"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Apache Woman (ARC, 1955)


She’s only half-Apache though

 


 

 
I was talking the other day about the portrayal of Native American women in Western movies (click here for that). Well, one example was the (let us call it) low-budget oater Apache Woman, a Roger Corman effort.

Roger Corman (born 1926 and still going strong, as far as I know), pictured left, is, as you will probably know, an interesting chap who studied engineering, didn’t like it, did a term at Oxford University in England studying English literature, bummed around Europe for a bit, returned to the US, and started writing screenplays. He scraped together what money he could and set up as a producer, and in 1954 had a little success with The Fast and the Furious. He used that to put together a deal with the fledgling American Releasing Corporation, which soon became American-International Pictures, with Corman as the company’s prime asset. It would become one of the most commercially successful independent studios there was. Later he would go on to more ambitious projects but in the mid-50s it was a case of stretching modest resources as far as they would go (he famously shot The Little Shop of Horrors in two days and a night).

Westerns were never a huge part of his output but he was involved in one capacity or another with eleven, starting as a script consultant (uncredited) on the fine film The Gunfighter in 1950. Five Guns West in 1955 was his first oater as director and producer, and Apache Woman later the same year was his second. The following year he would helm the hilariously bad but weirdly watchable Gunslinger.

Apache Woman, despite its title, had Lloyd Bridges (right, in High Noon, as its headline star. I’ve always been a bit of a Lloyd admirer (I was a huge fan of Sea Hunt as a ten-year-old boy) and I think that in Westerns he was a quality actor. He is credited with appearances in 28 feature Westerns, starting with small roles in Bill Elliott and Charles Starrett oaters in the early 1940s. He got second-billing to Tex Ritter in North of the Rockies in 1942 (wherever that may be) and in 1950 he got to play the bad guy opposite Randolph Scott in Colt .45. He finally topped the billing in Lippert’s Little Big Horn (1951), in which I thought he was excellent (it’s actually a good little film) but of course he became famous as Deputy Harvey Pell in High Noon in 1952, and we realized what a good Western actor he was. Last of the Comanches with Broderick Crawford and City of Bad Men with Dale Robertson followed, both in ’53, then he was one of Ben Thompson’s sidekicks (with Jack Elam) in Wichita with Joel McCrea, just before Apache Woman. These were sometimes quite big parts in pictures by major studios (Fox, Columbia, etc.), so I’m not quite sure why he did such a ‘minor’ project as Apache Woman, but still. The whole movie was only budgeted at $80,000, so I don’t think he can have got much. I guess you take work where you can get it. Anyway, he always brought quality to a Western. He plays a reasonably pro-Indian government agent trying to unmask a plot to inculpate Apaches for crimes they did not commit.

The central character of Apache Woman, though, the title role, was Anne LeBeau, played by Joan Taylor (Chuck’s recurrent love interest in The Rifleman and a Western regular, from Fighting Man of the Plains in 1949 to War Drums in 1957). Actually, it’s a bit of a cheat because she is a ‘half-breed’, not a full Apache woman at all. She and her Milton-reading brother Armand (Lance Fuller, Colorados in Cattle Queen of Montana the year before) are living together in an intermediate world in which they are scorned by the Apaches as white but held in contempt by the whites as Indian. In fact the opening words are Anne shouting at a tormentor (Jonathan Haze) “Don’t call me squaw!”


I should think not, indeed. It is not clear when the term squaw became so pejorative. It seems to have entered the English language early (Webster’s says the first recorded use was 1622) as squa, in Massachusetts. Certainly by the turn of the twentieth century it was already demeaning. A squaw man was an object of opprobrium (though the 1905 play The Squaw Man and its several subsequent silent movie adaptations portrayed the Indian wife concerned as noble). At any rate, by 1955 squaw was a term of abuse, and offensive usage.

Actually, in as far as such a modest picture allowed (I nearly said B-Western, oops) the Lou Rusoff script does have something interesting to say about the plight of mixed-race people in late nineteenth century America. The basic idea is that Anne will resist but will finally turn towards the white side, encouraged by an amorous Lloyd Bridges, and be integrated into society, while Armand will go full-on Apache and fight. “This was the first time I tried to deal with the subject of racial prejudice within the framework of a commercial movie,” recalled Corman.


The movie is not that pro-Indian, though. It is quite clear that Anne is doing the right thing, while Armand must perish in the last reel because he has transgressed against ‘civilization’. Rusoff wasn’t a Western specialist: this, Flesh and the Spur and another Corman picture, The Oklahoma Woman, were his only essays in the genre. But he does seem to have come up with something at least moderately original.

The townsfolk (X-Brands is listed as one but I didn’t spot him) are convinced that the Apaches are on the warpath. And Sheriff Paul Birch is inclined to agree with ‘em. There have been seven killings in the last three months, and some stage hold-ups too. Rex Moffett (Bridges) has been sent by the Governor, instead of soldiers, and he is not at all sure that the Apaches are responsible. Their chief, White Star (Gene Marlowe) seems a statesmanlike sort of chap. His English grammar is rather polished too. “I would rather you did not,” he says. Must have been to school back East, I reckon. No, it can’t be White Star doing the marauding. There’s definitely some skullduggery afoot.

Sheriff Birch with special agent Bridges

Light relief is provided by old silent-movie comic Chester Conklin as the town’s buffoon. Corman regular Dick Miller plays both a cowboy and an Indian (on one salary, probably).

Lloyd surprises Anne as she bathes in a desert pool (see Baths) and seems reluctant to leave so that she may exit the water, but is finally constrained at least to turn his back. Rex is drawn to Anne but he has a rival in the shape of local rancher Macy (Morgan Jones). Who will win her hand? (Do you need to ask?) Anyway, it turns out that Macy is a bad egg.

The inevitable bathing scene

Rex decides to flush out the bad guys by spreading word that $40,000 is going to be transported along a certain route. He and his men watch over the consignment. They are sure the bad guys will go for it.

There’s a sub-Winchester ’73 final fight in the rocks, and either Rex or Armand will fall to his death but my lips are sealed as to which (as if you couldn’t guess).
 
You may guess who wins

There are classic Corriganville and Iverson Ranch locations. The picture was shot in Pathécolor, now very washed-out, by Floyd Crosby, no less. It's quite often seen in b&w, however.

In all honesty, my dears, it’s all pretty standard stuff. But there is the odd glimmer of interest here and there. You will not pine if you never see this Western before you die. But if it comes on TV or something, you could give it a go. Lloyd is always worth watching. And after all, we’ve had Apache Ambush, Apache Blood, Apache Drums, Apache Rifles, Apache Territory, Apache Trail, Apache Warrior – oh, and Apache, so we might as well watch Apache Woman.


 
 

8 comments:

  1. Jeff, another good write-up, as always. I first watched APACHE WOMAN(1955) because I wanted to watch Dick Miller in his first movie. I enjoyed his dual performances and his name "Tall Tree." Also, it's not often you see an Apache in a bowler hat(in movies, anyway).

    I knew I was watching a Roger Corman movie, when at the beginning, he wastes no time in having Anne Lebeau(Joan Taylor) and cowpuncher Tom Chandler(Jonathan Haze) in a knife fight, after Chandler calls her, not just an Apache squaw, but a dirty one.

    APACHE WOMAN, too me, was a fun entertaining watch.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Walter.
      Yes, with Corman it was straight into the action.
      Jeff

      Delete
  2. The movie poster is amazing. After looking at it how could you not want to watch the film?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Trying to find the film via internet, I stumble upon an other Apache Woman released in 1976, a spaghetti western starring - ? - the great Al Cliver aka Pier Luigi Conti. An imdb critic says " it is a gritty Italian exploitation western that comes across as an obvious copy of the dark and downbeat SOLDIER BLUE". Its own poster looks gorgeous ! No doubt that Jeff will have a look on it soon... ! JM

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I purposely ignored that one.
      Not ony a spaghetti western (ugh) but also one that imitates SOLDIER BLUE? May the saints preserve us.
      Jeff

      Delete
  4. Even if it borrows a lot to the serial - I saw in in B&W - such as the cavalcades and the shootings, this is quite a good movie, the plot is not that simple, showing the complexe metis situation - they have French names which sounds historically accurate even if I do not think the coureurs des bois went that far in the US Southwest but it sounds half breed anyway... - and, at times, it looks moderne with no music and some good close-ups. The rythm could have been a little more alert indeed. The sheriff looks wardbondesque, Armand reminded me Joaquim Phoenix and Lloyd Bridges seals the deal. JM

    ReplyDelete
  5. About the italian Apache woman, I was joking of course and I avoided it like it was the Covid-19...JM

    ReplyDelete