The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Apache Territory

Playing the lead role in 1954's Four Guns to the Border, actor Rory Calhoun had already starred in one western based off a novel by famed western author Louis L'Amour. Working with his own production company four years later, Calhoun returned to the well again, this time with 1958's Apache Territory.

Riding through the desert on the way to Fort Yuma, drifting gunfighter Logan Cates (Calhoun) stumbles across several dead bodies and a young woman, Junie (Carolyn Craig), who was the lone survivor of an Apache attack. It seems that Apache chief Churupati is leading his warriors on a rampage, killing everyone in their path. Logan heads to the nearest water hole, hoping to stock up on as much water as he can, but he's not the only one thinking like that. Other desert travelers have found their way to the water -- including a soon to be married couple, the remnants of a cavalry troop, a young man who survived an Apache attack -- and find themselves trapped by Churupati's Apache warriors. Can they hold the Apaches off until help arrives?

From L'Amour's novel Last Stand at Papago Wells, 'Territory' translates well to the big screen. L'Amour's writing style as an author generally translated well in that sense. His stories were straightforward with plenty of action and excitement featuring tough, loner heroes, beautiful women waiting to be wooed and villains who almost always meet a nasty end in the finale. These are far from flashy westerns, but they get the job done. This one isn't around long enough to leave too much of an impression -- positive or negative -- at just 72 minutes long. There's nothing wrong with that though. Just sit back and enjoy it.

So with a small, desperate group of survivors trapped at an isolated water hole, we follow the action as the mostly off-screen Apaches lay siege. And other than the opening as we see how Logan ends up at the water hole, the entire story is set around this water hole. It ends up being a cool addition to the story. Lying in the shade of a cliff face, the water hole is ringed by rocks and boulders that are perfect for defense. The water hole becomes a mini-fort of sorts as the survivors try not to lose their minds, stay sane as arrows rain down and ultimately survive. It's a pretty simple formula, but it works well. Kudos to director Ray Nazarro for keeping that action and drama contained in this one specific spot.

Never a huge star, Calhoun just the same was able to carve out a niche for himself as an actor. Much of that niche came in 1950s B-westerns like this one. His Logan Cates is a pretty typical L'Amour hero; strong, silent, tough and not one to let anyone else control what he does. He also gets the scorned love interest in Barbara Bates' Jennifer, a former love who is now engaged to John Dehner's Grant Kimbrough, a gambler. Who else ends up at this water hole? Why, lots o' people! Along with Craig's Junie, there's Lonnie (Tom Pittman), an 18-year old on his way to California, Lugo (Frank DeKova), a peaceful Pima warrior, and the remnants of a cavalry patrol (Leo Gordon, Myron Healey, Regis Parton) commanded by desk sergeant, Sheehan (Francis De Sales).

It's odd that with a movie that doesn't even break the 80-minute mark the pacing can be a little off. The negative part of a story surrounding a siege is that a whole lot doesn't happen. There's a lot of talking, a lot of worrying, and then an occasional arrow picking off one of our survivors. A few ventures away from the water hole provide some excitement, and the finale doesn't disappoint either as Calhoun's Logan comes up with a unique way to dispatch the waiting Apaches. Enjoyable, solid western, but nothing more.

Apache Territory (1958): ** 1/2 /****

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