Rory Calhoun and a strong cast overcome poor production values to provide an entertaining 77 minutes in APACHE TERRITORY.
APACHE TERRITORY, which was coproduced by Calhoun, was based on the Louis L'Amour novel LAST STAND AT PAPAGO WELLS. Calhoun plays Logan Cates, a loner traveling across the desert who comes to the aid of Junie (Carolyn Craig) and Lonnie (Thomas Pittman), each the sole survivor of two separate groups of travelers massacred by the Apaches.
The trio camp at Papago Wells, where there's some protection from rock formations as well as a small water supply. They are soon joined by Grant Kimbrough (John Dehner) and Kimbrough's fiancee Jennifer (Barbara Bates) -- who in an amazing coincidence is Logan's old flame.
The group ultimately swells to include a friendly Indian (Frank DeKova) and the survivors of a cavalry battle (including Leo Gordon, Francis DeSales, and Myron Healey).
It's a tense couple of nights as the small group holds off the Apaches and plots how to escape their predicament. Kimbrough (Dehner) and one of the soldiers (Gordon) are soon at odds with Logan, so he must deal with conflict within the group while also fighting the Apaches and coping with dwindling supplies of food and water.
Initially the movie looks great, with exteriors filmed in California's Red Rock Canyon. Unfortunately, the majority of the movie was filmed in a very fake-looking soundstage; the cutting back and forth between Red Rock Canyon and the soundstage scenery only serves to make the studio sequences look more phony. This initially caused me to feel some disappointment with the movie, but Calhoun and an enjoyable story gradually won me over.
The film has a tried and true plotline, with disparate travelers banding together to fight off Indians, but the solid cast makes it entertaining. Calhoun is extremely good as the tough cowboy with survival know-how; his charisma does quite a bit to put over the story and compensate for the low-budget setting.
Dehner and Gordon's characters are stock roles, but they are reliable pros who do what's needed playing slimy types. I found Bates a little bland; however, it was nice seeing her and Calhoun reteamed, several years after playing a young couple in I'D CLIMB THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN (1951), a lovely piece of Americana which starred Susan Hayward and William Lundigan.
The most interesting characters are awkward, earnest young Junie and Lonnie, who soon pair up and plan a future together. Carolyn Craig, who plays Junie, played Elizabeth Taylor's younger sister in GIANT (1956), who wins Taylor's cast-off beau, Rod Taylor. Thomas Pittman is very good as a teenager who is brave beyond his years.
APACHE TERRITORY was directed by Western specialist Ray Nazarro and filmed in widescreen Eastmancolor by Irving Lippman.
APACHE TERRITORY is available in a very nice widescreen DVD-R from the Columbia Classics/Sony Choice MOD line, which can be purchased from Amazon, Deep Discount, or the Warner Archive. It can be rented from ClassicFlix.
A somewhat stronger take on a very similar storyline is ESCORT WEST (1958), which was released about four months after APACHE TERRITORY. ESCORT WEST, from John Wayne's Batjac Productions, starred Victor Mature, with Leo Gordon appearing once more as a villain.