Geronimo was one of the earliest revisionist Westerns that sought to depict Native Americans in a more sympathetic light. It portrays them not as bloodthirsty savages but as victims of "Manifest Destiny" who are merely defending their land and way of life from the White intruders. Geronimo hedges its message, however, by providing an upbeat resolution that suggests the warrior chief was ultimately successful in obtaining fair treatment for all Native Americans. The facts, of course, are far different.
The real-life Geronimo (the Mexican name for Goyathlay) came to prominence as a noted warrior under the equally legendary Cochise, chief of the Chiricahua Apache of the Gila Wilderness area (one of the most beautiful parts of the Southwest). After Cochise's death in 1874, Geronimo took leadership, and the next dozen years were marked by surrenders, treaties, and hostilities renewed over and over again. In 1886 (roughly the time of this story), he was pursued into Mexico by 42 companies of the American army and 4,000 Mexican troops, equipped, as an account written at the time put it, with "the best military apparatus of modern warfare, including steam, electricity, and the heliostat" (a device for concentrating the sun's rays in one spot). After his capture, Geronimo unconditionally surrendered for the last time. He was sent into exile, first to Florida, then Oklahoma, where he was reduced to selling pictures of himself to tourists. The last Indian warrior to surrender, Geronimo became an exhibit at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair just shortly before his death.
The character of Geronimo has appeared in dozens of motion pictures since the silent era, but rarely played by a Native American, let alone a bona fide Apache. The few times he was, the role was played twice each by Chief Thundercloud and Jay Silverheels (best known as Tonto, the sidekick to TV's Lone Ranger) and once by Iron Eyes Cody, who in the 70s became an ecological icon as the Indian who weeps over the destruction of America's natural beauty in a series of public service ads. Cody's Indian heritage, however, was questioned by a 1996 newspaper article that claimed he was, in fact, Italian, an assertion Cody denied.
In addition to Connors, none of the Apaches in this movie are played by real Native Americans. Most of them are played by Latino actors, which was the norm throughout film history. Only Kamala Devi, Connors' then wife, was a true Indian - but of the Bombay variety.
Producer/Director: Arnold Laven
Screenplay: Pat Fielder
Cinematography: Alex Phillips
Editing: Marsh Hendry
Art Direction: Roberto Silva
Original Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Chuck Connors (Geronimo), Kamala Devi (Teela), Ross Martin (Mangus), Pat Conway (Maynard), Adam West (Delahay), Denver Pyle (Senator Conrad), Armando Silvestre (Natchez), Lawrence Dobkin (Gen. George A. Cook), Enid Jaynes (Huera).
by Rob Nixon