Cochise in the Movies .    .    .    .    .
  THE BAR IS SET -- So Far, My Vote For the Best Cochise
   Hey, it's my web site . . . I get to choose.

Jeff Chandler

Cochise:   Jeff Chandler        
(1918 - 1961)                

(Nationality:  American)          


The most enduring, most oft cited
performance to date

"Broken Arrow" -- The motion picture
directed by Delmer Daves

Adopted from the novel Blood Brother by Elliott Arnold


Chandler played Cochise twice more, in
"Battle At Apache Pass" (1952 )
"Taza, Son of Cochise" (1954)

The 1952 movie was actually a "prequel", telling the
story leading up to the "Broken Arrow" story.

In the 1940s, Jeff Chandler was a fixture on the radio program
"Our Miss Brooks", which later became a popular TV show

Jeff Chandler was a singer, played violin, and owned
a successful music company, Chandler Music

His distinctive silver hair had established itself by the time
he was 18 years old


As implausbile as it seems, it is an American actor of Jewish descent who wins my personal vote for having, to date, given the best overall performance as Cochise.  Perhaps I am too sentimentally attached to the movie, as after all it was having been taken to see it at the age of five that started me out on my journey to know Cochise as best I could.  And it was Jeff Chandler in the role who was Cochise, to me and to my dear mother who from that time on had a married woman's version of a school girl's crush on the Brooklyn born actor.  But even now, every time I watch this engaging and colorful motion picture on video, I appreciate Chandler's handling of the part.

He was about the right height, standing about 6 foot 5 inches (the real Cochise was shorter, true, but in those days everyone was shorter and so Chandler's altitude made him look suitably taller than the other Indians around him).  He was handsome to a fault, and we have it straight from the son of the great Apache leader Juh (Daklugie) that Cochise was, among other things, a very handsome man.  Chandler's rich, sonorous voice was hypnotic and commanding, and his delivery was as poetic as it was forceful.  He carried himself with great pride and dignity, while playing the part, and he had an intensity in his gaze that burned through you.  True to written records describing Cochise, Chandler's facial features were sculpted and strong, with a fairly prominent nose (at least it wasn't flat or small).  His lips were full, as were Cochise's according to several contemporary accounts, and his build was impressive.

I have read that some modern Apaches took exception to the way he portrayed Cochise in the film, citing their opinion that he was not dignified enough, or did not appear suitably noble.  If this is true at all it is only so in a relative way, because for my money his depiction scores high on those very marks, perhaps coming in second only to the poise showed by Miguel Incl
án (who looked nothing like Cochise) in his role in "Fort Apache".  To convey such magnificence through an entire movie is difficult, and I think Chandler did himself proud in the effort.

That being said, I have to add that his efforts in the two movies that followed, in which he reprised his role, fell far shorter . . . but here again I lay the blame at the feet of the writers and particularly the directors.  

The movie itself, as I mentioned, is eminently watchable, but it was a far cry from depicting history as it actually happened.  The book on which it was drawn (Blood Brother) scored much higher in that regard, to the admirable extreme that it used historically accurate direct quotes as dialogue whenever possible.  Characters were not ignored as they are in the movie (there is no Lt. Sladen, nor the two Apache guides Ponce and Chie, in the movie version).  In the book the sequence of events was presented correctly, whereas in the movie several important facts are entirely written out.  As an example, the movie tells us that Jeffords spoke to Cochise before taking General Howard in to see him, to get Cochise's permission.  In my opinion, the truth is far more dramatic, in that Jeffords had no time to forewarn Cochise of Howard's coming, and the group approached the Dragoons unsure what sort of greeting they would be accorded.

And then there is the matter of Geronimo defying Cochise's decision and becoming a renegade on the spot, taking a small contingent of like minded warriors with him.  This confrontation made good cinema (I personally loved the scene where Jay Silverheels as Geronimo stands with a just a few followers, crying out in that wonderful voice, "Who else comes?  Who else?!")   Geronimo may have been present at the famous peace conference in the Dragoons, but there is no evidence of it.  At any rate, he did nothing to directly defy Cochise, and did not turn officially "renegade" until the Chiricahua Reservation was closed by the U.S. government two years after Cochise's death, at which time he slipped away with Juh and a fairly large group of others, heading for Mexico.

It is then, in my humble opinion, Chandler's performance that sets the bar, overall, for the future actor who, hopefully, will come out of the Apache Nation to give us the definitive depiction, in a movie based on Ed Sweeney's fantastic Cochise biography . . . or at the very least, a true retelling of the Cochise Wars and just exactly how they ended.

Is Hollywood up to this?  Can they do it without fictionalizing every other detail, adding silly romantic subplots, and giving us actors who look nothing like the real characters (James Stewart's performance in the movie was wonderful, but it was nothing like the real Tom Jeffords, let's be honest.  Not even a red beard, for heaven's sake!).

by Elliott Arnold

Blood Brother