Taza, Son Of Cochise

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Taza, Son Of Cochise (1954) is rather anomalous in the cycle of films made by producer Ross Hunter and director Douglas Sirk at Universal pictures as it is a Western and a 3-D movie. Although Sirk is best known for his stylish melodramas that contain pointed social critiques, Taza, Son Of Cochise proves that Sirk was quite adept working in different genres. That isn’t to say that Taza, Son Of Cochise is one of Sirk’s best films or a classic of the Western genre, but it is a well crafted picture with plenty of 3-D thrills and action.

Any discussion of Westerns where white actors play Indigenous people must be prefaced by making a few points. Rock Hudson, who had already played a Native American chief in Winchester ’73 (1950), was a white actor and his casting in the title role is, by today’s standards, problematic. Yet such casting choices were quite normal in Hollywood at the time. To ignore that fact or films like Taza, Son Of Cochise is to turn a blind eye to our collective cultural legacy that, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, remains essential to understanding who we were, who we are, and who we as a nation should become.

Hudson’s Taza is stoic, distant, and full of a manly sense of righteousness. The film presents Taza as a “noble savage” type whose goodness is measured by his commitment to collaborating with the U.S. Army. The “bad guys” in the film are Geronimo and his followers whose “evil” is that they refuse to be subordinate to their white conquerors. George Zuckerman’s economic script leaves little room for the nuances of the power struggle between Taza, Geronimo and the U.S. Cavalry nor for any semblance of historical accuracy. Taza, Son Of Cochise is an operatic pageant of Western genre tropes executed by Sirk’s experienced direction.

Still, Sirk manages to find subtle was to inject some glimpses of truth into the proceedings. Not only does Sirk include actual Indigenous people as extras, but he often prefaces a dramatic scene of fiction with an establishing shot of an Indigenous person at work. The pulpy world where Rock Hudson is the leader of the Chiricahua is peppered with a reality that stands in harsh opposition to that white fantasy. Sirk’s camera clearly prefers the open vistas, the tribal dances, and the ordinary tribesman’s daily lives to the hallow spectacle he has been assigned to direct. The Western is the most quintessentially American movie genre and Sirk, by his own admission, always found America morbidly fascinating.

While Sirk’s small subversions litter Taza, Son Of Cochise, they do not redeem it. The “authentic” images Sirk recorded and got into his film are merely reminders that the story being told is a fiction, a fantasy. Taza, Son Of Cochise does as much as any cavalry picture to reaffirm white America’s notions of Manifest Destiny while perpetuating the “noble savage” archetype. The Apache nation, so long the villains in Western films, deserved better than what Hunter, Hudson, and Sirk were able to give them with Taza, Son Of Cochise.