Adequately entertaining but otherwise routine, Apache Territory (1958) was co-produced by and stars Rory Calhoun as a saddle tramp taking charge when various U.S. Cavalrymen and civilians are surrounded by bloodthirsty Apaches. Modestly produced, it offers some amusing performances by actors playing genre stereotypes.
A "Sony Screen Classics by Request" title on DVD-R format, Apache Territory is presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen, approximating its original 1.85:1 release. The image is more than a little grainy and shows signs of severe color fading here and there, but it's a good presentation overall. Included, as an extra feature, is an original trailer, complete with text and narration.
The movie is based on Louis L'Amour's 1957 novel Last Stand at Papago Wells, but either the material didn't transition well or perhaps screenwriters George W. George and Charles R. Marion (working from an adaptation by Frank L. Moss) made ill-advised changes.* The picture starts out okay, with drifter Logan Cates (Calhoun) on his way to Yuma, Arizona, when he spots a band of Apaches sneaking up on three cowboys. Cates fires his gun to warn them, and they speed off on horseback with the Indians hot on their trail. Cates then rescues young Junie Hatchett (Carolyn Craig) from yet more Apaches, these having wiped out the rest of her family in a wagon train massacre.
Cates and Junie make their way across the desert to an oasis at Apache Wells, its waters and meager vegetation tucked away in a little nook against a steep mountain wall. Red Rock Canyon is the familiar location, though most of the picture was filmed on a single rather obvious soundstage set of the oasis.
There they find 19-year-old Lonnie Foreman (Tom Pittman), the sole survivor of the three cowboys Cates had earlier warned off. The oasis proves popular. Aloof Grant Kimbrough (John Dehner) and his fiancée, Jennifer Fair (Barbara Bates), are the next to arrive. Jennifer, naturally, is an old flame of Cates; they broke up when he refused to settle down. Next comes a Cavalry detachment whose numbers have been thinned considerably by Indian warriors. The only survivors are Sgt. Sheehan (Francis De Sales), a desk soldier that unwisely sought an appointment in the field; agitator Pvt. Zimmerman (Leo Gordon); nervous family man Pvt. Webb (Myron Healey): and blanks Graves (Bob Woodward), Conley (Regis Parton), Styles (Fred Krone). Later still Lugo (a pre-F Troop Frank DeKova), a half-Pima Indian, joins the party.
What appeal the movie has is limited to its Zulu-like set-up, with the dwindling number of survivors trying to hang on while up against constant onslaughts and psychological warfare of their savage opponents.
The rest of the picture, alas, is rife with character clichés, and an unusually high quotient of cowards. Kimbrough, unsurprisingly, turns out to be a cowardly heel selfishly thinking only of himself. Thuggish Pvt. Zimmerman has a yellow streak, too, and is a racist besides, constantly stirring up trouble and putting everyone's life at risk. Zimmerman's insistence that everybody's going to die eventually gets to Pvt. Webb, who goes mad, foolishly charges the Apaches single-handedly, and is captured and tortured. Meanwhile Lonnie and Junie grow close while Cates and Jennifer question their break-up. Yawn.
However, the film is short - just 70:55 - and the actors are fun to watch, with Gordon, Dehner, and DeKova expertly playing parts they've done dozens of times before. Those three at least had long and happy careers, which can't be said of female lead Barbara Bates, ingénue Carolyn Craig, or juvenile lead Tom Pittman. He died in a motor accident on Halloween 1958, one month after this was released. Bates, best known as the aspiring actress that completes All About Eve's cyclical structure, committed suicide in 1969, and the following year Craig (House on Haunted Hill) apparently shot herself to death.
The film is decently paced and despite the clichés doesn't quite wear out its welcome, though a set-piece where Cates infiltrates the Indian camp to steal an obviously stuffed lamb and nearly get bitten by a Gila monster seems designed to burn more running time.
The picture was one of half a dozen or so Calhoun produced with Victor M. Orsatti, with whom he also did the 1958-60 TV series The Texan. B-Western traffic cop Ray Nazarro directed most of these movies. Calhoun's longtime double and stand-in, Regis Parton (best known as the Metaluna Mutant in This Island Earth) plays one of the soldiers. The rest of the film is unremarkable, except for its use of stock music. Rather incredibly, the film's epilogue lifts the title theme (but not the lyrics) of 3:10 to Yuma, Columbia's big Western hit of the previous year.
Video & Audio
Shot for 1.85:1 widescreen in Eastman Color (not Technicolor, as listed on the TCM Database) Apache Territory looks reasonably good considering how wobbly the faded color gets at times. It must have been difficult timing this right. The image is rather grainy but acceptable. The region-free disc's English-only audio is fine. There are the usual chapter stops every ten minutes.
As mentioned above, the lone supplement is a trailer, complete with narration and text.
No genre landmark but a decent time-killer, Apache Territory is for Western fans only but for them it's modestly Recommended.
* Or not. Sergei Hasenecz writes, "I haven't seen the movie, but I have read the book. (Louis L'Amour is good-choice reading for plane flights when you know you'll be interrupted every two paragraphs by either your wife or child.) From what you describe, most of the changes from the book seem to be minor. The novel is short and definitely pulp, clichéd, a little sloppily written, but OK for my parenthetical purposes. However, L'Amour did his research. Papago Wells is a real place in Arizona, and the paperback I read included a map of the area. By the way, even more people show up at the wells in the book. Quite a crossroads for a desert waterhole miles from the nearest ranch or town."
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary for AnimEigo's Tora-san, a DVD boxed set, is on sale now.