Cheyenne Autumn is a rambling, episodic account of a reputedly little-known historic Cheyenne Indian migration 1,500 miles through almost unbelievable hardships and dangers to the tribe’s home near the Yellowstone in Wyoming. Somewhere in the telling, the original premise of the Mari Sandoz novel is lost sight of in a wholesale insertion of extraneous incidents which bear little or no relation to the subject.
Action follows a small band of Cheyennes attempting to escape from their barren Oklahoma reservation to their own lush Wyoming lands, from which they were transported after having surrendered to the army in 1877. Originally more than 900, their number now has been decimated to 286 through starvation and lack of medical attention.
Richard Widmark in one of his hardboiled roles is persuasive as a cavalry captain sympathetic to the Indians, detailed to bring them back to the reservation and finally going to Washington to see the Secretary of the Interior in charge of Indian affairs. Gilbert Roland and Ricardo Montalban portray the historic Dull Knife and Little Wolf, leaders of the Cheyennes, and carry off their work with honors. Carroll Baker is somewhat lost as a Quaker schoolteacher who accompanied the Cheyennes because of her love for the children.
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James Stewart as Wyatt Earp is in strictly for laughs, not for plot motivation, and Arthur Kennedy also is in briefly as Doc Holliday, neither having much to do. Karl Malden scores as a German captain of US cavalry; Dolores Del Rio plays an Indian woman with conviction; Edward G. Robinson does well by the Interior Secretary part and Patrick Wayne plays a brash young lieutenant with feeling.
1964: Nomination: Best Color Cinematography