The Battle at Apache Pass

You might be forgiven for thinking the concept of the sequel or prequel was an invention of modern-day Hollywood, such is the frequency with which it is discussed and/or complained about on various internet fora. The fact is though such phenomena have been around a long time, the film industry never being one to pass up the opportunity to cash in on a winning formula. Delmer Daves had made one of the earliest and best of what has become known as the pro-Indian cycle of westerns in Broken Arrow and this was followed up a few years later by George Sherman’s The Battle at Apache Pass (1952), which saw Jeff Chandler reprise his role as the Apache leader Cochise. The film may not be quite the equal of its predecessor but with Sherman calling the shots it’s still a fairly strong entry, visually striking and featuring the kind of smooth economy characteristic of much of the director’s work.

With the Civil War raging to the east the army is stretched thin, so thin in fact that frontier outposts are being abandoned as the troops are transferred to the front line. The opening sees a fort in flames as its occupants move out and the hawkish Geronimo (Jay Silverheels) watches and ponders the implications. One man’s trouble is, as always, another’s opportunity and Geronimo see the chance to wrench back control of the territory formerly ceded to the might of the cavalry. The stumbling block to the belligerent warrior’s plans is the Chiricahua chief Cochise (Jeff Chandler), a man intent on finding some means of peaceful co-existence with the white interlopers. Cochise has reached a sort of informal understanding with the local army commander, Major Colton (John Lund). If Cochise is faced with internal challenges, then the same can be said of Colton. In fact, the soldier’s difficulties are greater as they come from  three directions – the scheming Indian agent Baylor (Bruce Cowling), the inexperienced and regulation-obsessed Lt Bascom (John Hudson), and a disreputable profiteer by the name of Mescal Jack (Jack Elam). Baylor is an ambitious man, one who is prepared to go to any lengths to achieve his aims, and has no hesitation in using the aggression of Geronimo along with the foolishness of Bascom and the greed of Mescal Jack to start a shooting war that will increase his personal power. The result of Baylor’s machinations is that Colton and Cochise are reluctantly forced into a confrontation neither man wants, and one which both of them knows can only end badly. The climax comes in the form of the titular battle, a spectacular affair which will see much blood spilled, and marks the beginning of the long and brutal Apache Wars, but also one which ends on a cautiously optimistic note.

The movie blends a number of historical events, principally what is known as the Bascom affair and the battle of the title.The former saw the attempted capture of Cochise using the ruse of a fake parley and led to a serious erosion of trust between the warring parties. The latter was one of those few occasions when the native Americans engaged the army in a face-to-face pitched battle, and suffered heavy casualties when the soldiers used artillery to blast them out of the rocks of Apache Pass. Sherman’s direction of the action scenes, particularly the climactic battle, is exemplary and shows evidence of  fairly large budget. However, the film is more than just a handful of set pieces strung together; Sherman knew how to tell human stories and the glue which holds it all together is the relationship between Colton and Cochise, and also the tenderness and love between the Apache chief and his wife Nona (Susan Cabot). This is what lends depth to the film, the bonds of love and loyalty, trust and honor, and it makes the climactic payoff all the more affecting. On a purely technical level, Sherman’s compositions are breathtaking at times, approaching Fordian proportions as he glories in the vastness and magnificence of the Utah locations, with ant-like human figures dwarfed by the ancient, primal landscape.

The Battle at Apache Pass was Jeff Chandler’s second go at portraying Cochise, and he would return to the role briefly at the beginning of Douglas Sirk’s Taza, Son of Cochise two years later. There have been comments in the past on this site relating to white actors portraying Native Americans, and I’d just like to take the opportunity to quickly address the matter here and forestall any (in my view) unnecessary complaints  – films such as the one in question in no way demonstrate any disrespect to the people on screen, and it actually goes to great lengths to make the point that the Apache were more wronged against. The casting decisions of over 60 years ago are what they are and shouldn’t be judged according to 21st Century standards – the fact remains that films such as this wouldn’t have been made at all if it weren’t for the casting of white actors in leading parts. For me, the crucial matter is how the parts were played rather than who played them. Jeff Chandler’s Cochise fully embodies the notions of dignity and honor; there’s no caricature on display, there’s merely a real human being concerned with the welfare of the people he leads and the woman he loves. The same could be said of Susan Cabot, who brings a real sense of grace and propriety to her part. John Lund doesn’t get mentioned often but he was a fine actor – I thought he was excellent opposite Barbara Stanwyck in No Man of Her Own – and has the right kind of weary decency as the army veteran. Richard Egan is another actor who really ought to have gone on to better things – his role as the sergeant here is very impressive and the interaction with, and deference towards, Susan Cabot’s Nona is a notable aspect of the movie. And let’s not forget Jack Elam, a familiar face in so many films. If ever a man was born to play slippery villains, then it was Elam and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here.

The Battle at Apache Pass is widely available in Europe, although I’m not sure if it’s been released in the US. I have the German DVD from Koch Media, and I’d imagine the other versions probably use the same master, which presents the film reasonably well. The colors are strong and true but there is a little softness from time to time and the presence of cue blips attest to the fact there hasn’t been any restoration undertaken. As is the case with most of George Sherman’s films, it’s both visually attractive and interesting in terms of theme. I liked it and recommend checking it out.

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59 thoughts on “The Battle at Apache Pass

  1. I agree it is a fairly entertaining movie. I saw it some time ago as it was directed by George Sherman, who I found to be dependable in a western. Best regards.

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    • Thanks, Chris. I actually watched the film a couple of times over the last few months as I was impressed both by Sherman’s direction and Chandler’s solid central performance.

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  2. Thanks for this Colin. Chandler is an actor I liked a lot and who would, I think, be remembered much more had he not died so young (either way, among fans he seems to have survived the revelation of his cross-dressing with indignity intact, which i think is very telling). I know I’ve seen this movie but it was ages ago – I was intrigued by the many positive things you say about Sherman, who I have always thought of, mainly in ignorance, as a journeyman at best – – if we were being auteurist, what would you consider to be Sherman’s best movies?

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  3. Not really wanting to beat Blake to the Sherman debate,and I am sure his comments will
    follow soon,but here are my Sherman picks.
    I certainly endorse all the titles that you mention Colin, and would certainly recommend the
    Koch Blu-Ray of WAR ARROW (also starring Chandler) which is presented in widescreen.
    The Koch Blu Ray certainly gives Sherman’s film more of an “epic” feel.
    It’s also interesting how Sherman’s Westerns were generally very pro Native American.
    I feel the most underrated of Sherman’s Westerns is HELL BENT FOR LEATHER which
    is also my favorite Audie Murphy Western,.
    At the time BATTLE OF APACHE PASS was made Sherman was more or less Universals
    top contract director. Budd Boetticher mentioned how MGM wanted Sherman to direct
    LONE STAR but Universal refused to release him. Boetticher thought this was a big mistake
    as he was convinced Sherman could have enticed Gable over to Universal.
    Of course there are lots of Sherman films out there awaiting re-discovery not yet released
    to DVD. A couple of big budget Columbia A Westerns RENEGADES and RELENTLESS are
    excellent. The former is a very romantic Western which I feel would have great appeal to
    people who don’t generally like Westerns. We certainly don’t associate Larry Parks with
    Westerns but he does a really good job as the doomed member of an outlaw clan.
    Sherman of course did not only direct Westerns,his Noir LARCENY is a much sought after
    film which I hope gets a DVD release sooner rather than later.
    I may go into more details about LARCENY (spoiler free) later
    Other very interesting Sherman films from this period are the very interesting wartime drama
    TARGET UNKNOWN and the excellent thriller THE RAGING TIDE.
    There are a couple of interesting Westerns starring Guy Madison on the missing list as well.
    REPRISAL! is a wonderful little programmer and would nowadays be classed as an “Anti
    Racist Western” I know Colin,that you have stated over at Toby’s how much you like the
    “house style” of the Columbia Western programmers,but REPRISAL! is REALLY special
    and is in a totally different class to all those Sam Katzman,Wallace MacDonald films; which
    I also really like. THE HARD MAN also starring Madison is also first rate,a complex little movie
    with an unforgettable opening scene.
    As the Fifties drew on Sherman was less choosy about his projects,the guy was a prolific,
    hard working director but there’s still interesting stuff in the mix.
    THE FIERCEST HEART I have fond memories of a sort of “South African Western” that I’d
    love to see again-interesting cast too.
    SON OF ROBIN HOOD sees Sherman off his home turf,in England in this engaging parody
    of Swashbucklers,it’s a beautiful looking film. The Fox MOD is horrific a pan & scan horror
    with dire p.q. I’d love to see this film get a proper release.SON NOF ROBIN HOOD played
    in England as a main feature with the RegalScope Western FRONTIER GUN in support.
    There is also FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE a Fox release through Sherman’s own production
    imprint which I have never seen but would sure like too.
    Sherman later gave us BIG JAKE which I class one of the very best of The Duke’s later films,.
    Oops,I forgot to mention Sherman like many esteemed Hollywood directors had a go at a
    Spaghetti Western MURIETA (aka VENDETTA) I certainly liked it at the time,and Warner Archive
    do have the film as a future release.The star combo of Jeffrey Hunter and Arthur Kennedy
    certainly raise this one a notch or two.

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      • Many thanks for your kind words.
        I should also mention that Sherman’s Noir THE SLEEPING CITY is also worth checking
        out. SWORD IN THE DESERT starring Chandler and Dana Andrews is also worth mentioning
        as the film was banned in England and has never been commercially shown.there.The government
        were upset about the way British soldiers were portrayed. It’s very hard to see what all the
        fuss is about today and it’s a very interesting and well made film with an excellent cast.
        I also really like his other Joel McCrea Western THE LONE HAND which has some striking
        location work.

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          • SWORD IN THE DESERT was included in a “banned” season at London’s National Film
            Theatre several decades ago.I enjoyed the film as a very well made political thriller with a
            stellar cast.
            Interestingly,in the programme notes it stated that the film was shown at a left-wing cinema in
            London’s West End at the time and riots broke out headed by demonstrators from the extreme
            right.The films unfair “banning” by the UK government had more to do with the political climate
            in England at the time.I find it amazing that there was a left-wing cinema in London’s West End
            in 1949!

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            • Thanks for that John – all sounds really fascinating. I think many film clubs would have been of a progressive kind and in the immediate post-war period that was still a good word to use. It all got much more hawkish in the 50s once Churchill and eden came back in and the Empire started to truly break up

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    • Pretty comprehensive stuff, John, and very helpful as always.
      Reprisal! is a film I’ve been hearing great things about for a long time now and it’s high up on my wanted list.

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  4. Just as promised,a few thoughts on LARCENY and other films
    I always thought LARCENY was a rather twisted Noir with it’s central premise of slimy
    Dan Duryea (at his most venal) and his heartless team of grifters trying to fleece the oh so
    trusting widow of a war hero (Joan Caulfield) The film seems to be saying-the time for heroes
    is over now it’s make as much money as possible by any means possible.
    Certainly Sherman’s film deserves to be far more well known
    Oddly enough Colin, and I know that you are a fan of these Network vintage Brit Flicks a couple
    came to my attention the other day which would have been way off my radar.
    Luckily a friend lent me his copies and I’m glad that he did because otherwise I would have
    totally passed them by.
    Firstly THE INTRUDER,which I was aware of really impressed me and I wondered how I have
    been so unaware of how good this film is.
    Even better is SILENT DUST a film that I have never heard of. Both films have a theme of
    Post War adjustment and both films,being British “Class” is a main issue,though in totally
    different ways in each film. The transfers on both films are wonderful.
    Some of the attitudes and themes that developed in British and American Post-War films
    are really interesting and the three aforementioned films are three of the best examples.
    Sorry,Colin,to deviate way beyond Apache Pass..

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    • Deviate all you want, John – it’s all very welcome. I’ve bought a bunch of Network Brit flicks in the recent sale and it’s great to get feedback on titles which are unfamiliar to me.

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  5. This is one I haven’t seen, and I’m a big Sherman fan. Now I’ve really got to track it down. Another great post, Colin.

    Sherman was certainly worthy of bigger pictures, but I’m kinda glad he kept cranking out the medium-budget Westerns. His are certainly among the best.

    One that I’m currently in love with is Last Of The Fast Guns. In less capable hands, it could’ve been a real mess. And it’s nice to see his outdoor stuff in CinemaScope.

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    • Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to source a copy of the movie, Toby, and I reckon you’d like it a lot.
      I think Sherman added a lot of polish to those mid-budget movies and made them look and feel more expensive. The Last of the Fast Guns is flat out terrific in my opinion and one of the neglected gems of 50s western filmmaking.

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  6. I’d agree with that one, Colin and Toby – I think “LAST OF THE FAST GUNS” is generally under-rated and should not be. And any western starring Jock (or Jack) Mahoney is a must for me.

    John referred briefly to it earlier but I rate 1948’s “RELENTLESS” as one of Sherman’s finest. I acquired a quality copy only last year and watched it recently (had seen it decades ago on TV). I never think of Robert Young in relation to westerns but really I found him a convincing western lead in this. Also found Marguerite Chapman to be way more than the pretty lead female with not much to do. I think these facts are attributable to Sherman’s expert way around the western film.

    Sorry, Colin, I also seem to have deviated. Another fine review from you and I am in accord with you on the issue of a white actor playing an indian.

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    • Thanks, Jerry.
      I think if more people were able to see The Last of the Fast Guns, it’s stock would rise. The more I see of Sherman’s work, the more I like it and I only wish it was easier to track down some of his movies – Relentless sounds very interesting, not least for the casting of Young. I think the only genuine western I’ve seen him in was Lang’s Western Union.

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  7. Surprise to note John found Son Of Robin Hood an engaging film. I enjoyed watching it a long time ago and most reviews were not encouraging. Best regards.

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  8. SON OF ROBIN HOOD is a piece of nonsense but I find it great fun. It’s full of quirky offbeat
    touches.It’s the only time Sherman worked for Lippert and I believe the budget was around
    $300.000 which meant Fox could pass the film off as a main feature in rural venues in
    America and overseas,especially the UK.
    At any rate it’s a handsome looking film and the fine cast seem to be having a grand old time.
    I love scene where June Laverick posing as a “page boy” in Robin Hood’s old camp is suddenly
    slapped on the butt by a burly “merrie man” “Arrgh!…we’re a rough lot but you’ll get used to
    us!” he says.
    Delphi Lawrence is great fun as a sort of 13th century cougar and Phillip Friend is the evil
    nobleman who has lost his taste for torture.David Farrar chews up the scenery giving us his
    best Basil Rathbone impression!
    The film was intended to be a bit of fun and as that it delivers in spades.
    If someone,somewhere would issue a Blu-Ray edition in the correct ratio I’d jump at it.

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  9. Just to say that the stories regarding Jeff Chandler’s propensity for cross dressing were propagated
    by ‘Movie Mermaid’ Esther Williams in order to sell more copies of her autobiography and were later
    revealed to have been untrue. I think it would be a shame if Jeff’s legacy should be tarnished with any of the Hollywood Babylon vibe. Can’t agree about RELENTLESS though. It would have been a very good picture without Robert Young. Young is about as much a Westerner as Fred Astaire …

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    • You know, Nick, I’ve never been all that concerned about the private affairs of actors or gossip surrounding them, unless it had some impact on their performances. I do dislike it though when I hear of stories being spread maliciously by their colleagues just to make a quick buck – that’s rather distasteful.

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  10. Nick,of the few Westerns Robert Young made he was totally overshadowed by Randolph
    Scott in WESTERN UNION and was pretty hopeless in THE HALF BREED which is one
    bad Western. In RELENTLESS I thought Young was pretty good,though I have always thought
    the film would have been amazing had Joel McCrea took the lead. The film seemed like a
    tailor made role for McCrea.
    THE HARD MAN is a Sherman film that tends to get lost in the mix,apart from the incredible
    opening scene where Guy Madison is forced to kill his one time buddy (Myron Healey)
    during a rainstorm,there is a tense showdown later in the film with Rudy Bond.
    Bond plays a swaggering “bully boy” gunslinger and Madison literally “breaks” him in a duel
    of wits.It’s an amazing scene unlike anything I have ever seen in a Western,you can literally
    see the cogs ticking over in Bond’s mind!
    Sherman’s films always had great bad-guy roles,often they were far more interesting than
    the heroes.

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  11. Your writing on the casting choices of 60 years ago are well thought out and agreed upon. As you say films of this subject would never have been made.
    As for Elam he’s always a good casting choice when the films needed that little extra something in their villains.

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    • Thanks, Mike. Elam didn’t always get very much screen time – this film offers him a reasonable amount though, I think – which seems a shame to me. That face of his just had dishonesty written all over it and you know there’s going to be an interesting villain on show when his name is in the credits.

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  12. Hi Colin…hope all is well in your part of the world. I always appreciate your skill in writing and as you have noted, I have previously expressed my views on the choice of casting non-Indigenous actors in Indigenous roles. What I can add at this point is that some of the very first Western films of the early 20th century actually dealt with Indigenous rights AND cast Indigenous actors in the roles. Thomas Ince’s The Invaders (1912) presented the story of the white settler government signing and then breaking a treaty with the Sioux people. The key roles in that silent film had Oglala Sioux in the parts. Film studios then strangely went away from that accurate approach before returning later in the century.

    While I agree that films such as the above and Broken Arrow (1950) are important in terms of the ideas they share, in my view, they are transitional works in the process by which later Westerns – e.g. The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) – actually got back to sharing issues of Indigenous rights with Indigenous actors in the key roles.

    Thanks for your time,
    Chad
    http://westernsreboot.com/

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    • Hi, Chad. Thought I might have caught your attention with this one. 😉
      My own position is essentially one of not getting overly stressed by the practices of the time. There were native Americans cast in many westerns at that time – Ford frequently did so, and there are quite a few who appear in this film. The fact is though there weren’t any “name” actors from the indigenous population who could be cast in lead roles in this era, and a recognizable star was certainly necessary to get the movies made and then sell them to the public. As I said, the realistic alternative would be the films not being made at all, and that’s not something I’d wish for.

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  13. Hi Colin….thanks for the reply. I appreciate the importance of “catching” an audience’s attention with a “name” actor but do think that such can always be/could have been done with the non-Indigenous lead roles if a given Indigenous actor is lesser known. The question remains…at what point does a director recognize the importance of an Indigenous actor as a voice for his/her people and take a chance on them? From the beginning of the genre in film (and TV), directors have always had that option and in my view, it was simply a matter of doing it…as at some point any actor, Indigenous or not, is “lesser known”.

    Again, there are important ideas contained in the above film but the “delivery system” for those ideas, if you will, was still in a state of development toward a better form that was more truly representative.

    Thanks again for your time,
    Chad
    http://westernsreboot.com/

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  14. I haven’t seen it – again! – but I very much liked Broken Arrow and Jeff Chandler especially, just for sheer physical presence but also the easy charisma. I was fortunate enough to be given a copy of MAN IN THE SHADOW on DVD a little while ago and loved that also, so I’ll be looking out for this one.

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    • If you enjoyed Broken Arrow, Mike, then I think you would like this film too. Chandler’s very good, it’s well paced, and looks attractive.
      Man in the Shadow is a neat little modern western which I wrote about in the past here – it’s pretty good overall.

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  15. Chandler … an interesting actor. It’s rather amazing to see the number of actors who not only successfully transferred from radio to film, but became Stars!
    Cochise twice? I wonder if Chandler was worried that he’s get typecast? LoL. Not likely. But under the Studio system, if they said you were Cochise, you were Cochise. A man’s gotta work. Besides next week I’m Michael Shayne or Philip Marlowe or …

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    • Three times actually, don’t forget the quick appearance at the beginning of Taza, Son of Cochise. I think typecasting was more of a concern for those actors working on series movies. Even then, as you say, contract players tended to be cast in so many varied vehicles quite quickly that there was always a new part just round the corner. I still have a good few of his movies to see but I don’t think I’ve come across one yet that disappointed me.

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  16. ” if we were being auteurist, what would you consider to be Sherman’s best movies?”

    I know that Colin and John Knight have weighed in very well on this already. I clipped this line from early post of Cavershamragu just so I could note right away that I AM an auteurist. And I do see George Sherman from that perspective. In Colin’s wonderful piece on Western directors and great discussion that followed (TEN OF THE BEST – WESTERN DIRECTORS if you want to look this up), I named my own twelve greatest directors of Westerns and he was one of them. In his case, it’s not so much any special film or films so much, though these are not absent in his body of work, but because he is so steadily excellent, almost always engaging, in many Westerns, and the best of these all made in the genre’s peak years.

    A few things stand out from an auteurist standpoint —

    The redemption theme that Colin writes about a lot here is one Sherman engages beautifully, often letting it play quietly and almost unexpectedly–THE LAST OF THE FAST GUNS, THE TREASURE OF PANCHO VILLA, DAWN AT SOCORRO especially notable in this respect, and I’d add that each of these three has many other artful qualities. Of the more than forty Shermans I’ve seen, I would say these are the three best, especially the first, which I’ve long considered his masterpiece (and nice to see others taking up for it already in this discussion). Sherman plainly connected with the redemption theme and not only in Westerns–the contemporary-set THE RAGING TIDE, an offbeat noirish movie starring Richard Conte with an explicitly religious thrust, also has it.

    Given the moral vision of those films, it’s nor surprising that Sherman is one of the strongest figures in the Indian film. This remains consistent for him through his maturity, especially in the early 50s when the Indian cycle was so rich. From COMANCHE TERRITORY in 1950 (not as strong a project as BROKEN ARROW or DEVIL’S DOORWAY but its Indian sympathies are very evident), he has about one movie a year in the cycle through his Universal-International contract, and then after that is over, COMANCHE and REPRISAL! At times I’ve thought BATTLE AT APACHE PASS was best of his Indian films and still admire it but I’m not sure about this now–TOMAHAWK which preceded it is very strong too, also CHIEF CRAZY HORSE (I haven’t seen this in proper ‘Scope ratio in years and may get a European release) and the powerful REPRISAL! which was made at a point when the cycle was moving away from historical subjects to more intimate ones of prejudice. Beyond being fiercely anti-racist, REPRISAL! is even more interesting as a study of its hero, who is trying to suppress his Indian identity, doing so at tragic cost, and finally embraces it–here too, the redemption theme plays out and this time for an Indian. A movie that is still too underrated!

    Sherman’s visual style, which is generally magnificent, making B movies and programmers look like As, and again, this is especially true of awesome Mexican locations in LAST OF THE FAST GUNS that I have not seen in any other movie. Most great directors of Westerns have a feeling for making locations expressive, and even imbuing them with spiritual qualities, and he is no exception. One other thing he does that impresses me is to often stage climactic action scenes on some kind of ascending terrain or slope. Of course THE BATTLE OF APACHE PASS is a good example and was a natural for this because of the kind of battle it was, but you’ll see this in other Shermans too (like FAST GUNS and PANCHO VILLA).

    I generally like the films of Sherman that Colin and John K. have already mentioned. I’ve been hit and miss on the dozen that follow FAST GUNS but agree at this point his level of cinema was being hurt by where cinema was going and he seems to become more uneven. That said, I have not seen FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE or THE FIERCEST HEART or MURIETTA and of course I would like to.

    In addition to ones I’ve already mentioned as being among his best, I would add THE LONE HAND–a very strong father and son drama though as good as it is, I always feel like the climax could be stronger and would benefit from being a little more violent. Still, that one is very high for me, and I’d emphasize that even if his Westerns are usually best, some of the non-Westerns also stand out. THE SLEEPING CITY (again with Richard Conte and very interesting Coleen Gray character) is one of my favorites and the unusual SWORD IN THE DESERT is very impressive too.

    Not a lot of lighter movies in there but two Donald O’Connor musical comedies are very enjoyable and done with a lot of flair (YES SIR, THAT’S MY BABY–a movie much too hard to find now–and FEUDIN’, FUSSIN’ AND A-FIGHTIN’ which is on DVD).

    I might mention a few actors he worked with. In my three favorite Shermans, Gilbert Roland is one of the leads twice (FAST GUNS with Jock Mahoney and PANCHO VILLA with Rory Calhoun), while Rory Calhoun also appears twice, in DAWN AT SOCORRO as well as PANCHO VILLA. Both are at their best (and Mahoney too, enough to make one sorry they only worked together once), so he was definitely able to forge some good relationships with certain actors.

    A standout in that regard is Guy Madison in REPRISAL! and THE HARD MAN. Madison was never so good as in those two movies. I want to second John Knight’s specific comments about the second of these because he singled out the two sequences that I also would. The opening scene in which Madison reluctantly shoots it out with old friend Myron Healey in the rain is especially striking. The hard rain does so much to make it an unusual scene, and of course the fact that it is Healey, who was always so good even in the smallest roles, makes it even better. I’m not sure that the movie is ever quite this good again–it has its virtues and its weak points though its portrait of Madison’s central character is always interesting. But Sherman’s direction of the scene in which Madison faces down Rudy Bond is especially impressive because it’s all filmed from behind Bond and facing Madison, whose behavior and insights into Bond (the faster gun) are so compelling.

    Colin, I liked this piece on THE BATTLE AT APACHE PASS very much and it probably couldn’t be said better within the space you give it. I’m not sure that I think it’s lesser than BROKEN ARROW, even if less celebrated. They are both strong individual works as well as being related in a way that I find meaningful, so this doesn’t seem an opportunistic prequel to me, even though no doubt part of the motivation was commercial–BROKEN ARROW makes references to the real historical event of the Battle of Apache Pass and gets us interested in that earlier history, in which Cochise, though wanting peace even then, was forced by circumstance to be a fighter, so we see that side of him more in that film. I think people who are interested in Indian Westerns will want to see both movies.

    Also, must add that I think Jeff Chandler is outstanding–and totally convincing–as Cochise in both movies (and briefly in TAZA, SON OF COCHISE too); he’s an actor I’ve always liked and this did remain one of his best roles. I thought all night about writing another post to take up for the 50s Indian cycle (and some films of the early to mid-60s too) as the best and deepest Indian films ever, as well as some more comments on the casting of Indian characters through those years, but you know, you’ve already said it so well–and in your original piece here you even wrote eloquently in an attempt to forestall that discussion. We agree about this, but sometime it might be good to go over a little the history of representation in art–starting perhaps with the use of masks in Greek tragedy. The one person who quarreled with what you said comes from a completely different perspective than you and I do, but I already knew, as you do, that he strongly believes in it.

    We do all need to find our own way with these things, and that’s something I respect. In a more general way though, I do want to offer this thought–following what could be described as more of a political position in how works of art are created, as well as what they are supposed to express, is different than finding an aesthetic position to deal with those works. With the latter, however they may be effectively created is the important thing, and in the way subjects are treated some complexity of attitude, which may bring in ambivalence as well as balance, makes for a deeper work than simply making one’s sympathies obvious. In regard to Indian films, for example, Daves was one of the directors who, like Sherman, was progressive and clearly pro-Indian–all the more impressive then, that in an account of the Modoc wars, it is the Indian Captain Jack (non-Indian Charles Bronson who makes the character easily the film’s richest and most compelling) who is the antagonist, and a very brutal one, though in the film’s subtext we can understand if not condone his actions. The reality is that there have been few post-classical Indian Westerns that are really outstanding as opposed to the many that were within that cycle.

    I don’t want to start my own book here but it can’t be said enough: the Western of the 1950s was a perfected genre–as narrative art it was at its best worthy of Homeric epics and Shakespearean plays (both of which also drew from history as well as the imagination). In this period the genre did everything well, being popular with a wide audience while treating characters, both male and female, as well as all kinds of relationships, with insight and exploring the most profound motifs in the most mature and satisfying way–the effects of violence and revenge on the individual, the search for redemption and spiritual renewal. And yes, it could and often did rise to this level in its treatment of Indians, and of white/Indian relations, and the complex history around them, as well.

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    • Firstly, Blake, many thanks for what I can only describe as a truly epic comment. You’ve covered so much territory here that I think I need a while to digest all of it.

      I’ve been delighted to read all the feedback on Sherman’s movies, first from John and now yourself, and I find it very useful as I try to work my way through as much of his filmography as I’m able to.

      I also appreciate your thoughts on the casting issue, although I already knew we both take a similar view of the matter, especially the way you contextualize it and attempt to link it into a historical and artistic timeline; for some reason, film seems to be evaluated or judged differently in comparison to other art forms, and criticisms tend to get leveled at it of a kind that wouldn’t arise with other examples of art. Perhaps it’s the superficial sheen of reality which the camera and the moving image lends it, but approaching it solely in those terms surely diminishes its status as art.

      Anyway, that’s simply an initial reaction – as I said, I think I’ll be revisiting this contribution to take in a bit more, and perhaps comment further. Again, I’m deeply grateful you took the (I’m sure not inconsiderable) time to compose such a detailed and thought-provoking response.

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  17. I couldn’t agree more with Blake’s comment about Captain Jack(Charles Bronson). In fact Drum Beat is one of my favourite ‘Indian’ westerns of all times. Best regards.

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  18. I was wondering when Blake was going to contribute and after reading his “epic” reply, I now know why he took his time……………marvelous stuff.
    I would like to, if I may, expand on a theme that I touched on over at Toby’s which was tied in with the announcement of the Blu-Ray edition of CANYON PASSAGE. That film is very special to me, as indeed it is to Blake and Colin. I for one have to have that film in the best possible “stand alone” version on the market, which I am sure the Koch Blu-Ray will be. There is a very interesting short feature on Tourneur on the just released Arrow Blu-Ray of THE COMEDY OF TERRORS. Blake and Colin will not learn anything new in this feature but it does at least detail Tourneur’s decline in stature in the industry highlighting CANYON PASSAGE as the type of film Tourneur was making when he was truly an A list director. I love THE COMEDY OF TERRORS and the Arrow Blu-Ray looks sensational. By the time Tourneur made the film he had not made a feature in several years and even previous to that accepted virtually everything he was offered.

    All of this got me thinking of how once esteemed directors were finding it very tough by the time the late Fifties arrived. The Arrow feature interestingly states how Tourneur’s fellow Val Lewton directors (Robert Wise, Mark Robson) careers soared while Tourneur’s went into decline. Fritz Lang found little work in the late Fifties and Allan Dwan was reduced to making programmer quickies. Needless to say, these guys always brought something to the most middling material. Dwan’s HOLD BACK THE NIGHT (1956) is a far cry from the glossy stuff he was making for RKO earlier, the low budget shows in the constant use of rear projection, but in spite of all this it’s a really good film unusual and diverting. In fact as Korean War films go, it’s superior to the much higher budget FLIGHT NURSE a few years earlier, which I also like BTW.

    George Sherman also found that he was offered far less prestige projects at this time as opposed to his glory days at Universal. Sherman was above all a hard-working director and even lightweight fare like the aforementioned SON OF ROBIN HOOD has diverting elements, it entertains, and within its modest budget it’s a very well made film. Sherman did have some sort of producer role during his late Fifties early Sixties work at Fox, and I would love to see FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE, which seems like a film that he had more or less complete control over. It’s a boy and a horse saga but it’s in widescreen and color and it’s shot by Alex Phillips (THE WONDERFUL COUNTRY, LAST OF THE FAST GUNS) ..that’s all I really need to know!

    I’m going to break this down into a two-parter because Luddite that I am I have a habit of “losing” epic threads!

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  19. Part two……….
    In spite of some of the middling material Sherman was doing in the late Fifties he had a tremendous return to form with HELL BENT FOR LEATHER. Don’t watch this film as a pan & scan horror get the Koch DVD which shows Sherman’s wonderful widescreen compositions off to great advantage. I also understand there is a UK DVD out there somewhere as well. I certainly hope that a Blu-Ray of this wonderful Western surfaces at some point. Again,it’s one of those films that I love so much I just have to have the best available version on the market. As I have said before, I consider it Audie Murphy’s finest Western and Ulrich of Explosive Media certainly agrees with me as I sent him a “begging e-mail” asking him to consider a Blu-ray edition of this film.

    Regarding hard working directors in the late Fifties, I thought that I would bring a couple of other guys into the mix. Firstly Joseph M Newman who I know Blake, at least, likes a lot. Newman made some pretty impressive films at Fox, and Universal in the early to mid Fifties, but as the decade progressed the going got tougher. High points during that time were two excellent Joel McCrea Westerns FORT MASSACRE and THE GUNFIGHT AT DODGE CITY. Newman too took less than prestige projects, DEATH IN SMALL DOSES is an Allied Artists quickie about truck drivers popping pills. It is however under Newman’s knowing direction “B Movie Bliss” (I stole a line from Laura,but hey,I only steal from the best 🙂
    I have not seen TARZAN THE APE MAN (1959)which is generally trashed but I still want to see it for Newman’s involvement alone. I do have a friend of very dubious taste who thinks it’s great. The film looks like another attempt from schlockmeister Al Zimbalist to yet again use left over footage from KING SOLOMON’S MINES. In spite of all this, Newman still had one more great movie left to make the criminally underrated A THUNDER OF DRUMS (1961) that’s one great Indians vs cavalry drama with a truly stellar cast, certainly one of the key Westerns of the Sixties.

    For reasons that I’ve stated before this is now going to be a three-parter.

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    • John, I certainly like A Thunder of Drums, and wrote about it two or three years ago. Richard Boone is excellent, as usual, but I was less impressed by George Hamilton.
      Newman is probably best known these days for being in charge of This Island Earth, a movie I’m very fond of. In addition to the titles you mentioned, I also thought The Outcasts of Poker Flat was a very fine piece of work.

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  20. Part three…..
    Someone else on this “directors in decline” theme I want to discuss is Kurt Neumann. Neumann’s falling down the quality scale seems to have been more or less self imposed. Someone over at Toby’s mentioned how much they are looking forward to the forthcoming Warner Archive release of Neumann’s BAD MEN OF TOMBSTONE (1948), and quite right too because it’s a real goodie. The film shows Neumann’s progress from B Movies to more prestige projects. I guess it’s a B+ movie or A- whichever you prefer. At any rate it’s an extremely well directed film.

    After a stint at Universal where Neumann made two very engaging well made Westerns (THE KID FROM TEXAS, CATTLE DRIVE) Neumann seemed to chose his own career path. He moved to Hollywood from his native Germany in the early Thirties and his taste in films at least remained very Germanic. He had two main obsessions tales of the American Indians and Science Fiction. Making the films that he wanted to make he ended up working for experts of low budget fare Allied Artists/Mirisch, Lippert and Edward Alperson. Neumann was already a veteran when he made ROCKETSHIP XM for Lippert and the film is a masterclass in poverty row film-making, it just looks a lot more expensive than it was to make. Lippert usually avoided hiring veterans,he preferred hungry young hopefuls like Sam Fuller, who would work quickly and for peanuts. Lippert certainly made the right call with Neumann as the film was a considerable hit.

    With his “Native American Sagas” Neumann made HIAWATHA for Allied Artists and actually it’s quite good. He also made MOHAWK for Alperson, which is not very good and its chock full of stock footage from DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK. Undeterred, Neumann also cranked out THE DEERSLAYER (1957) for Lippert who upgraded the budget to color and CinemaScope. Have not seen that one in years I’d sure like to. In between all this Neumann, also for Lippert, made the excellent KRONOS a wonderful Sci-Fi low budgeter which looks sensational.

    Neumann was obviously proving to be someone who could do lots for very little so Lippert decided to give him a major upgrade budget wise. THE FLY (1958) made for about $450.000-$500,000 in scope and color was a major box office smash it looked as if Neumann had finally arrived. Before THE FLY went on general release Neumann had already cranked out another three films one for Al Zimbalist (WATUSI 1959), yet again using left-over footage from KING SOLOMON’S MINES. I have never seen WATUSI but would love to, if for nothing else to see George Montgomery in a jungle flick. Sadly, Neumann passed away aged just 50 before THE FLY went into general release. With the enormous success of THE FLY Neumann, had he lived, would have had a major career revival.

    I have enormous respect for directors like George Sherman, Kurt Neumann and Joseph M Newman, their careers were somewhat of a roller-coaster ride as far as highs and lows go but, taking their individual bodies of work as a whole, there’s some truly great and seriously under-valued work there in the mix.

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  21. I guess I could have highlighted dozens of other directors but there did seem to be some sort
    of “link” between Sherman,Newman and Neumann,well to me at least.
    They all made Joel McCrea Westerns for a start.Newman and Neumann both worked
    for the notorious Al Zimbalist making jungle flicks using loads of left-over footage from
    KING SOLOMON’S MINES. Zimbalist obviously these guys were experts at making something
    out of nothing. Sherman and Neumann both worked for Lippert. Neumann and Newman both
    made a bona-fide Sci Fi classic. (When are we going to get a Blu-Ray of THIS ISLAND EARTH
    I wonder.) Sherman and Neumann both toiled for years in B Movies before moving up to
    bigger budgets. I would never in a thousand years compare Neumann’s Native American
    sagas with Sherman’s;Neumann was constricted by incredibly low budgets and poor
    production values. Having said that HIAWATHA is a half-way decent movie.
    Thought I’d mention a couple of other interesting Neumann films, firstly BAD BOY a J.D.
    Movie and Audie Murphy’s first starring role,reputedly very good too. Warner Archive say they
    will release this one at some point so that’s good. Neumann’s racial drama THE RING is also
    very good and I also really like his Sci Fi flick SHE DEVIL which gets knocked a lot but it’s a
    pretty decent little film,wonderful use of black & white widescreen.
    One things for sure Neumann worked fast…real fast. Its said that he finished THE FLY in the
    time it took George Stevens to do one set-up in THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK over at Fox.
    Vincent Price said the only thing that delayed THE FLY was when Price and Herbert Marshall
    got a fit of the giggles when they were shooting the infamous “help me” scene,they had to do
    multiple takes!

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    • No complaints regarding your choices here, John. Neumann’s simply the one I’m least familiar with – that’s never a bad thing though as it’s always good to hear recommendations of directors whose work I can keep an eye out for in the future.

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  22. Thanks Colin, I would not say there is too much in Neumann’s output to really recommend,
    because as he also wrote,produced and developed some of his own projects he was more
    or less confined to poverty row producers like Lippert.
    As i mentioned before the budgets just were not there but as low budget Sci-Fi goes
    ROCKETSHIP XM and KRONOS are more or less as good as it gets.
    The Westerns that I would look out for are BAD MEN OF TOMBSTONE,THE KID FROM
    TEXAS and CATTLE DRIVE. The latter two are excellent Universal Westerns.
    THE KID FROM TEXAS zips along at a cracking pace,has lovely scenery and is crammed with
    action. I can only fault the film for several underdeveloped subplots.
    In the excellent book Last Of The Cowboy Heroes it states that the budget for the film was
    $750,000 possibly the biggest Neumann ever worked with. Audie Murphy then an unknown
    quantity earned about $10,000 and as the film was a big hit for Universal it more or less
    launched his Western career.
    CATTLE DRIVE is also a very fine Western and a must for Joel McCrea fans.
    Film may be a tad too genteel for some tastes
    Toby pointed me to an excellent book on Lippert “Talk’s Cheap Action’s Expensive”….
    The Films Of Robert L Lippert.
    Book gives a real insight into budget film-making and what I really loved about the book,
    among other things, are the comments from cinema owners in rural America to whom
    the Lippert and RegalScope films were a life-line
    There is lots of info on the budgets of these little epics.
    The book states that the budget for THE FLY was $350,000 but I have seen interviews
    with Lippert Junior where he states the budget was $450,000-$500.000 though I would think
    the latter is more correct regarding the look of the film,but who knows!.

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    • Although I’ve not seen the film I’ve heard some disparaging comments in the past about The Kid from Texas. I really hope I get round to it and see what I make of it myself – if nothing else, it’s Murphy’s western debut and important for that reason anyway.

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  23. Colin,THE KID FROM TEXAS was an attempt to make a more accurate Billy The Kid
    film to what had gone before. For some reason,as explained in the prologue, the producers
    have decided to change certain names of some of the key people surrounding Billy
    The Kid. Pat Garrett does appear but only forms a minor part of the film As long as you
    are not expecting a “history lesson” I think that you will really enjoy the film.
    Neumann executes the film with a real sense of urgency it moves along at an almost
    breathless pace.For me it’s one of the very best early Murphy Westerns,and has fine
    production values. Watching the film I feel that you will wish Neumann had made more
    Universal Westerns. Yet another film that I would love a Koch Blu-Ray edition of.
    By the way Colin,is this another film in your now legendary “to be viewed” heap. 🙂

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    • Thanks, John. Sounds interesting at the very least.
      Sadly, I don’t have a copy of the movie so it doesn’t form part of the TBV pile, yet. And despite my most dogged efforts, that pile never seems to get any smaller!

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    • I agree with John about THE KID FROM TEXAS. I’ve seen it a couple of times and consider it one of the best Billy the Kid movies. Though a relative newcomer, Audie Murphy was ideally cast as Billy and is very good–Neumann had already directed him in BAD BOY and it’s fair to say he had helped him get some confidence as an actor. The whole movie has the right melancholy mood, but without ever becoming self-consciously arty and pretentious as I feel THE LEFT-HANDED GUN (a much more celebrated version) does.

      So, Colin, hope you’ll listen to John and me on this at least to some balance against whatever disparaging comments you’ve heard.

      I’m glad to see John take up for Neumann as well as Newman–and of course, Sherman. I know I’ve said some kind words about Newman before and have written on THIS ISLAND EARTH, one of the most beautiful sci-fi movies, and the still unheralded JUNGLE PATROL, his amazing metaphysical low-budget WWII movie, in my published work I know all of his Westerns, FORT MASSACRE being best though THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT is fine too. DEATH IN SMALL DOSES sounds like a Newman I’d really love to catch up with.

      I haven’t seen any of Kurt Neumann’s Westerns except the two U-I ones and like both of those, the lovely CATTLE DRIVE as well as THE KID FROM TEXAS. In his case I know his sci-fi work a little better–KRONOS and SHE-DEVIL first came out here on a double bill. THE FLY is a masterpiece, one of the most moving sci-fi films ever–really not too far off THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN which is my hands down favorite of all time. I really don’t think I know Neumann’s work as a whole enough to account for it being so great. He really seemed to connect with it on a deep level. John’s anecdote about the pace at which Neumann worked on it compared to Stevens on THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK amused me because I like Neumann’s movie so much more and would argue of the two, it is the one that deserves to be cherished.

      I will look out for those Indian movies–which all seem to be set back in colonial days–of Neumann’s, especially HIAWATHA given John’s recommendation.

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  24. One of the few Chandler films I have missed. Thanks for the heads up here. You are a real help filling in the blanks on my Western lists.

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