Run of the Arrow

Whatever the causes of conflict might be, the aftermath, particularly for those on the side of the vanquished, tends to follow  predictable pattern and is typically characterized by feelings of futility, division and bitterness. The taste of defeat is sour, and the man who partakes of it may well find himself raging against the only adversary worthy of his bruised and broken contempt: the inadequacy and impotence he perceives within himself. Sam Fuller’s Run of the Arrow (1957) takes the capitulation of the South in the Civil War as its starting point, clinically probing the raw wound left by that rending of a fledgling nation before cauterizing it and thus allowing the healing process to begin.

It begins at the end, the end of the war, or one war anyway. With Lee about to acknowledge defeat, one embittered soldier of the South, O’Meara (Rod Steiger), fires the last bullet of the conflict. That fateful shot strikes and critically wounds  a Yankee lieutenant. Yet in what is perhaps a telling action as far as the true character of O’Meara is concerned, he takes his stricken enemy back to his own  lines for treatment by the field surgeon. Our protagonist is an angry and frustrated man, promised much but denied more by the battles he’s lived through, he’s seen his world smashed and his family decimated. For all of the hatred he claims to have embraced and the rage he’s barely able to contain, he never loses touch with his humanity and the deceptively hard heart he notionally displays is in reality little more than a fragile shell. The short-term result is that this man is left feeling adrift in life, rootless and without a sense of loyalty – so he sets out in search of something to  which he hopes he may attach himself. To that end he heads west, to the plains and the simplicity, and in some respects, the brutality of the Sioux. All the while though, as he seeks to transform himself and rediscover his place in the world, O’Meara is in fact on a cyclical journey, one that will ultimately lead him back to his own innate morality. And so the tale can end where it began, and the path towards internal reconciliation can be accessed.

Fuller’s characteristically punchy script is nicely constructed and layered; the classic, cyclical form utilized frames it all neatly while the characters are set up to mirror one another, and the central theme of the quest for inner reconciliation which is portrayed on a personal level can also be seen as an allegory for a wider process in national terms. The figure of O’Meara is (to my mind anyway) suggestive of Fuller himself, in that we have an ethical and fundamentally sensitive man choosing to present himself as a maverick. It’s hard not to see something of the provocative director in the confrontational character portrayed by Steiger. And Steiger, who too often in his career succumbed to the temptation to feast on the scenery, turns in a relatively restrained performance – there’s only one early scene with Olive Carey where he really lets rip and seriously overcooks it.

While I take a lot of pleasure in sifting through  the theme of the picture and the overall shape of it, it’s worth bearing in mind that the movie also functions and can be approached purely as a highly professional piece of entertainment, thus combining the essential characteristics of any successful piece of filmmaking. Joseph Biroc’s photography makes the most of the harsh Utah locations, and it’s always good to see a western which predominantly features exteriors. Aside from Steiger, the cast is very sold too. Ralph Meeker and Brian Keith swagger and sympathize respectively as they offer contrasting images of the victorious Northerners, while Charles Bronson, Sarita (Sara) Montiel and Jay C Flippen fill the principal native roles with varying degrees of success.

This is a slightly shorter piece than I’ve been in the habit of writing here, and there are a couple of reasons for that. Firstly, I’m still easing my way back  into site after  lengthy lay off. And secondly, I’m toying with the idea of going down the road of writing briefer posts in the future,  ones that focus on a few aspects of a work that particularly engage my attention. We’ll see how it develops.

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53 thoughts on “Run of the Arrow

  1. You wrote enough. Those were cogent thoughts, well expressed.

    I had never thought about O’Meara as in some way suggesting Fuller himself, though what you said about that made sense. It’s certainly true that Fuller may come over at first as tough, even coarse, and in love with a kind of forceful provocation, but his sensitive side is never far away–and one of the great appeals of so many of his movies is the startling changes of tone that come along with that. And he was very concerned with American identity, and looked at it in a complex way, so the character of O’Meara reflects that too.

    I’m very much in accord with you about Rod Steiger, in that he often seems to know no restraint and overwhelms his roles unhelpfully, so is far from a favorite of mine, but like you I feel he comes over very well in this, seeming well-cast and thoughtfully interpreting the character. Unlike you, I even like that bridge scene with Olive Carey as his mother–after all, it’s Olive Carey! (with all the Ford associations that has) and the extreme emotions of O’Meara seem to belong in that scene.

    Really, I especially like that first reel or so (end/aftermath of the Civil War) though the movie is absorbing throughout, like most Fuller.

    Well, I tried to follow your lead and make a concise comment–guess I did just fair with that…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always felt the movie had that characteristic dynamism we tend to see in Fuller’s work, and the structure and depth also impressed me. However, on my most recent viewing, it suddenly occurred to me that his writing – whether intentional or not – suggested a type of kinship with the character of O’Meara. I’m only theorizing of course but it struck me that way and I thought I should get it down in print before it slipped my mind.

      And, Blake, your contributions here over the years, regardless of whether they are long or short, have been a terrific stimulant for discussion, and an encouragement for me too. They’re invariably most welcome.

      Like

  2. And he’s back again! Phew!

    NIo problem with new length though I miss DVD availability details!! I remember digging out my VHS of this after seeing DANCES WITH WOLVES and I always think of them together now. Having said that, the latter part is more reminiscent of NAKED PREY anyway 😀 Fuller was an amazing filmmaker, one of a kind.

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  3. Accurate, concise. Excellent comment & summary. Unfortunately, Fuller’s “Run of The Arrow” is nowhere to be found in France, on DVD I mean. Did you watch it on a TV channel? What about the Warner Archive MOD or the italian release you mention? Any french subtitles on them? Anyway, I still have a (pretty bad) copy of this movie to freshen my memories. I kind of remember a yankee trooper (wasn’t it played by Chuck Roberson?) drowning in the quick sands in order to rescue some indian youth and, of course, the run of the arrow sequence. As to the rest… “I most forgot” – to quote Lee Van Cleef in Boetticher’s “Ride Lonesome”.
    Thanks again Colin.

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    • Salut, M Blaquet.
      I should have mentioned that I last watched the film via the Italian DVD, which is very nice but lacks any subtitles, just the original English soundtrack and an Italian dub. I think the Warner disc simply has the English track and no subs of any kind. Sadly, I don’t suppose that’s what you wanted to hear.

      And yes, there are a number of memorable scenes such as those you refer to – but it’s a fairly memorable movie all round in my opinion.

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  4. A great choice Colin for your “return” and with Blake on board as well things are certainly looking up in blogland.
    The film made such an impression on us kids that we, as 11 year olds (along with a young tearaway called
    Rod Stewart…Yep! the same), used to enact scenes from the film with our bow & arrows. (homemade & pretty harmless)
    over Hampstead Heath.
    You may recall-and certainly Blake did-,that I chose RUN OF THE ARROW as one of my top 10 Westerns of all time over at Fifty Westerns Of The Fifties. It’s impossible to really have a top 10 list especially of Westerns, so really I chose films that I had seen the most times in cinemas-if that makes any sense at all.
    I love your comment on the Olive Carey scene and I guess I tend to agree with your take on this as opposed to Blake’s. Steiger underplays very nicely in the unheralded CATTLE ANNIE & LITTLE BRITCHES which is NOT a “comedy” Western as many think-the film proves that you can make a gritty authentic Western without blood splattered violence. Interestingly, in connection to above comments a friend recently noted that DANCES WITH WOLVES is an “unofficial” remake
    of RUN OF THE ARROW-I had never even considered that as Fuller’s is the far,far superior film. As you may have gathered I have seen RUN OF THE ARROW many,many times-once was enough,as far as I am concerned for the Costner effort. I have the Warner Archive version which I understand is the best version available but as many have noted the film really needs a Blu Ray release.
    On the subject of Blu Ray’s I was delighted to learn today that the forthcoming Explosive Media Blu Ray of THE FAR COUNTRY will be in 1.85 widescreen from a brand new 4K restoration. A 4K restored Blu Ray of RUN OF THE ARROW would be very welcome,when and if it appears.

    .

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    • Love those reminiscences, John, thanks for sharing.
      I’ve meant to feature this movie for a while now but something seemed to come up time and again and it just got postponed repeatedly. I share your high opinion of it and I’m not only pleased that I finally got round to putting something about it up here, but also I hope it might encourage a few more people to check it out.
      And that’s quite marvelous news about The Far Country.

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  5. Colin-
    Just an add-on to the above-you are probably aware that WINCHESTER’73 (another of my top 10 Westerns) is making it’s Blu Ray debut from Sidonis France-hideous
    “forced” subs and all. I have been advised from a very reliable source that Germany’s Black Hill pictures will also release Mann’s classic in high def.
    Really,I’m very surprised that Eureka have not picked this up-with a raft of extras-it deserves that sort of treatment. Perhaps they will-who knows.

    Black Hill’s releases used to be in drips & drabs-to say the least but they have upped their game-normally releasing a couple of Westerns a month. Their transfers are generally top notch. One of my “most wanted” titles in high def is coming from Black Hill in February THE PROUD ONES a personal favorite of mine.

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    • Not seen any of the Black Hill releases myself yet but it’s good to hear they’re up to scratch. And yes, I’m kind of surprised none of the UK boutique labels has announced plans for Winchester ’73 – it is, as you say, deserving of a deluxe edition.

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  6. First to say – a big welcome back, Colin!
    Not a lot to say about this film as it is not a particular favourite of mine. However, your piece on it was both thoughtful (and thought-provoking) and eloquent. I have greatly missed your fine writing of late as well as the interesting comments you elicit from others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jerry. For me, one of the especially enjoyable parts of keeping this place up and running over the years has been the opportunity to both engage in and follow the chats and discussions that have grown out of various pieces where a range of views and preferences have been articulated – there’s something refreshing about the diversity which exists within what is a shared passion for many of us.

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    • Hi, Chris. I know that Steiger can be a bit of a challenge at times and there are a few of his roles I’ve studiously avoided due to his all or nothing approach. However, he generally hits the right notes in this role and you really get that feeling, as was sometimes the case with him, that you’re watching an actor acting.

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  7. Further to my previous comments on Black Hill Pictures,and indeed
    your follow-up I thought I’d elaborate further.
    The only sub-par Blu Ray I’ve had from them is THE LAST SUNSET
    and that is down to the current master-the film needs a considerable
    restoration.
    THE LAST SUNSET is one of several Universal titles that have
    generated much discussion on-line-a point in case being
    THE GREAT NORTHFIELD MINNESOTA RAID;
    sadly a decent high def version does not seem to exist.
    Other Blu Ray’s from Black Hill have been stellar:
    THE WAY WEST,LAWMAN,MAN FROM THE ALAMO,
    TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE,and BILLY TWO HATS.
    The latter title which I have not seen since release,
    is far better than I remember.
    I am a huge fan of many 70’s Westerns-some folks call them
    “revisionist” Westerns-a term I dislike-I prefer to call them realistic
    Westerns. Apart from BILLY TWO HATS and “NORTHFIELD”
    other titles I really admire are ULZANA’S RAID (sensational Blu Ray
    edition just released by Explosive Media-Uncut version)
    THE CULPEPPER CATTLE CO.CATTLE ANNIE & LITTLE BRITCHES
    and many others.The least successful of these 70’s films are
    THE HUNTING PARTY and THE DEADLY TRACKERS which had
    the potential to be great but were sunk by graphic gore and sadism.
    I’m still doggedly holding out for Blu Ray versions of THE STALKING
    MOON and WILL PENNY-in fact I just recently read your very fine
    piece on the former.
    Finally someone at Fifties Westerns noted that THE NAKED SPUR
    might be up for a Criterion release-I hope he’s right-the film
    certainly deserves it.

    Like

    • The Last Sunset is a film I’ve struggled with in the past, despite my admiration for all those involved both behind and in front of the camera. I know Blake is another who rates it very highly and I keep meaning to give it another go but it manages to get bumped down the list for one reason or another – I’ll get round to it though.

      The Naked Spur would be very welcome on BD, especially as the old DVD was just passable.

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  8. Sorry! I’ve kinda taken over this thread haven’t I
    put it down to RTHC withdrawal symptoms. 🙂

    I might add that Black Hill are part of Spirit Media
    who are in turn owned by the WVG Media group a pretty
    large outfit,I understand.
    At any rate all their releases are “official” and region B locked
    and sadly have few extras apart from a few trailers.
    Another 70’s misfire was THE LAST HARD MEN a film
    that had the potential to be great but undone by violence and
    sadism. The transfer from Black Hill is super but for me the film
    was not a “keeper” very disappointing especially considering
    the two leads.
    Interestingly Black Hill are also releasing Walter Hill’s WILD BILL
    for those who are not willing to shell out for the Twilight Tme
    version. I remember the film as a huge let down; more so as I am
    a huge fan of Hill’s LONG RIDERS.
    THE LONG RIDERS has recently been given a lovely 4K restorationm
    by Kino Lorber-streets ahead of previous versions,so perhaps there is
    hope for THE LAST SUNSET and NORTHFIELD.
    Colin’have you noticed that Indicator/Explosive are now dealing with
    Universal-wouldn’t it be wonderful if their first Western releaase
    could be WINCHESTER ’73 with their usual raft of extras.

    Like

    • No need to be apologizing, it’s all good info. I didn’t know the structure/affiliation of Black Hill so that’s interesting to learn about.
      Any boutique label dealing with Universal is good news – that studio has some really fine titles and a number of strong but unreleased movies (in any format) that would be great to see on the market.

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    • Yes, without wanting to stray too deep into spoiler territory for those who haven’t seen it, that is indeed an apt description, and you really appreciate (in spite of the deep unpleasantness of Meeker’s character) Steiger taking the action he did when he did.

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  9. Colin, I guess I’m more with you on THE LAST SUNSET and yes,I
    know Blake has a very high regard for the film.
    The problem that I have with the film is possibly too much
    “purple prose” which reflects Dalton Trumbo’s humanism and World
    views-if you can get over that it’s a deeply romantic one of a kind
    Western flawed but worthy of attention…..it’s strengths certainly
    outweigh any flaws.
    As mentioned before the Blu Ray shows many imperfections and
    the film certainly needs a major restoration which hopefully will happen
    one day. The film would have been far better had Neville Brand and
    Jack Elam been given far more screen time.
    It’s fine so many boutique labels now have deal with Universal-
    in fact,as I’m sure you are aware most Universal Fifties Westerns
    are now available on DVD and Blu Ray Globally though not
    always in their Home Nation.
    There are,however many mainly second string Noirs still on the
    missing list-a high number of these films have never even had a
    DVD release. By my term “second string” I do not mean unworthy
    just that many do not have major stars or A list directors.
    If one sifts through these titles there are many unheralded gems or
    indeed “diamonds in the rough”
    Colin,you may be aware,sadly Brian at Rupert Pupkin Speaks is
    not doing “underrated ’57 this year-and that’s a shame because
    I know certainly you,Jerry Entract and Blake Lucas consider 1957
    as a sort of banner year.
    Brian did inform me that he’s doing a “discoveries” of 2017 thread
    and I decided this would be a fine place to highlight several
    very fine Universal Noirs-I’ve even managed to bring a couple of
    ’57 titles into the mix.
    I have not even written the darn thing yet and I imagine it will
    appear in the New Year and I feel at least a couple of titles will be
    of interest to you.
    My sincere thanks are due to UK Noir expert Nick Beal (The Doyen
    Of Dark) 🙂 for ferreting out a couple of these ultra rare films-I do
    hope some of the boutique labels source some of these hidden gems
    over time-they are more than worth it.

    Like

    • That’s kind of good and bad news. I like the sound of that list you’re prepping as it’s sure to be very worthwhile – I don’t think I’ve seen a set of recommendations from you that hasn’t got me interested!
      At the same time it’s a kind of a shame that we won’t be seeing a dedicated 1957 run of post for, as you say, I do think that year is an especially rich one.

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  10. Yes, it is a pity Brian has decided to pull Underrated 57. Maybe he felt that past posts from earlier eras have attracted a small, albeit hard-core and passionate, group only. I guess most of his followers are more interested in 90s schlock-horror stuff, etc. Or is that just me getting older!!!

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  11. I think,this time Brian just did not have the time to fit
    it all in-he did say he will try to do “Underrated ’58 but for
    me ’57 is just a more exciting year.
    I have BTW submitted my list and Brian states that he has not
    seen any of the four films I’ve chosen and that I’ve whetted his
    appetite so that’s great.
    I’m trying to include one late arrival which will take the total to five.
    Without blowing ones own trumpet I’m more pleased with this list than
    anything I’ve attempted before.
    By accident rather than design three of the films were (beautifully)
    shot by Irving Glassberg.
    Also three of the films feature Dorothy Hart-I must say Dorothy was a real “Babe”
    am I allowed to say this in this increasingly P.C. World we now live in.
    Dorothy chose an alternative career to acting-I sure wish she had made
    more movies.She certainly had no regrets giving up her acting career
    and found her alternate work far more rewarding.
    I’m on a real kick at the moment to source more obscure Universal
    Noirs they generally really deliver the goods and far more of them should
    be released on disc.
    At the moment I’m concentrating on the late Forties early Fifties
    but there are other interesting late Fifties films to discover
    normally starring the likes of George Nader.

    Like

    • That all sounds great!
      Yes, Universal did seem to make a lot of quality crime/noir movies and many are indeed hard to find or see. The odd one seems to escape onto the market from time to time and some can be found on the likes of YouTube occasionally but I’d love to see more of them officially available.

      Like

  12. Films like “I WAS A SHOPLIFTER” which is rather better than its title and starred a young Scott Brady for Universal, for instance. Films like that are really hard to find, certainly in a decent print. Wish you well with your search, John.

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    • Jerry, you really have to admire any film whose title so heroically embraces the prosaic and the banal. 😀
      Joking aside though, that kind of title surely can’t have helped its visibility over the years. And yet of course there are so many movies, both unavailable and rarely seen, that didn’t get saddled in that way:
      Abandoned
      The Tattered Dress
      The Glass Web
      Take One False Step
      Nightmare
      The Web
      and plenty more besides.

      Like

  13. Yes, it is a cheesy title, isn’t it, Colin? Film’s not bad though. The point though is its invisibility, along with other ‘noirs’ from that period.

    Like

    • Indeed, and it’s rather odd that such a large number of films from one studio, most of which feature recognizable names on both sides of the camera too, have been passed over so comprehensively.

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  14. Hi Colin & Jerry,
    I’ve been off line for a few days and firstly I was thrilled
    to see THE HANGING TREE is getting a well deserved
    Blu Ray release-the film aside,the stunning visuals should look
    breathtaking in high definition-a wonderful start to 2018.
    I’ve finally sent my fifth film over to Brian and it stars the
    aforementioned Scott Brady.
    Another “lost” Brady Universal Noir is UNDERCOVER GIRL
    which is not on my list I’ve only seen it in a crappy off air copy
    and I hope “The Doyen Of Dark” can source me a better one.
    Any film that has Royal Dano as “The Moocher” has to be
    worthy of anyone’s attention.
    Brady was equally effective as a cop or a hood,
    I hope Classicflix can source CANON CITY (they are on
    an Eagle Lion kick at the moment) Brady’s breakthrough film
    it’s a cracker with sensational John Alton photography.
    I loved your “list” Colin and ABANDONED (championed by Laura)
    is a prime example of a overlooked Noir.
    With all the boutique labels dealing with Universal (Koch,Elephant,
    Explosive,Shout Factory and now Indicator) you would think more of
    these “lost” Noirs would surface-as you quiet rightly mention Colin,
    there is certainly a market out there for them..
    .

    Like

    • That announcement of The Hanging Tree is the best news I’ve seen in a long time as it’s a firm favorite of mine and as beautifully structured and uplifting a piece of filmmaking as one is likely to come across.
      On the “lost noirs of Universal”, let’s just hope someone, somewhere with influence is reading.

      Like

  15. A late entry from me about the great Run of the Arrow. I can’t remember how long ago l first saw it, but l do recall our picture going gang thought it was a much tougher “cowboy film” than the usual westerns we saw. And Charles Bronson was a most impressive “Indian”, and even today, he still looks great.
    I think l have seen the film 4 or 5 films, the last time on a rubbish Spanish DVD. Seeing the film as an adult, l still think the film is great, but the big flaw for me is Rod Steiger, plus his Irish accent. Thankfully the film is good enough to override that. Now l must upgrade my rubbish DVD.

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    • Hi, Mike. Yes, Bronson is impressive – he was an imposing figure whatever role he played and made a pretty good Indian, in my opinion anyway, on the handful of occasions he was cast in those parts – I like him in Delmer Daves’ Drum Beat too.

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  16. It’s very fine that Colin’s “comeback” has generated over 50 replies (so far)
    I like your summing up of CHATO’S LAND in one sentence, very apt description I thought.
    Bronson was in incredible shape in that film,especially considering his age.
    Like Robert Blake in TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE Bronson is not a totally sympathetic character and that works well for both films.

    Like

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