The Stand at Apache River, set in the midst of an Apache uprising. We never get a sense of a bigger picture, the murder, mayhem and rampaging, just how a small group of people are affected by it. Simple, right?
Riding far into the desert, Sheriff Lane Dakota (Stephen McNally) is in pursuit of a believed killer, Greiner (Russell Johnson). Greiner stumbles into an Apache ambush and is wounded, but ultimately rescued by Dakota who gets his wounded fugitive to safety at a river crossing outpost at Apache River. They arrive at the same time as a stagecoach arrives full of passengers, but the timing couldn't have been worse. An Apache chief, Cara Blanca (Edgar Barrier), has led over 90 warriors off the reservation, and before Dakota can lead everyone away, the war party is across the river. Now what to do? Dakota must look out for how to get out with his prisoner, but he's also got to keep an eye on a beautiful young woman (Julie Adams) who's also trapped. Can he figure out a plan in time?
This is a prime example of what a B-western is at its most basic makeup. For the most part, that's a good thing. From director Lee Sholem, 'Stand' doesn't even break the 80-minute mark, clocking in at just 77 minutes. It only has nine speaking parts, and after the early intro at the desert ambush, the entire movie is based at the two-story adobe river outpost. In that sense, it reminds me a lot of what a western could be if it was based off a stage play. The outpost becomes its own character, long, windy halls, poorly lit, giving a good backdrop to the developing Apache uprising.
The not-so-good part of the B-movie angle is that the cast isn't eye-popping or especially noteworthy in any sense. McNally is okay as the necessary heroic sheriff, but I've never been a huge fan. He yells and glares more than anything, leaving something to be desired as Dakota. Julie Adams is Julie Adams, very pretty, decent actress. Her and co-star Jaclynne Greene always manage to have immaculate hair and dresses in the desert too, go figure. Greene is pretty good as a married woman seeking survival with whoever will offer it, including outpost employee, Hatcher (Jack Kelly). Hugh Marlowe is given a good part too as Colonel Morsby, a veteran cavalry officer who doesn't trust anything about the Apaches, Hugh O'Brian is Greene's late-arriving husband, Johnson (later the Professor on Gilligan's Island) has a surprising dark turn, and Forrest Lewis is Deadhorse, the grizzled stagecoach driver.
So while it lacks any real star power, 'Stand' does a good job giving us a variety of characters and as a jumping-off point from there, how that variety of characters reacts in such a hellish, basically suicidal situation. I'm slowly changing my stance on this thought, but I've always figured 1950s westerns had a whitewashed sense to them. This is a surprisingly dark western, especially for one released in 1953. In this isolated desert outpost, we see growing conflicts, disagreements and hatred among our group of survivors. It feels real, not forced. If 90 Apache warriors were surrounding you and ready to attack at any moment, you'd be a little upset, wouldn't you?
Even at just 77 minutes, 'Stand' struggles to keep up its momentum. The Apaches have a few attacks on the outpost, but they never seem in any real rush to full-out attack. Not surprisingly, the attacks are the best part of the flick, quick and hard-hitting, there's just not enough of them. The ever-constant talking gets to be a little too much, and as dark as the ending is, the story taps the brakes in the final scene, providing an oh-so-sweet ending that is unnecessary and forced. Decent B-western with some positives and negatives, just enough more positives to recommend this one.
The Stand at Apache River (1953): ** 1/2 /****