Filmed in the Chiricahua Mountains in southern Arizona for Yorktown Prods. in association with Von Zerneck/Sertner Films. Exec producers, Norman Jewison, Christopher Cook; producer, Ira Marvin; co-producer, Hannay Geiogamah; director, Roger Young; writer, J.T. Allen; Geronimo, the fierce Apache war chief, finally gets a human and fair portrait after a filmic history of Hollywood distortion. The all-Native American-cast “Geronimo”– which should not be confused with Columbia’s “Geronimo: An American Legend,” opening theatrically on Dec. 10 — is the first installment in a series of historical films from TNT devoted to Native American culture told from the Indians’ viewpoint.
With the title character played by three actors, representing Geronimo’s youth (Ryan Black), his middle years (the telepic’s nominal, visceral star, Joseph Runningfox) and his old age (the mesmerizing Jimmy Herman), the production plumbs fresh historical material. Particularly notable are Geronimo’s early years and his transformation from a firebrand to a feared warrior.
Significant from a cultural perspective are Geronimo’s initial battles with Mexican, not American, soldiers; the important role of women in a matrilineal social structure (with Tailinh Forest Flower standing out as Geronimo’s first of three wives); and how scalping was learned by the Apaches from the Mexican cavalry. The latter are dramatized butchering Apache women and children.
Geronimo’s retaliatory strike in a river of blood and subsequent battles with pursuing American cavalry are vivid, savage scenes expertly helmed by director Roger Young. But the movie’s wisest strategy is writer J.T. Allen’s framing device through which we see Geronimo’s life from the perspective of an aging, fallen warrior. He’s reduced to a humiliated yet dignified figure by the U.S. government, which kept him on hold for military parades in Ft. Sills, Okla., in the last year of his life, 1909. His encounter with Teddy Roosevelt (Ray Geer) is the story’s non-combat highlight.
When all is said and done, although this isn’t the first positive depiction of American Indians, it stands as perhaps the most multidimensional character study of Native American culture. It’s also a final nail in the coffin of the white man’s horrific final solution (essentially government-sanctioned extermination camps on dry, lifeless reservations).