Mon 21 Sep 2015
DRUMS ACROSS THE RIVER. Universal International, 1954. Audie Murphy, Walter Brennan, Lyle Bettger, Lisa Gaye, Hugh O’Brian, Mara Corday, Jay Silverheels, Regis Toomey, Morris Ankrum, Bob Steele. Story & screenplay: John K. Butler. Director: Nathan Juran.
If you’re looking for a Western of economical running time that nevertheless manages to squeeze in a many of the genre’s most durable tropes, look no further than the little known Drums Across the River. You’ve got a father-son conflict; scheming bad men, working at the behest of big city folks, trying to stir up a race war between Whites and Indians; a town filled with people eager for quick and swift justice; a man bitter at the Indians, blaming them for the death of his mother; and a plot to steal a safe.
All in less than 80 minutes. But you know what, for the most part it works quite well.
Directed by Nathan Juran, this surprisingly effective Universal-International movie stars war hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy as Gary Brannon, a man caught up in a scheme to illicitly access gold mines on Ute territory. Against the wishes of his father, Sam, portrayed effectively by character actor Walter Brennan, Gary (Murphy) sets out with Frank Walker (Lyle Bettger) and his gang to get the gold, as it were. Soon enough, he realizes that Walker may not be all that he seems.
The rest of the film follows Gary as he tries to rebuild his relationship with his father, make peace with the Utes, and stop Walker’s men from inciting racial violence. Look for Hugh O’Brien as Morgan, a truly evil henchmen and killer that Walker hires to threaten Gary. With some beautiful cinematography and outdoor scenery, this one is worth seeking out.
40 GUNS TO APACHE PASS. Columbia Pictures, 1967. Audie Murphy, Michael Burns, Kenneth Tobey, Laraine Stephens, Robert Brubaker, Michael Blodgett, Michael Keep. Director: William Witney.
Although he wasn’t nearly the screen presence as was Randolph Scott, war hero-turned-actor Audie Murphy, particularly in his later films, began to emerge as a more than capable actor to portray a flawed protagonist or an anti-hero.
That’s certainly the case for 40 Guns to Apache Pass, Murphy’s final movie appearance. Directed by William Witney, this surprisingly effective and visually captivating Western has Murphy portraying U.S. Army Captain Bruce Coburn, a man with anger issues and an impossible mission: secure the shipment of 40 rifles before the Apaches attack and kill every last settler in southern Arizona.
Filmed almost exclusively outdoors, this taut and gritty Western dispenses with many of the lighthearted moments that permeated many of Murphy’s 1950s films. It’s a bloody and dusty world out West, and Bruce Coburn is more than willing to beat and berate his men into submission. Not only does he make an enemy in one of his subordinates, a scheming Corporal Bodine (Kenneth Tobey), he also ends up driving a young man into the ranks of outlaws and traitors.
It’s Coburn’s impetuousness and his inability to think through how his behavior affects his men that ends up causing him the greatest amount of distress. As such, 40 Guns to Apache Pass can well be categorized as a minor classic in the psychological Western genre, an otherwise little known film that is skillfully directed and, while not having the most original plot in the world, is nevertheless a pleasure to watch.