Western movies


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


FACE OF A FUGITIVE. Columbia, 1959. Fred MacMurray, Lin McCarthy, Dorothy Green, Alan Baxter and James Coburn. Screenplay by David T Chantler and Daniel B Ullman, based on the short story “Long Gone” by Peter Dawson (Zane Grey’s Western Magazine, March 1950). Directed by Paul Wendkos.

   In a decade supposedly marked by conformity, and in a genre supposedly bound up in cliché, I’m surprised sometimes by how many off-beat, idiosyncratic and just plain weird westerns came out of the 1950s: Terror in a Small Town, 40 Guns, A Day of Fury, Ride Lonesome…. I could go on and on, but then I’d be going on and on.

   Face of a Fugitive may not as bizarre as some of the others, but it’s sufficiently off-beat and well-made to stay in the memory. Or this memory, anyway.

   Face opens with Fred MacMurray as an affable outlaw being escorted to jail by a Deputy unequal to the task. In the first few minutes Fred overpowers him and is making his escape when his younger brother (Ron Hayes) shows up, kills the deputy, and is himself mortally wounded in the shoot-out.

   Now wanted for murder, Fred buries his brother by sewing him in a mail sack and dumping the body in a river. Then he insinuates himself into the closest town, passing as a traveling businessman, feigning acquaintance with the locals, and looking for some way to split the scene before Wanted Posters show up with his picture on them — in 24 hours.

   MacMurray is in fine form here. In the years before Disney and “My Three Sons” his persona was bluff and likeable bit not always trustworthy. Check him out in The Texas Rangers, Double Indemnity, The Apartment and others to see what I mean. Here he uses both sides of his acting face as the outlaw on the run masquerading as a respectable citizen, and he does it quite well, befriending the local barber, horse trader, store clerk, and sheriff, but always with an eye out for the main chance.

   Of course it’s not that simple. Nor is the Sheriff, whose deputies have the town bottled up pending the arrival of the posters. Always the smoothie, Fred wangles himself a job as a Deputy — only to find himself embroiled with the Sheriff in a range was against local cattle baron Alan Baxter, and his henchman James Coburn.

   The writers handle all this quite capably, setting up the situation, ratcheting up the tension, and pausing for some truly affecting moments when Fred sees them fish his brother’s body from the river and later watches him lowered into an unmarked grave. They also flesh out the minor characters, particularly Coburn: lithe and lethal, but essentially a cowboy, not a killer.

   Back in the day, director Paul Wendkos made a splashy debut with The Burglar (1957) then retreated into television and the Gidget movies, until finally overtaken by obscurity. Still early in his career here, he imparts a sense of pace and humanity to the proceedings, particularly in a slam-bang run-and-jump shoot-out in a ghost town, making the most of the settings and Coburn’s athleticism vs. Fred’s stoic efficiency. And he caps it all with a line (which should have been the final line) I will remember for some time.

   This is a film to enjoy—and come back to.


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:         


RIDE THE MAN DOWN. Republic Pictures, 1952. Brian Donlevy, Rod Cameron, Ella Raines, Forrest Tucker, Barbara Britton, Chill Wills, J. Carroll Naish, James Bell, Taylor Holmes, Jim Davis, Paul Fix, Roy Barcroft, Jack La Rue, Douglas Kennedy, Chris-pin Martin Screenplay by Mary McCall, Jr. based on the book by Luke Short (Doubleday Double D Western, hardcover, 1942; Bantam Books # 82, paperback, February 1947; first published as a Saturday Evening Post serial, April 4 through May 16 1942). Directed by Joseph Kane.

   Maybe it is because it is based on a novel by Luke Short (Frederick Glidden), but this fast moving tale of a range war has enough characters and plot for half a dozen films, and yet somehow never seems crowded or off balance, and that certainly has to do with an all star B cast and the sure hand of veteran Republic oater director Joe Kane at the helm.

   Shot in TruColor, this one boasts a literate script, tough almost hard-boiled characters (not surprising from Short who was one of the leading exponents of the hard-boiled Western and whose books inspired two of the better noir Western films — Blood On the Moon and Stations West), and solid motivation all around, and in this one it feels less like the old West than Capone era Chicago with horses and cowboy hats, as everyone in the countryside is out to steal from or kill the handful of good-guys. Odds against the hero of one of these have seldom been higher.

   This is one of several Rod Cameron and Forrest Tucker worked on at the studio with Cameron usually the hero and Tucker the heavy, though here he is only one of a formidable group surrounding the embattled Cameron and his handful of allies.

   The time is the early thaw of 1892 when Phil Evarts, owner of the Hatchet Ranch has just died, frozen to death in the harsh winter. Evarts was an unpopular man who carved his land out by sweat and bullets and few mourn his passing, particularly not Bide Marriner (Brian Donlevy), a fellow rancher, and neighbors Paul Fix, Roy Barcroft, Jack La Rue, and Douglas Kennedy, who all want the Hatchet grazing land, and Evart’s son-in-law-to-be Sam Danfelser (Forrest Tucker) who has other reasons to want Hatchet broken up. Even Sheriff Joe Kneen (J. Carroll Naish) is no mourner, and likely to be little help.

   Add to that Red Courteen (Jim Davis) as a renegade who sells whiskey and guns to the Indians and wants his piece of the pie, and there is a who’s who of Western bad guys gathered to destroy the Evarts legacy. Even the proprietor of the local general store Mr. Priest (Taylor Holmes) father of Lottie, the girl Hatchet foreman Will Bartlett (Rod Cameron) wants to marry (Barbara Britton), wants to get in on the deal. The Hatchet Ranch is surrounded by venal and violent vultures who want to feed on the body before its dead the characters almost as venal as a revisionist Western from a much later era.

   In fact, the only people who seem to care about Evarts and Hatchet are his weak brother John (James Bell), Phil’s strong daughter Celia (Ella Raines), and foreman Will Bartlett, and it quickly looks as if it will be the latter two against the whole territory as they fight to keep the Hatchet together against impossible odds and enemies inside and out.

   Sub-plots abound. Sam is jealous of Celia Evarts devotion to Bartlett; Lottie is jealous of Bartlett’s devotion to Celia; Sheriff Kneen is in Marriner’s pocket but the fit is increasingly binding; Ray Kavanaugh (Paul Fix) murders John Evarts and is witnessed by weak rancher Joe Kennedy (Jack La Rue) who flees the country pursued by Bartlett; Marriner wants Kavanaugh arrested and tried tying up the Hatchet in court and with it certain the locals who hate the Hatchet Ranch will set him free; Red Courteen (Jim Davis) hates the part Indian Bartlett who humiliated him; Lottie’s father Mr. Priest has bought interest in cattle owned by Courteen and now being held by the Hatchet because they were grazing on Hatchet land and he’s losing money; and, the only help Bartlett can hire is a couple of drifters top hand Ike Adams (Chill Wills) doesn’t trust.

   Meanwhile Sam tries to undermine Bartlett and force Celia to give into Marriner because he is unmanned by her wealth and power and resents her strength.

   That’s quite a bit of plot to work into just over ninety minutes and still get in a satisfying amount of action and gunplay, and granted Donlevy doesn’t really get as much film time as he might need to really make an impression as the bad guy, what with Tucker and Davis taking up so much of the bad air..

   And tough action there is, more brutal than you might expect from a Western of this era, but also room for the redemption of Sheriff Kneen and a shootout between him and Marriner; a couple of well done set pieces — a nice one of Bartlett trapped in the town run by Courteen having to shoot his way out against a small army of enemies — and enough bits here and there for the large cast to keep all the actors happy.

   It’s no lost classic, and frankly the print I saw was at best only serviceable, but it is a good example of what Republic could do with the Western, given a bit more to chew on than the usual oater script. The fact that the crowded plot never seems constrained by the running time and no one in the cast gets slighted shows capable hands at work. Just getting all those plot elements from the Short story into the screenplay without losing track of any of the characters or their arcs was no small achievement.

   It’s not exactly true that Republic never made a bad Western as they used to assert when I was a kid growing up, but they didn’t make many of them, and they hit the bulls-eye for more often than you might expect. This is a surprisingly meaty small A film with a Western fan’s dream cast, and more going for it than any fan has the right to expect. You got a lot for your dime or quarter in those days and no Western fan, kid or adult, was likely disappointed in this one.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


LEE LEIGHTON (WAYNE D. OVERHOLSER) – Law Man. Ballentine, hardcover (H51) & paperback (#51), 1953. Ballantine U1040, paperback 1964. Axe, paperback, 1977. Ace/Charter, paperback, 1985. Jove, paperback, 1988. Winner of the first Western Writer’s Assocation Spur Award for Best Novel.

STAR IN THE DUST. Universal, 1956. John Agar, Mamie Van Doren, Richard Boone, Colleen Gray, Leif Erickson, Randy Stuart, Paul Fix, Harry Morgan, Kermit Maynard and Clint Eastwood. Screenplay by Oscar Brodney, from the novel by Lee Leighton. Produced by the redoubtable Albert Zugsmith. Directed by Charles Haas.

   A taut film from a slack novel.

   Leighton/Overholser’s book deals with twenty-four hours in the life of middle-aged Marshal Bill Worden: the last day in the life of convicted killer Ed Lake, scheduled to hang next morning. It also deals with a wide cast of characters, including:

   Worden’s daughter Ellen, who is engaged to marry

   George Ballard, who owns the biggest ranch in the valley and the local bank — and is therefore ipso facto a bad guy.

   Nan Hogan, Ballard’s ex-mistress, now married to

   Lew Hogan, a stubborn rancher who feels duty-bound to keep Lake from hanging

   Rigdon, a fire-and-brimstone preacher who feels duty-bound to hang Lake himself

   Mike MacNamara, Worden’s Deputy

   Orval Jones, janitor and would-be deputy

   Jeannie Mason, a fallen woman because of Ed Lake

plus assorted farmers, ranchers, cowhands, townsfolk and attendants to the court.

   Leighton does a skillful job of setting all these folks at odds with each other: the ranchers out to save Lake, Ballard anxious to see that Lake doesn’t incriminate him, farmers egged on to lynching by Rigdon, Lake with his own plans for the future – and thankfully Leighton takes care to remind the reader who everyone is from time to time. He also works things to a convincing resolution, one that seems to grow from the characters themselves.

   The problem is that Leighton tends to tell us how they feel—repeatedly and at length — when he should just show us — and when things should be getting tense, they just get wordy. Worthy concept, weak execution.

   Oscar Brodney’s script for Star in the Dust tightens things up considerably. For one thing, it starts at dawn on the day Lake (here named “Sam Hall”) is scheduled to die at sunset. And since this is a film, the internal monologues of the book get replaced by a few lines of dialogue.

   That’s not all that gets replaced. Preacher Rigdon of the book is here a power-mad schoolteacher (I think I had him for English 101 in College) and middle-aged Marshal Bill Worden is now youngish Bill Jordan (John Agar) engaged to marry Ballard’s sister (Mamie Van Doren.)

   Best of all, nasty Ed Lake in the book is now Sam Hall, played with savage sensitivity by Richard Boone, a year before Have Gun, Will Travel and in those days a character actor to be reckoned with. I suspect Brodney knew he was writing for Boone, and wrote the part to fit him. His Sam Hall is educated, self-aware, and dangerous to know, a character at once sympathetic and frightening.

   With Boone as the lynch pin, Star in the Dust could have stopped right there, but producer Albert Zugsmith fills the movie with fine actors in choice parts. Leif Erickson radiates bluff duplicity as the scheming bad guy, slimy Robert Osterloh projects petty tyranny as the schoolmaster, while Paul Fix and James Gleason do a fine double-act as Agar’s deputy and the wanna-be janitor.

   Star in the DustEven better, Colleen Gray and Randy Stuart play off each other perfectly as the women who loved well but unwisely. Stuart in particular carries a moving rueful aspect as Erickson’s cast-off mistress, now married to Henry Morgan, as the loyal-but-not-bright Lew Hogan (Years later, Stuart also played Morgan’s wife in the 1960s Dragnet teleseries.)

   Best of all, Star in the Dust moves in a way the novel never did, filling eighty minutes with action under the fast-paced direction of Charles Haas.

   And by the way, in his one scene, a skinny young contract player named Clint Eastwood is what is usually and charitably termed adequate.


YELLOW SKY. 20th Century Fox, 1948. Gregory Peck, Anne Baxter, Richard Widmark, Robert Arthur, John Russell, Henry [Harry] Morgan, James Barton, Charles Kemper. Based on a story by W. R. Burnett. Director: William A. Wellman.

   How would you like to be Gregory Peck asthe leader of an outlaw gang that has someone like Richard Widmark as mamebr it? Not much, you say, and you’d be right. It goes about as well as you’d expect. As it turns out, though, they end up with two different goals in mind. Peck wants the girl (Anne Baxter), while Widmark wants the gold she and her grizzled old grandfather have dug out of their mine.

   The setting is a deserted old mining town named Yellow Sky, located right on the edge of Death Valley, which Peck and his men have just crossed. With her tight shirt and jeans, “Mike” is a sight for sore eyes, but not right away. All the outlaws want at first is water, and lots of it.

   Eventually, though, they begin to wonder what the girl and her grandpa are doing there, totally isolated as they are, miles from any sign of civilization. This is where — you guessed it — thoughts of the gold come in, and this is also exactly when rifts between the members of the gang begin.

   This is a well-constructed western movie that makes perfect use of its setting. It may be just a bit talky, but toward the end there’s plenty of gunplay and action for anyone who’s looking for that; after all, that’s what the whole film is building up to.

   As for Gregory Peck vs. Richard Widmark, you know exactly how that’s going to come out, and except for an ending that seems to be tacked on to satisfy the Movie Code, Peck does it quite convincingly.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


A DAY OF FURY. Universal, 1956. Dale Robertson, Jock Mahoney, Mara Corday, Jan Merlin and John Dehner. Written by James Edmiston and Oscar Brodney. Directed by Harmon Jones.

   Universal did a lot of Westerns in the 1950s, some of them big-budget productions, but mostly Technicolor B+ (or sometimes A-) features with minor stars like Audie Murphy, Rory Calhoun and Steven McNally. Some are rather good, a couple of them (CURTAIN CALL AT CACTUS CREEKK and Lewton’s APACHE DRUMS) off-beat, but nothing quite as weird as A DAY OF FURY.

   At age Six I found it thoroughly confusing, and sixty years on I find that most viewers still don’t get the subtle parable of the story. Gunfighter Dale Robertson rides on the scene, saves the life of Marshal Jock Mahoney, then proceeds to turn his town upside-down: In the course of one Sunday, the saloon fills up with hookers, a rich man turns pauper and killer, the Preacher incites a riot, the Schoolmarm gets disgraced as a trollop, the pillars of the community jail their Marshal, and that ain’t the half of it.

   All this carnage is presided over with malevolent ease by Robertson, who spends most of the film at a card-table, dealing confusion and disorder all about him. Robertson seems to enjoy the chance to play an out-and-out baddie, and he’s good enough at it that I wish he’d done it more often.

   As his nemesis, Jock Mahoney (my favorite Tarzan) is even more intriguing: impassive, speaking in riddles, and possessed of a serenity even when jailed, that seems almost – dare I say Christ-like?

   It fits. At one point preacher John Dehner calls Robertson a “creature out of Hell” and he certainly leads the townsfolk into outrageous evil. But all the way through, he evinces a vague unease (nice job there, Dale) in Mahoney’s presence that adds to the mysticism of the whole thing.

   Director Harmon Jones is hardly a major auteur of the Cinema, but he did a nice job with CITY OF BAD MEN and THE SILVER WHIP, and we needn’t dwell on GORILLA AT LARGE. Here he tackles a story lacking in action with a moving camera and intriguing set-ups. There’s also a bravura episode with Jan Merlin being chased around town through shifting shadows and charging torch-bearers, like Harry Beaton in BRIGADOON.

   A DAY OF FURY won’t suit action fans, nor those with a taste for wide open spaces, but those with a taste for the unusual may find it intriguing. I did.

   One final observation: Dale Robertson was known as “the left-handed gun,” which director Jones emphasizes in the final shoot-out – making the character literally sinister.


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


KEOMA. Far International Films, Italy, 1976. Also released as Django Rides Again and The Violent Breed. Franco Nero, William Berger, Olga Karlatos, Gabriela Giacobbe, and Woody Strode. Written & directed by Enzo Castellari.

   One of the Great Westerns.

   And I don’t mean just Spaghetti Westerns; KEOMA can stand right alongside STAGECOACH, RIDE LONSOME, THE NAKED SPUR or any other superb western you care to name, and for once I’m not kidding.

   I’ll say at the start (or close to the start, anyway) that KEOMA lacks the warmth of RIO BRAVO, the intimacy of MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, and the drama of MAN OF THE WEST. But what it lacks in Heart, it shellacs with Pizzazz. KEOMA’s visual sweep and choreographed camerawork boggle the eyes and dizzy the imagination.

   Also, Woody Strode gets one of the best death scenes ever in the movies.

   The plot here is a timeworn thing about the lethal drifter coming up against a ruthless small-town despot. It’s also just a launching pad for writer Castellari’s mysticism and director Castellari’s rich visuals, both of which get shown off in the very first scene as Keoma (the name means “far away.”) rides into a ghost town and talks with a witch about Destiny. The witch recalls a time when she saved Keoma as an infant, the camera pans across the ghost town, and suddenly, without apparent cutting, it has become a burned-out Indian village.

   Wowsa.

   I should also throw a bouquet here to Carlo Simi, who designed a Western Town that looks like the Gotham City of Tim Burton’s BATMAN: an Escher-style thing of twisting streets, half-built structures, and stairways rising to vertiginous nowheres.

   And another bouquet to stunt coordinator Rocco Lerro, who populates the despot’s army with hyperkinetic stuntmen and – more important – gives them lots of neat stuff to do. There’s one manic moment when a bad guy chasing Keoma rides pell-mell down the street, grabs one of those wooden posts that holds up the awning over the sidewalk, flies off his horse, spins around the post holding on one-handed, lands on a stairway and runs up just in time to get mowed down by Woody Strode’s shotgun and go flying back down the stairs, all in a single take.

   Wowsa.

   In the lead role, blue-eyed Franco Nero looks a bit like Jeffrey Hunter in KING OF KINGS, all the more so when Castellari’s script gets him crucified with a nod to Shakespear’s JULIUS CAESAR. Aside from that, Nero plays to his strengths: impassivity and silence. I can’t speak with authority on the other actors except to say that everyone is adequately dubbed in the voices familiar to those of us who watched the cheap foreign films that flooded the market in those days.

   Mostly though, this is a film of visuals and mystery. And as such it’s a thing of wonder and one not to be missed.


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


FIRECREEK. Warner Brothers/Seven Arts, 1968. James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Inger Stevens, Gary Lockwood, Dean Jagger, Ed Begley, Jay C. Flippen, Jack Elam, James Best, Barbara Luna, Jacqueline Scott, Brooke Bundy. Screenplay: Calvin Clements. Director: Vincent McEveety.

   You can see the rage in his eyes. Burning, passionate, unbridled rage – the type of rage that makes a decent man able to kill. That’s what you see in Jimmy Stewart’s eyes in the latter part of Firecreek, a slightly better than average Western from Warner Brothers-Seven Arts.

   Stewart portrays everyman Johnny Cobb, a farmer and part-time sheriff who, when pushed to the emotional breaking point by a gang of outlaws who have holed up in his small town, turns tough as nails and determined as hell to uproot the criminality that has taken root in his midst.

   Henry Fonda portrays the film’s villain, Bob Larkin. But Larkin’s not so much evil as he is a victim of circumstance, a passive actor in life who has become the brains of a mercenary outfit. When Larkin and his crew arrive in the small town of Firecreek, it’s not long before they discover they can have their way with the town. A town that Cobb eventually thinks is worth fighting for.

   But he’s fairly alone in that sentiment. Even the town’s shopkeeper, a former lawyer by the name of Whittier (Dean Jagger) thinks the town is filled with losers, himself among them. And truth be told, he’s got a point. There are quite a few social misfits and outcasts in Firecreek, including an Indian woman with a white baby and an overly flirtatious blonde girl living with her cruel, vindictive mother.

   Much like Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952), Stewart finds that the townsfolk are reluctant to stand up to the evil that is slowing eroding the social fabric of their community. But unlike that classic work of cinema, Firecreek aims for a greatness that it is unable to achieve.

   Part of this is due to the overly obtrusive score by Alfred Newman, one that was surely meant to heighten the emotional sentiment of certain scenes, but ends up overwhelming them in a saccharine haze. Furthermore, the movie, particularly for the first hour, feels more like an extended television melodrama than a feature film.

   A final note: Firecreek was released in 1968. It’s not that it’s a bad movie – Stewart and Fonda are such fine actors that they can carry nearly any vehicle – but that the movie appeared in theaters at a time that America and American cinema were rapidly changing. There’s something very 1950s about the whole production and most of all with Stewart’s character’s moral purity.

   Read one way, his character may have been (unintentionally or otherwise) meant to represent the old order standing up to a wild and out of control counterculture that didn’t respect traditional bourgeois values. After all, the following year, audiences watched Henry Fonda’s son Peter cruise the American road with Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider (1969). Johnny Cobb may have won the battle in Firecreek, but by the 1970s, American cinema wasn’t too keen on showcasing the simple, morally pure Johnny Cobbs of the world.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:         


VIGILANTES OF BOOMTOWN. Republic, 1947. Alan Lane (as Red Ryder), Robert Blake, Roy Barcroft, Peggy Stewart, George Cheseboro, Ted Adams and John Dehner. Screenplay by Earl Snell, based on characters created by Fred Harman. Directed by R.G. Springsteen.

CITY OF BAD MEN Fox, 1953. Jeanne Crain, Dale Robertson, Richard Boone, Lloyd Bridges, Rodolfo Acosta, John Doucette, Frank Ferguson, Percy Helton, Leo Gordon, Harry Hines and Don Haggerty. Writtten by George W. George and George Slavin. Directed by Harmon Jones.

   Something prompted me to watch a double bill of VIGILANTES OF BOOMTOWN (Republic, 1947) and CITY OF BAD MEN (Fox,1953) two undistinguished but very enjoyable B-westerns centered around the Corbett-Fitzsimmons prizefight in Carson City Nevada in 1897.

   VIGILANTES is a classic Red Ryder flick from Republic, with Alan Lane as the cowboy hero deputized to keep order in Carson City during the fight, young Robert Blake as Little Beaver, his Indian pal (and alleged comic relief) veteran Nasty Roy Barcroft as – well – as the veteran nasty who means to steal the gate receipts, and John Dehner, of all people, as Fitzsimmons. It’s a modest time-killer, but fast and unpretentious enough to make it fun.

   Republic was losing interest in Red Ryder about this time, and it shows. Crowd scenes are sparse, sets are familiar, and the action, while up to Republic’s usual high standard, somehow seems a bit blasé. What carries it through is the novelty of the idea and the professionalism of the players. Alan Lane, on the verge of getting his own series, is as stoically heroic as ever, Roy Barcroft flashes his evil grin with practiced malevolence, and when they square off for yet another fight, it’s with all the enthusiasm of yet another battle between Right and Wrong.



   CITY OF BAD MEN is slightly more ambitious, filmed in color with lots of extras and a characters a bit more shaded: Dale Robertson as an embittered soldier of fortune, deputized to keep order in Carson City during the fight, a young Lloyd Bridges (looking eerily like Randy Quaid!) as his edgy kid brother, and aspiring nasty Richard Boone as Johnny Ringo, who means to steal the gate receipts. I will also call attention here to Don Haggerty, an actor who had a long and mostly-uncredited career, as another rival owlhoot; the script doesn’t give him much to do, but he does it well.

   Again, it’s all pretty fast-paced and helped along considerably by Charles G. Clarke’s photography. Clarke was an old hand around Hollywood, whose credits include TARZAN AND HIS MATE, and he makes the thing very pleasing to the eye. Harmon Jones keeps things moving swiftly, with a sure hand on the action scenes.

   Both films, though, overlooked a ploy I would have thought almost obligatory: they both feature a struggle between the hero and the heavy while the prizefight is in progress, but apparently neither director thought to inter-cut the good-guys/bad-guys battle in the dust with the prize-fighters in the ring.

   Or maybe they did, and just figured it’d be too obvious. Whatever the case, both movies got along just fine without my help.


REVIEWED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


CAPTAIN APACHE. Scotia-Barber, Spain-UK, 1971. Lee Van Cleef (Capt. Apache), Carroll Baker, Stuart Whitman, Percy Herbert, Elisa Montes, Tony Vogel. Director: Alexander Singer.

   The thing I won’t forget about Captain Apache is undoubtedly the film’s theme song as it’s sung – spoken, really – by Lee Van Cleef, who portrays this quirky acid western’s titular hero, an Apache in the U.S. Calvary.

   Investigating the enigmatic last words of a dying Indian Commissioner, he finds hemself caught in a web of deception as he begins to uncover a conspiracy to assassinate the President Ulysses S. Grant, who is traveling through Arizona on his way to California. As he proceeds with his investigation, Captain Apache encounters a witch who piles him with hallucinogens, a motley crew of Mexican bandits, and an urbane scoundrel played to the hilt by a scene-chewing Stuart Whitman who also wants to know what the cryptic phrase “April Morning” means.

   There’s a lot of humor in Captain Apache, much of it goofy and borderline juvenile, one that surely was designed to elicit guffaws from European teenagers. It works for a while, but it soon wears out its welcome, making the scenes in which humor is employed less and less compelling as the movie begins to repeat itself. While there is a final sequence on a train that’s admittedly worth waiting for, it pales in comparison to so many other train scenes in so many other westerns, Spaghetti or not.

   I wouldn’t recommend anyone go out of their way to catch this one, but fans of Lee Van Cleef might appreciate seeing him in a starring role, one that apparently required that he shave off his trademark mustache and give his vocal cords a nice workout.


JACK SLADE. Allied Artists/Monogram, 1953. Mark Stevens, Dorothy Malone, Barton MacLane, John Litel, Paul Langton, Harry Shannon, Jim Bannon, Lee Van Cleef. Director: Harold D. Schuster.

   The Jack Slade of this dark and gritty biopic has nothing to do wuth the Cactus Jack Slade played by Kirk Douglas in The Villain, a disaster of a film which David Vineyard reviewed here on this blog not too long ago. There was a real Jack Slade, however, whose life resembles to some small degree the character Mark Stevens portrays in this still mostly fictional adaptation.

   I don’t believe the dark and often broody Mark Stevens was the leading man in very many movies, and his performance in this one is one that needs to grow on you while you’re watching. His portrayal of a man who’s good with a gun and obsessed since early childhood with eliminating as many of the outlaws of the west as he can, a one man instrument of revenge, is riveting. He is, in the end, as much an outlaw as the many that he is killed.

   Unfortunately the script does the film in, trying to cram too much into a 90 minute movie, losing some significant points of continuity and telling more often than showing. Dorothy Malone is marvelous as the young exotic beauty who falls in love with him as soon as her eyes fall on him, but Barton MacLane as Jules Reni, Slade’s constant nemesis, is far too oafish and dim-witted to be believable.

   Lee Van Cleef, at least, in a role far too short, has the sense to back off when he sees Slade draw, saying “That’s fast enough.”


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