"Free, white and Christian, huh. Burning crosses, hiding under pillow cases and terrorizing families. Free, white and Christian?"
After the Civil War Pvt. O'Meara (Rod Steiger), who fought for the Confederacy, heads out West. He falls in with a Sioux scout for the army and is captured by the Sioux. In a "Run of the Arrow" test, he survives and then becomes a member of the tribe. He renounces the US government and tells Blue Buffalo (Charles Bronson), that he is one of them.
The movie explores the bitterness that Southerners felt at the end of the war. In a conversation betwen O'Meara and Captain Clark about the Civil War we see the bitterness:
Captain Clark : It's why we were fighting. That's whats important.
O'Meara : Think we were wrong?
Clark : Well, blood and home and kin are worth fighting for, sure. But no man can put that above his country.
O'Meara : You don't understand sir. Wait a munute. We had a right to fight for our rights.
Clark : Well Lincoln had to keep the Union together.
No, Union be damned. Union be damned now. There's something you Northerners don't understand. We don't like it. We don't like you makin up laws. We don't like it, do you hear. We never liked it. Tellin us what to do, how to think, what to think, who to live with. No sir, we don't like it and we'll fight it and we'll go down fighting but at least we'll go down like a free white Christian country.
Clark : Free, white and Christian, huh. Burning crosses, hiding under pillow cases and terrorizing families. Free, white and Christian?
O'Meara : I don't know anything about that sir.
Clark : Oh yeah, it's always the other fella.
O'Meara : Captain, I'd like you to understand something. No matter what you believe, no matter how you believe in it, no matter how good you think it is for somebody else; you'll never make the South accept it by jamming it down their throat.
The dialogue then goes on to reveal Sam Fuller's view on race relations in the US.
Clark : No on'e asking you to be a Fouth of July patriot. But look, coming out here living like an Indian, fighting your own people, rhat not going to cure you.
O'Mears: Cure me of what?
The movie shows how the US was going to move in to Indian lands with or without the Indians permission. It also has some really good scenes of the Indians' village settled along side a stream.
The movie would have been better if it used Indian actors and language. Charles Bronson was not believable at all as Blue Buffalo: he spoke better English than I do. Yellow Moccasin, played by Sara Montiel, had her voice dubbed by Angie Dickinson. The Indians were, however, portrayed in a sympathetic manner.
In the end, O'Meara tries to get the troops, who are led by a Custer like cavalry officer seeking glory, to leave the Sioux lands. When he refuses, the Sioux attack and massacre the troops. When the cavalry officer is being tortured O'Meara steps in and shoots him putting him out of his misery. By doing so he shows he is still an American and not a Sioux. At the end he leaves with his Indian wife and adapted son. He is a man without a country. he is not an American, and he is not a Sioux. In many ways he is like Ethan Edwards, from The Searchers. He is a man whose life has been driven by hate, but maybe, as shown by his final act in the movie, he is beginning to heal, and maybe the country is finally beginning to heal along with him from hatred.
In a voiceover at the end of the movie, as we see O'Meara and his new family riding away we hear Clark saying: "Lee's surrender was not the end of the South, it was the birth of the United States." On the screen we then see the message "THE END OF THIS STORY CAN ONLY BE WRITTEN BY YOU." The movie, made in 1957, ended with a stong appeal to bring the country together. It was almost one hundred years since the Civil War ended, and Fuller still didn't feel the scars had healed.
Sam Fuller opens up a lot of questions : about racism, about who was right in the Civil War, about how the Indians should have been treated and what their options were. An interesting movie, perhaps a little heavy-handed. but well worth seeing.
Original New York Times Review
Run of the Arrow (1957)
Screen: 'Run of the Arrow'; Steiger 'Stars in New Film at the Palace
By BOSLEY CROWTHER
Published: August 3, 1957
THE Sioux Indians and the United States Cavalry are mixing it up again in Samuel Fuller's "Run of the Arrow," which came to the Palace yesterday with a new stage bill. The blood and warpaint look good in color. The plot looks pretty much as it always has.
That is to say, a Confederate soldier, embittered after the Civil War, goes to the West, joins a Sioux tribe and takes unto himself a beautiful Indian maid as squaw. When the cavalry comes into the region to build itself a fort, this naturalized Sioux, still sore at the Yankees, is attached to accompany it as scout.
Then along comes a renegade Indian—there's always one in every decent, respectable tribe—and starts shooting arrows at the soldiers. As usual, this means war! The cavalry goes after the Indians, the Indians retaliate. The first thing you know, tents are burning and everybody is having a high old time.
Meanwhile, what's with our turncoat? Well, the cavalry blame him at first, and that damyankee he all but killed at Appomattox is all for stringing him up. But then the Indians arrive, take over and are skinning the damyankee alive, which so horrifies our ex-Confederate that he—guess what!
Don't expect "Fort Apache." This is just an ordinary cavalry-Indian film, conspicuous for a lot of raw blood-letting and the appearance of Rod Steiger in the leading role. Mr. Steiger, familiar as a sullen tough guy in a number of gangster films, slightly overworks the Actors Studio method out there on the dusty frontier.
But Ralph Meeker as the snarling damyankee, Brian Keith as a hard-pants cavalryman and J. C. Flippen as a Sioux in a black wig are in conventional Western form.
Mr. Fuller, who wrote, produced and directed, has in no way broken the familiar mold.