Made in 1962, Geronimo occupies the mid-period between Delmer Daves’ Broken Arrow, the film oft cited as the first to consciously show Native Americans in a sympathetic light, and the spate of more progressive works, such as Little Big Man and Ulzana’s Raid, that emerged during the early seventies. Its approach to the eponymous figure is less intelligently handled than in either case, however, and instead Geronimo sits alongside 1955’s White Feather (which Daves co-scripted) as a compromised example of the genre. As with that Jeffrey Hunter starring effort, the lead is played by a white actor, in this case Chuck Connors. Indeed, whilst there may be a number of authentic Indians occupying the bit part roles, those parts which require an emotional death, a romantic interest or even just to deliver a piece of dialogue or almost all unanimously white, rendering the message somewhat diluted. Certainly, Geronimo is envisioned as a sympathetic figure, but there is simply no escaping Connors’ square jaw. Moreover, the intervening years have been unkind to Geronimo’s “virtues” and the character now comes across as nothing less than a macho misogynist with a penchant for preachy speechifying. A by-product of this could have been that he inadvertently became as morally complex as those Geronimos who surfaced in the mid-nineties - one in a 1993 TV movie, the other in the better known Walter Hill re-telling - but this simply isn’t the case and as such the picture comes across as hopelessly dated.
That said, the opposing cavalry come off just as bad. As with the Indians, the majority are there solely to fall of their horses, the others simply to sneer. One exception does appear in the form of Adam West (playing a role that is essentially the equivalent of Matt Damon’s part in Hill’s Geronimo : An American Legend), but he’s severely hampered by the spectre of his camp Batman incarnation. Of course, what this generally black and white approach points towards is that Geronimo is essentially, for all its proclaimed purposes, typical Hollywood product. But even if we attempt to enjoy the film of his basic level, it remains a failure. Indeed, just as Connors is permanently locked into one pensive expression, so too Arnold Laven directs on one unaltered pitch. A journeyman director who made a career of out lacklustre Westerns (Rough Night in Jericho, The Glory Guys - despite a Sam Peckinpah script - and Sam Whiskey amongst them), Laven appears to be too satisfied with being at the helm of a “progressive” picture (tellingly he was also the producer) that his interests never extend to elsewhere. Certainly, there is no progression in the storyline, just an interpretation of Geronimo as a near Robin Hood figure until the inevitable showdown with the cavalry in which everyone remains much as they were at the picture’s opening. As such what could have been an enlightening or just plain enjoyable experience lacks the sensibility to be either, producing what is ultimately a rather bland affair.
As is more often than not the case with MGM back catalogue releases, Geronimo’s DVD debut is a mediocre prospect. The disc is completely lacking in extras and has only a so-so presentation. The original 2.35:1 ratio is preserved and presented anamorphically, but often lacks the requisite sharpness. Close-ups are generally handled well, but Laven very rarely uses them meaning this is a minor concession. That said, there is little damage to speak of (scratches appear only intermittently) although some of the colours are beginning to fade. As for the soundtrack, the original mono is preserved and sounds generally fine. It’s not a mix that is likely to impress, but then there are difficulties to speak of either.