Apache Territory (1958)
“THE GOOD…THE BAD…THE HEROES…THE COWARDS…THE STRONG…THE WEAK…”
Director: Ray Nazarro
Cast: Rory Calhoun, Barbara Bates, John Dehner
Synopsis: A cowboy sets out to try to stop an Indian war and rescue a white woman captured by the Apaches.
When a movie goes by the title of Apache Territory you can be pretty sure of what you’re going to get once you get past the garish credits which feature leading man and — tellingly — co-producer Rory Calhoun’s name in gigantic bright yellow letters, as if he’s some screen legend whose first film this was for twenty years or something. Calhoun was never a major star, and he was never going to be one once his agent revealed his criminal past to a gossip magazine in the mid-50s in return for them not outing Rock Hudson as a homosexual, but his career never really suffered from that scandal and he was rarely out of work. Apache Territory is a modest Western, directed with a noticeable lack of flair or ambition by journeyman director Ray Nazarro (who also directed the other two movies Calhoun produced in the 1950s). It’s the kind of movie that was made purely to fill the time between audience members trooping into the theatre and the start of the main feature, and we’re never in any doubt that it knows it.
Calhoun plays the improbably named Logan Cates, a drifter who spies an Indian behind a bush while travelling across the desert. The Indian isn’t answering the call of nature, though; no, he’s got mischief on his mind and a group of mates waiting for him on the other side of a hill. The Indian has spotted three riders heading their way and rushes off to tell the others, no doubt with murderous intent on his mind. Cates’ warning shots give the three men enough warning to get a head start on the pursuing Indians, and Cates himself gives chase. He finds a body in the desert, and after shooting an Indian hiding in the brush, he comes across a traumatised young woman (Carolyn Craig). Cates takes her to a nearby waterhole where he encounters young Lonnie Foreman (Tom Pittman), the lone survivor of the three men Cates warned off and potential love interest for young Junie Hatchett, the girl Cates rescued.
Cates is wary of those Indians wandering around looking to part scalps from heads but figures it should be safe enough to make their escape under cover of darkness. But his plans are scuppered first with the arrival of Grant Kimbrough (John Dehner) and his fiancee Jennifer Fair (Barbara Bates). Their arrival provides the first potential source of friction because Jennifer just happens to be an old flame of Cates. What are the chances of that, eh? What are the chances of stumbling across the love of your life at a waterhole in the desert? In fact, what are the chances of coming across anyone at a waterhole in the desert? Pretty slim, I’d say, but just you wait — this particular waterhole is busier than a motorway service station. Anyway, it transpires that Cates suffers from a major fear of commitment which led to him dumping Jennifer without notice, so you can just imagine how pleased she is to run into him. You can probably also predict how their relationship is going to develop during the course of the movie — as can Kimbrough. Next to arrive is a demoralised bunch of cavalry soldiers led by an inexperienced sergeant (Francis DeSales) whose more accustomed to pushing pens around than soldiers. Amongst his troop is Zimmerman (Leo Gordon), a disgruntled veteran who was busted to the ranks for unspecified reasons but still thinks he knows better than anyone else about how to deal with the Indians who chased them to the hole and now have everyone pinned down. Also amongst their number is Webb (Myron Healy), a family man whose initial resolve begins to weaken as the besieged group’s numbers begin to be thinned out.
So that’s it, right? Surely there can’t be room for any more travellers. Wrong again, because along comes Lugo (Frank DeKova), a Prima Indian in search of water. Because Lugo is an enemy of the Apache, Cates takes him on board over the protests of Zimmerman and Kimbrough, who are slowly forming an uneasy bond because of their mutual dislike for Cates. And the fact that Lugo is in possession of a bag full of large chunks of gold which prove highly attractive to the disgruntled Zimmerman puts in place another potential source of conflict.
With all these people crowded into a small space and subjected to regular attacks from the eponymous tribe of Indians you’d expect Apache Territory to truck along at a fair old pace, but in truth the 77 minute running time feels a lot longer. This is largely due to the fact that director Nazarro repeatedly fails to generate the kind of suspense and tension you’d think would be almost built into a movie like this. For example, there’s one scene in which Cates sneaks into the Indian camp under cover of darkness to bag some food for his group and is forced to hide on a rock ledge when three Indians gather to shoot the breeze for a while. As Cates lies there, a Gila Monster emerges from a crevice and begins to roam around the ledge. Instead of giving us a few close-ups of Cates anxious, sweating face, perhaps, Nazarro keeps his camera at a relatively distant medium shot so that we get no real sense of Cates’ anxiety but a clear view of the fact that the sluggish Gila Monster is neither disturbed by, or interested in, his presence. The presence of the Indians is almost an abstract concept for long stretches of the movie, so rarely do we get to see them, and the various conflicts between the characters are never explored in any real depth.
Perhaps the most noteworthy fact about Apache Territory is the fates of three its leading actors, all of whom would suffer early deaths within twelve years of the movie’s release. The troubled Barbara Bates, whose career was already on the skids when Apache Territory was made, committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning in 1969, while Carolyn Craig’s death in 1970 is usually attributed to a gunshot wound or suspected suicide. Apparently, she’s buried in an unmarked grave and details of her death are extremely sketchy. Tom Pittman would die within weeks of Apache Territory’s release when his car crashed into a valley. His body lay undiscovered for three weeks.
(Reviewed 9th January 2014)