The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Apache Ambush

I always think of the 1930s as the golden age of serial and/or short westerns. They were low budget, made on the fly, and typically ran about an hour. Okay, how about the second golden age? While they weren't as plentiful, like-minded westerns were released throughout the 1950s from major studios, like 1955's Apache Ambush.

With the Civil War ending, two Union soldiers with ranching, cowboy and cattle experience, James Kingston (Bill Williams) and Tim O'Roarke (Ray Teal), are tasked with helping bring the North and South back together. Their job? Organize and drive a herd of cattle from the Texas border country north to Abilene so the cattle can be shipped all over the country. A plan comes together about the route to drive the cattle north, but it is contingent on getting cavalry support because the herd must be driven through territory riddled with Apache raiding parties and gangs of bandits. That's not all though. Kingston and O'Roarke are riding into a North/South-fueled cauldron where hate from the Civil War is still very much alive. Can they assemble the herd and get it to Abilene safely?

Yikes. What a schizophrenic, low-budget, oddly entertaining and pretty stupid western! From director Fred Sears, 'Apache' sure is interesting for both good and bad reasons. It's just 68 minutes long so even though it is far from a good movie, it's never around long enough to overstay its welcome. Filmed in black and white, the story has the feel of an extended TV episode from the quick-moving story to the cast of recognizable faces but without huge stars. It's pretty harmless, and I enjoyed it but yikes in terms of a linear storyline.

'Apache' is all over the place. We actually get some title cards explaining the end of the Civil War and are even introduced to President Abraham Lincoln (James Griffith) minutes before he heads off to his night at Ford's Theatre. We're introduced to the cattle drive premise which sounds pretty cool, but....yeah, well it never actually comes to fruition. Instead, the story detours to Mexican bandits working with Apaches, the North vs. South rivalry, love interests, hateful Yankees, revenge-seeking Confederates, and broad, broad character strokes. We keep meeting new characters, new detours, new situations to deal with, and that whole essential cattle drive keeps getting pushed back until it becomes an afterthought to be solved in the last 10 minutes. A mile a minute pacing, and things change with the snap of a finger so don't get too comfortable!

Who to look for in this little known B-western? Williams is solid as our main hero, Kingston, who doesn't say much but always find himself in the lead. Along with Teal as the quasi-veteran sidekick, Don C. Harvey plays a third member of the drive crew, a Texan with sources all over the state. Richard Jaeckel gets an interesting part as Lee Parker, a one-armed, ex-Confederate soldier who isn't ready to admit the war is over, his Sheriff father and sister both thrust into the fighting. Alex Montoya hams it up to ridiculous levels as Jironza, the Mexican bandit looking to cause chaos and loves yelling "Viva Santa Anna!" with his fellow bandits while Movita plays his sexy Mexican senorita sidekick, willing to do whatever to help those crafty banditos!

Things get pretty kooky in the finale as Kingston and Co. must find a buried cache of Henry repeating rifles somewhere in a small village as Jironza's bandits descend on the town to get said rifles. The violence gets kicked up a notch during the midnight battle that does feature some genuine surprises. Oh, and then with a couple minutes left, that whole cattle drive situation has to be resolved. Look, it's not a bad western, and it certainly ain't good. It is mildly interesting, if only for western fans.

Apache Ambush (1955): **/****

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