In the old movies, when the Native Americans were depicted as savage Indians, they were a force to be reckoned with. They were part of what made the Old West a dangerous place, for they were always likely to attack a white settlement or wagon train, hoping to scalp the men and rape the women. This made for great cinematic entertainment. But then our conscience began to bother us, and so we started trying to make amends, with movies depicting the Native Americans as victims, more to be pitied than feared. Though such revisionist Westerns may be more faithful to the facts of the Native-American experience, yet they just are not as much fun, and Cheyenne Autumn is a good example of that.
When the movie begins, we see the pathetic Cheyenne Indians, who are forced to live on a reservation in Oklahoma, suffering from neglect at the hands of white men. They weary of this and decide to leave Oklahoma and return to their ancestral home in Wyoming, with the army in pursuit. Now, if I had been chief of this tribe, I would have waited until spring, because such a trek would be easier to make in warm weather. But no, they leave just before winter is about to set in, which only adds to their misery.
Anyway, things are moving along, and left at that, this could have simply been a boring two-hour movie. But John Ford directed this movie, and you know what that means. He always has to put some corny scenes in his movies. I think he calls it comic relief. So we have this pointless, painful segment about Dodge City, where Wyatt Earp (James Stewart) and Doc Holliday (Arthur Kennedy) act silly. There is only a tenuous connection between this segment and what is happening to the Cheyenne, and if it had been left out, you would never have missed it. But it was not left out, and that means that instead of a boring two-hour movie, we end up with a boring and painful two-and-a-half hour movie.