Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Apache Territory (1958)

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.

Sadly, Pittman died in a car crash the year the movie was released, and Barbara Bates and Carolyn Craig also died at fairly young ages. Bates committed suicide in 1969, at the age of 43, and Craig died in 1970, age 36; it appears she also took her own life, as sources simply say the cause was a "gunshot."

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.


Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Last Stand at Papago Wells is actually my favorite L'Amour novel, and one of the books I've often amused myself with by imagining the perfect film adaptation. This one sounds pretty close to the book, with a couple rather major exceptions—in the book Jennifer Fair is most certainly not Cates' old flame, and there were no explosives involved, as the synopsis at IMDB seems to imply. :)

4:12 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Elisabeth!

You're so knowledgeable about Western novels, I always appreciate your feedback. Was very interested to hear how the movie seems to match up against the novel -- you're right, explosives are involved in the closing action sequence! -- was also interested to know it's your favorite L'Amour novel. I've only read a couple of L'Amour's book myself -- loved HONDO. Perhaps I should get back to his books one of these days! This sounds like it would be a good one to start with.

Best wishes,

5:51 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Sounds a good western. I like John Dehner and Leo Gordon.Always good support as you say.

12:18 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

Thank you! Yes, I'd definitely recommend the book. I've always thought that situation you described in your post, the disparate group of people forced together to fight a common danger, has so much story potential if it's handled well—and in this book it is, with all the subtle conflicts running among the different characters. (I forgot to mention that the movie also dropped another supporting female character, and a subplot about a bag of stolen gold everybody wants to get their hands on.)

I meant to ask you one of these days if, being a Western movie fan, you had read any Western fiction too! It's always puzzled me a bit that in an era when Western movies and books were so popular, there weren't more successful book-to-film adaptations. When popular authors like Zane Grey, Max Brand and L'Amour did get adapted, there was often little resemblance between the book and film (Brand's Destry Rides Again, for instance, is a totally different story than any of the films 'based' on it).

5:04 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, if you see it please let me know what you think. I enjoyed it despite the imperfections.

Elisabeth, if we worked on it I bet we could come up with a good list of movies with this theme -- STAGECOACH being one of the earliest.

Very interesting that the books were so often changed. (There's a bag of gold in APACHE TERRITORY, but it's not stolen.) Another author who interests me is Luke Short, as I've liked so many movies based on his stories. A goal for the future. I tend to default to movies for relaxation these days since I read all day for my proofreading business.

Hope you'll keep sharing your insights on the novels, really enjoy it. :) Thanks!

Best wishes,

4:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A middling effort, the shooting style does as you say pull it down somewhat. On the plus side, Dehner and Calhoun are always good value, and the basic story has potential.
It's been a while since I read the novel but it does stick reasonably close to the L'Amour book - apart from the points already mentioned - and that was indeed one of the author's better books.


1:43 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for your feedback, Colin! Strangely, I suspect I will enjoy this more in the future because I'll know how the soundstage scenes look and sound before I start. :) Good actors and story, as you note. Was interested in your thoughts on the original L'Amour novel, thanks!

Best wishes,

1:54 PM  

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