Like many Western fans, I have a real fondness for the Universal Westerns of the '50s, and THE BATTLE AT APACHE PASS is a great example of why I like them so much.
To be sure, THE BATTLE AT APACHE PASS isn't a perfect film, as the script has some weaknesses, but it's so enjoyable spending time with its splendid cast, directed by George Sherman almost entirely on location at Arches National Park, that it's easy to overlook the flaws.
THE BATTLE AT APACHE PASS tells a fairly simple tale. Major Jim Colton (John Lund) heads a Southwestern Army outpost during the early 1860s. He has a respectful relationship with the great Apache leader Cochise (Jeff Chandler), treating him as an honored equal, but then problems erupt with the arrival of a new Indian agent, nasty Neil Baylor (Bruce Cowling).
Baylor and his scout, drunken Mescal Jack (Jack Elam), immediately stir up trouble with the Indians, encouraging Geronimo (Jay Silverheels) to commit mayhem in return for guns. Baylor tries to frame Cochise's tribe for various evil acts, and when Colton is away, Baylor finally provokes Cochise to war when he helps instigate the death of Cochise's brother (Tommy Cook) and "detains" Cochise's pregnant wife (Susan Cabot). Holding Cochise's wife prisoner is a Very Big Mistake.
I admire both Lund and Chandler so I really enjoyed them in this, particularly in their scenes together. Chandler had previously received an Oscar nomination for playing Cochise in BROKEN ARROW (1950), and I thought he was marvelous as the tough, honorable chief.
Jay Silverheels also reprises his BROKEN ARROW role in THE BATTLE AT APACHE PASS. Silverheels was also in one of the George Montgomery/William Castle Westerns I recently watched, MASTERSON OF KANSAS (1954), and I couldn't help noting how much more developed and interesting the Indians were in APACHE PASS than in the Castle Westerns.
Susan Cabot, seen by me this year in the Audie Murphy Westerns GUNSMOKE (1953) and RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO (1954), may not look particularly Indian, but you know what? I really liked her in this part. I enjoyed the depiction of her relationship with her husband as well as her steely attitude when dealing with the soldiers.
Among the large supporting cast, I especially liked Richard Egan as Colton's righthand man, who treats Cochise's wife with gallantry, and Regis Toomey as the army doctor who is Colton's supportive friend. The cast also includes Hugh O'Brian, James Best, John Hudson, Palmer Lee (Gregg Palmer), and Richard Garland.
Beverly Tyler (THE BEGINNING OR THE END) plays Mary, a possible love interest for Major Colton. Mary seems curiously untraumatized as the sole survivor of a horrific wagon train massacre, and her relationship with Major Colton was pleasant but underdeveloped. I always appreciate a briskly paced film, but in this case this 85-minute movie could have used a few more scenes.
The script was by Gerald Drayson Adams, who wrote numerous other Westerns, including TAZA, SON OF COCHISE (1954) and CHIEF CRAZY HORSE (1955). He also wrote a few episodes of the MAVERICK series in the late '50s.
The movie was filmed in Technicolor by Charles P. Boyle.
This film is not available on VHS or on Region 1 DVD, but it's had several Region 2 DVD releases in Europe. Hopefully we'll see this released in the future in the Universal Vault series or perhaps in another set of Universal Westerns from TCM.
It's been shown in the past on Encore Westerns Channel so it may turn up there again in the future.
For another take on this movie, please visit Buddies in the Saddle.