Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tonight's Movie: The Battle at Apache Pass (1952)

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.

The screenplay does have some weak aspects. Baylor and Mescal Jack are fairly cartoonish bad guys, and the way they stir up trouble with the Indians seems contrived; the characters are there to serve a storyline purpose and not much more. The unabated nastiness of Baylor, in particular, becomes rather annoying.

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.


Blogger john k said...

Your fine review says it all Laura,I think that you were very fair
to this fine Universal Western.
Sam Katzman liked to do his own cut price versions of Universal
Westerns,I actually enjoyed CONQUEST OF COCHISE directed by William
Castle.Its certainly one of the better Katzman Westerns.
Sams take on another Universal Western (TOMAHAWK) THE GUN THAT WON
THE WEST (also directed by Castle) is far less impressive and far less
pro Native American than the Universal film.
Leading man Dennis Morgan looks ashamed of the whole business,his glory
days at Warners long gone.Katzman regular Richard Denning is right in his element however.Film is truly scuppered by far too much stock footage
mainly from BUFFALO BILL (1944)....yet again!
Even worse is the inept casting of Robert Bice as Chief Red Cloud
laughable to say the least.Still the film is fun if you are in a silly
mood.Actually Jay Silverheels had far more do do in another Katzman
epic BRAVE WARRIOR recently released as a Sony MOD.
The picture quality of the transfer is stunning and makes the film
seem far better than it is.Action crammed stuff from Spencer Gordon Bennett
an old hand at this sort of thing.
I am beginning to wonder if I am the only person buying these Katzman
films,for all their flaws I just cannot resist them!
Actually famed Universal producer Leonard Goldstein (Goldstein produced
so many of the great Universal Westerns directed by George Sherman.)
did a Katzman type film when he formed his own Panoramic Productions.
PRINCESS OF THE NILE is one of my all-time guilty pleasures.
Jack Elam and Lee Van Cleef are fun as Arabian bandits. The cast is awesome
and the Fox MOD transfer is the best yet that I have seen from them.
I think Mr Goldstein was trying to show Sam how these things SHOULD be
done.Having said all that I am chomping at the bit to see Katzman and
Castles SERPENT OF THE NILE a film near the top of my "most wanted" list.
These is no accounting for taste I guess.
BTW Laura I loved your comment on "square" actors (Richard Carlson,
William Lundigan) I would possibly put Macdonald Carey and Barry Sullivan
in that clique but I really like all four despite what other movie fans

4:21 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I haven't even thought about this movie in years. Appreciate your thoughtful look at the movie I'll have to add to the "Sunday morning list".

7:18 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I have seen Serpent of the Nile. Thumbs down in every aspect including Rhonda Fleming's black wig. As for Battle at Apache Pass, it is always a pleasure to see John Lund.

8:16 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi Barry,
Rhonda Fleming in a black wig..........now I want to see
SERPENT OF THE NILE even more! Sadly Barry I am a self
confessed trash addict; too late to turn back now.
A question: did any actor in any film looked more totally bored than Dennis Morgan in GUN THAT WON THE WEST.?
I loved the comment that appeared on this blog some time ago
"B Movies as comfort food" I really wish I had thought of
that one!
To me PRINCESS OF THE NILE fills that description perfectly.

4:08 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

It's been a busy couple of days here so I'm a bit late catching up on answering comments!

John, your comments are always such fun. Your enthusiasm for PRINCESS OF THE NILE and SERPENT OF THE NILE is contagious -- I definitely have to try both. I'll have to go hunting through my stacks of VHS recordings and see if I can pull those out soon.

I love Dennis Morgan so I'm sorry to hear he didn't seem to be having much fun in THE GUN THAT WON THE WEST. He was quite good in a Raoul Walsh Western, CHEYENNE, which I picked up from the Warner Archive earlier this year. I'm looking forward to revisiting it.

I'm glad too you appreciated my liking for square actors, John! I'd definitely class Macdonald Carey in that group, like him a lot -- he's great as a villain in COPPER CANYON though I prefer him as a hero in movies like SHADOW OF A DOUBT or CAVE OF OUTLAWS. Sullivan's OK but he's not someone I go out of my way to see, whereas I enthusiastically hunt down Lundigan-Carlson-Carey-Lund movies.

Caftan Woman, hope you get to revisit this one soon! :)

Barrylane, I couldn't agree more about John Lund. I have developed such an appreciation for him as I've seen his films. And when I catch up with SERPENT OF THE NILE I'll be sure to post my thoughts here so everyone can compare notes!

Best wishes,

11:18 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Thanks Laura,

Really flattered to think that you regard my comments as fun,thats the whole point
I too really enjoyed CHEYENNE a great Raoul Walsh Western,my only gripe: Arthur Kennedy
exits far too soon from the film.
I probably feel the same about Dennis Morgan the way you feel about Barry Sullivan.
Oddly enough he seems to be having far more fun in another Katzman/Castle epic
You are certainly not alone in not being too keen on Barry Sullivan;I however really
like him a lot,I would even be willing to watch him read the telephone directory!
If you cannot locate PRINCESS OF THE NILE I highly endorse the Fox MOD a lovely transfer
the best yet that I have seen from that series.

6:14 AM  

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