

Full Review… | May 8, 2005
New York Times
Top Critic

Aside from all this nonsense, it never loses its John Ford touch.

Full Review… | September 4, 2008
Combustible Celluloid

Flawed on several levels, Ford's perception of a proud people seen through a white man's eyes is ultimately a highly compelling and deeply personal apologia.

Full Review… | September 4, 2007
TV Guide

Audience Reviews for Cheyenne Autumn

As out of place in the desert as an eagle in a cage. The Cheyenne's reserve is in the middle of the desert where they can barely survive. The United States as part of their treaty with the Cheyenne are supposed to deliver supplies. When the supplies fail to show, the Cheyenne begin dying off. They begin a March back to their homeland where they plan to settle since the white man broke their treaty. A military sergeant initially assigned to contact the Cheyenne decides to help them on their conquest. "The trick to being brave is not to be too brave." John Ford, director of Grapes of Wrath, The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Last Hurrah, Mogambo, The Wings of Eagles, and Rio Grande, delivers Cheyenne Autumn. The storyline for this picture is very well done, well written, and worth following. The cast delivers awesome performances and includes James Stewart, Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, Arthur Kennedy, Richard Widmark, and Sal Mineo. "From now on you don't scratch till I itch." This was recommended to me by Fios so I DVR'd this western classic. This storyline is very interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, bar scenes, script, and sub plots. This isn't an all time great western, but it is worth a viewing for fans of the genre. "White man's words are lies." Grade: B

Kevin Robbins
Kevin Robbins

In 1878 a band of Cheyenne, tired of the conditions that they were enduring, broke the reservation and started north to their native homelands in Wyoming. They were led by their three chiefs played by Victor Jory, Ricardo Montalban, and Gilbert Roland. Jory dies along the way. The army goes after them and Captain Richard Widmark takes command after Major George O'Brien is killed. Widmark has another reason for pursuit. It seems as though school teacher Carroll Baker is with the fleeing Cheyenne. Baker gives poignancy to her portrayal of a young Quaker woman, who considers it her Christian duty to look after the orphan children of the Cheyenne. Richard Widmark and Edward G. Robinson enact Americans with a conscience, none too happy with the assignments required by their government and reluctantly lead his troops in pursuit of the tribe. Envision a journey on foot against hostile terrain and enemy soldiers, and this will make anyone appreciate just what these people did to maintain their honor and freedom. However the story is bizarrely interrupted by a lengthy James Stewart and Arthur Kennedy as Wyatt Earp and and Doc Holliday scene in the middle of the film that is not remotely connected to the main theme and left me just a little confused.

Deb S
Deb S

Super Reviewer


Leo L
Leo L

Super Reviewer

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