I blame nostalgia. Nostalgia, and YouTube.
I was watching the trailer for Speed. That movie still holds up. So it came as no surprise when YouTube suggested that I also watch the trailer for Broken Arrow. I had not seen that movie in probably twenty years. It was available from my local library. I put a hold on it.
As I was reserving the DVD, I found out that there was another Broken Arrow. One from 1950, starring Jimmy Stewart. Who does not like Jimmy Stewart? (Answer: Jerkfaces.) I placed that Broken Arrow on hold as well. As these things tend to work out, they were both available to be picked up at the same time.
We looked at three different movies based around one story before. We might as well look at two very different movies with exactly the same name. You cannot copyright titles, my friends. All you can do is take a look and see what is different.
The Jimmy Stewart, 1950 version
I had never heard of this movie before. It must be considered a hidden gem. How else would an independent video company be able to have the distribution rights? There were no options on the DVD menu. You could push “Play Movie”. That was it. No scene selection or bonus features. The DVD menu played a looping jingle about how the DVD company could provide DVD resources for you too, if only you would reach out to them. That song was cringe-worthy.
However, the movie is pretty great. It holds up seventy-plus years later. Characters looking at the big picture. Understanding that things do not always get fixed overnight. That small steps have to be taken to solve the greater conflict. If you can tell that story, and have it be based on true events? Then you have me hooked.
Of course, with any movie made around 1950, there are some concerns. First off, Jimmy Stewart was twenty-five years older than his romantic interest. She was fifteen. Fifteen! Sigh. We have discussed this before. He was paired with Kim Novak in two movies and she was twenty-five years younger as well. I blame James Bond? If you like older, non-creepy Jimmy Stewart, watch Rope.
Then there are the Caucasian actors playing indigenous folks. Jeff Chandler would speak of his Jewish heritage. So, why did he portray Cochise in three movies? Why can you see the makeup oh-so clearly in the movie? The love interest had to wear brown contacts over her blue eyes. Not quite the accurate portrayal one might hope for.
Overall, it was enjoyable. We had a dash of hope that two opposing sides could eventually find peace. We saw people act, not as two-dimensional caricatures, but as fully developed characters. I rather liked it.
The John Travolta, 1996 version
Oy. You have never seen so many forms of transportation used to steal one nuclear device. It starts with a bomber jet. Then the Humvees enter the picture. Multiple helicopters. A train. Guess what? They all explode. (Or drive off a cliff. Or get smashed. Wanton destruction is not opposed to offroad fun.)
Plus, guns! Guns in cockpits! Rangers with guns! Helicopter pursuits! Also, a nuclear weapon or two. Pew pew! The movie supposedly went through 60,000 rounds of ammunition. Sounds about right.
You know what is not right? The title of the movie. They talk about it right there in the trailer. “Seizure, theft, or loss of a nuclear weapon” should be classified as an “Empty Quiver.” A “Broken Arrow” is more along the lines of a malfunction. I understand. Broken Arrow is a more dynamic title. It wants to be a weapon that streaks across the sky but malfunctions. And are we looking for military realism here? Or an explode-y escape?
(Fun fact: “Broken Arrow” in the 1950-version context symbolizes peace. 1950-version is trying to obtain friendship out of war. 1996 takes two friends and has them try to kill each other. One makes things better, one makes things worse. Happy times. Sad times. Context really is everything.)
There is much escapism here. The villain? You have never seen someone smoke a cigarette so overdramatically in your life. Let me share the writer’s credentials with you. Speed. Broken Arrow. Hard Rain. Speed 2: Cruise Control. Realism has to give way to chases and explosions. Nrrrrroooom! Pew pew! Kabwoooosh!
The movie is not great. You know those movies where there is so much insanity that your brain starts to shut down? “Yeah, okay. Neo is shooting lots of bullets. Lots and lots. I have lost count. Let me know when he is out of ammo.” It is that kind of movie. A movie that threatens not one, but two nuclear detonations. The bomber jet has to have two nuclear devices. TWO. Why? Shut up and eat your popcorn.
Speaking of popcorn; this movie has one more remarkable distinction. Siskel and Ebert? “At the Movies?” This was the only time when Siskel said he liked the movie and gave it a thumbs up, Ebert did not like the film, gave it a thumbs down, and Siskel changed his mind. Verdict: Not a great film.
Broken Arrow and Broken Arrow. If they were twins, they would be Goofus and Gallant.