Set in 1886 this movie is based on the true story of Massai an Apache warrior in the years just following Geronimo's final surrender. Massai is the last free Apache warrior.
The movie was released a few months after the historic Brown vs. The Board of Education decision. It is an exploration of integration vs. cultural and individual freedom.
Burt Lancaster plays Massai and Jean Peters plays his wife, Nalinle. Neither looks anything like a Native American and that really detracts from the movie.
Nalinle's father Santos is the alcoholic last chief of the Apaches who will sell out his people for a bottle. Charles Bronson plays Hondo, a collaborating Apache Scout helping to destroy his own culture. Nalinle, a misogynist's dream, is tied by Massai with her hands behind her back just beyond the reach of water and later knocked unconscious by him with a stick. Despite this treatment she still loves her man. "I'm only a woman made for bearing children, cooking, sewing. If I lost you I am nothing." she says.
The original script called for a showdown between Massai and Hondo. Hondo was to kill Massai signaling the end of Apache culture and the raising of Massai as a symbol of individualism. In an ending some say was forced on Aldrich by the studio, Massai accepts the possibilities of living with the whites. Massai throws down his rifle as he hears the cry of his new born baby and enters the wickiup where his wife has just given birth.
Burt Lancaster considered the movie, "A statement on the injustice of racism."