This is a red-letter day, e-pards, for the following review is the one thousandth Western that has been discussed on this blog. Round numbers always have a kind of appeal, oddly perhaps, but there we are.
Don’t forget that all the Westerns reviewed (movies and TV shows) are listed in alphabetical order, with live links, at the top of the sidebar on the right of the homepage.
I feel that discussing a thousand oaters is a kind of achievement. It seems a lot in some ways. But it’s a small proportion of the total (luckily, as this means I have still many to write about).
How many Westerns are there?
In his introduction to The Rough Guide to Westerns (2006), Paul Simpson says, “With over 8000 Westerns to choose from, selecting 50 that are essential to the genre is an arduous task.” IMDb.com lists 8,113 Westerns if you sort its movies by genre. So, about 8000 then?
No. IMDb’s list is certainly very incomplete – even The Great Train Robbery (1903), which most people regard as the first ‘proper’ Western, is absent (though IMDb does have it separately) and the list mentions only eleven Westerns before 1914 – obviously absurd. Wikipedia lists 55 Westerns made between 1903 and 1914 and there may well have been more. Many early silent Westerns have been lost. Surviving ones, including shorts and fragments, are certainly very numerous.
And then it depends on how you define a Western. Purists will say that a Western must be set west of the Mississippi, in the United States and territories (i.e. not Canada or Mexico) between the end of the Civil War and the end of the nineteenth century, but others (including this blog) define the genre much more widely. Westerns can be set in the eighteenth or twentieth centuries and even be set in Australia. There are sub-genres and crossovers: horror Westerns, sci-fi Westerns, spaghetti westerns, and so on. So saying how many there are is pretty well impossible.
If you go into Advanced Search on IMDb and put in the parameters Westerns from January 1903 to April 2018 you get 14,779 titles listed. So that’s a bit more realistic.
The genre – I am talking about the Western as narrative fiction - is about 115 years old. The Great Train Robbery was such a smash hit that it was followed by a host of imitations. By 1908 the genre was so well established that distributors’ catalogues listed releases under Drama, Comic and Western. For years the genre dominated production. Through the inter-war period and beyond the Western waxed and waned but never went away. Happily.
So keep on clicking, e-pards, and while we’ll never get to the very end of the list, we’ll try to do a good few more.
Today's Western really ought to be a truly great landmark one like, say, High Noon, The Searchers or My Pal Trigger. But we've done those. So here are some comments on Keith Larsen and Jim Davis in a late 50s B-picture.
Apache Warrior (Fox, 1957)
This is a true story. Not.
Because the hard facts about the life of the White Mountain Apache known as the Apache Kid (left) are so few and far between, he is ideal subject matter for Westerns. We don’t even know exactly where or when he was born or where or when he died. Writers, producers and directors can thus feel free to make up any old stuff that will entertain the paying public. Will Henry wrote an enjoyable though very fictional novel about him, The Apache Kid (1961) – click the link for a review. The Kid has also made various big- and small-screen appearances, played by different actors. In the late 1950s Regal Films produced a black & white picture, in Regalscope, no less, which starred Keith Larsen as the Kid and Jim Davis as a very thinly disguised Al Sieber – he is Ben Ziegler. Apache Warrior was released by Fox in July, 1957.
Jim actually tracked down the Kid twice. Just two years before, he had done so in a Season 2 Stories of the Century episode (you can watch it on YouTube here). In it, the Apache Kid is described by Matt Clark in the initial voiceover as “a stomping werewolf with a bloodlust, the most terrifying hunter of human beings of all the Apache-infested territory of Arizona.” He was, of course, nothing of the kind. Naturally, in the show the Indians are the bad guys. You can always tell when the dialogue says that they “infested” the territory. Rats infest. If I were an Apache, I’d be pretty disgusted at being told that I “infest” my own land, but then I guess I’d have been furious at many screen Westerns of those days.
In the SOTC show Sieber believes the Apache Kid (Kenneth Alton, with lantern jaw and scar on his face, made worse by an evil sneer) to be his best and most loyal scout but in the very first scene the Kid shoots down an innocent unarmed young Indian boy and then goes on to rape two Mexican women, killing one, and he commits countless other bloody crimes. He even deliberately knocks over a plaster Virgin when capturing a girl, so he must be really bad.
This time, however, in Apache Warrior, although Sieber/Ziegler tells the Army major (Damian O’Flynn) that he is going to kill the Kid, and he finds him, in the end he helps the Apache escape from some brutal bounty hunters.
In reality, Sieber seems to have had an attitude to Kid that is hard to pin down. He mentored the young man and the Kid was Al’s protégé, and most accounts say he did not bear a grudge against the Kid for the bullet to the foot he received when Kid came in to surrender (it was in any case almost certainly not the Kid who fired it). Yet, the Kid seems to have made some anti-Sieber remarks later on and Al testified against the Kid at the second (civil) trial, playing a not insignificant part in the Kid’s conviction. At any rate, one thing is certain: Sieber (and still less Ziegler) did not track down, arrest or kill the Kid.
Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl, better known as the Apache Kid or Niño, another photo on the right, was born sometime in the 1860s and may have been killed in 1894, though it is more likely he lived beyond that date. As a teenager in the mid-1870s he was pretty well adopted by Sieber and in 1881 he enlisted as an Army scout – it was the time when General George Crook was in command and he believed that only Apaches could catch Apaches. Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl did well and in July 1882 was promoted to sergeant. He accompanied Crook on his mission to the Sierra Madre Occidental and seems to have been highly regarded. But then it all went wrong.
Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl was involved in a riot while drunk, and to prevent his being hanged by Mexican authorities, Sieber sent him back north. In May 1887, Sieber and several army officers left the San Carlos post on business, and Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl was put in charge of the scouts in their absence. The scouts went on a tiswin drunk and this resulted in a fight between a scout named Gon-Zizzie and Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl’s father, Togo-de-Chuz, and the father was killed. In turn, friends of Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl then killed Gon-Zizzie, and Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl killed Gon-Zizzie's brother, Rip.
On June 1 Sieber confronted the scouts. Several shots were fired from the crowd and a bullet hit Sieber in the ankle. This almost crippled him. He was laid up for a long time, then walked on crutches. During the confusion following the shots, Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl and several others fled.
Of course as soon as we read the introductory announcement after the titles of Apache Warrior THIS IS A TRUE STORY, we know we are in for hogwash of historical hokum. And so it proves. In this telling Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl is known as the Apache Kid to the whites and is called Katawan by the Apaches. Probably Katawan was less of a mouthful than Haskay-bay-nay-ntayl. He is pretty well a goody throughout, so very different from the Stories of the Century one. He only gets into trouble by killing his brother’s murderer in accordance with Apache customs and at the behest of the one-armed chief Nantan (John Miljan). There is no mention of tiswin drunks or other misdemeanors/causes. And it’s his brother, Chikisin (Dehl Berti), not his dad, who is killed.
Nantan just means chief or leader in Apache, or possibly spokesman. The people awarded the title to General Crook, calling him Nantan Lupan, or chief wolf. Miljan, the IMDb bio tells us, “played handsome, debonair romantics in silent films but turned into an archetypal villain after realizing his aristocratic good looks had a certain cold, shady quality that could be longer-lasting in bad guy roles.” I remember him as Custer in Paramount’s The Plainsman in 1936. He had starred with Harry Carey in Silent Sanderson in 1925 (a useful title for a silent movie) and had co-starred with Rin Tin Tin in another silent in 1928. He was Ringo in the James Cagney Western The Oklahoma Kid but he never led in a Western as far as I know. In Apache Warrior he plays an elderly chief who has made an accommodation with the whites but regrets it.
Miljan is Nantan, the chief
In this version it is Chato (our old pal George Keymas) who kills the Kid’s brother and is duly dispatched in his turn by the Kid. Chato hates the Kid as a traitor because he wears the white man’s blue coat. Actually, of course, Chato, or Chatto (1854 – 1934), photo left, was a Chiricahua sub-chief who surrendered to General Crook and then himself served under Crook as a scout, including during the subsequent expedition into the Sierra Madre after Geronimo in 1886. Crook later wrote, “It is not too much to say that the surrender of Natchez [Naiche], Geronimo and their bands could not have been effected except for the assistance of Chato and his Chiricahua scouts.” And Chato was not killed by the Apache Kid but died aged 80 when his Model-T went off the road outside Whitetail, New Mexico, on the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Still, we don’t watch B-Westerns for historical accuracy, do we?
Once Chato is written out, the chief baddy becomes Martine, called Marteen in the credits and Mahteen on a wanted poster. He is played by good old Rodolfo Acosta. He escapes from the patrol taking him to be hanged in Yuma, killing the guards, and it is he who shoots Sieber, sorry, I mean Ziegler, in the leg. It’s Jim Davis getting shot, though, so within minutes he only has a slight limp and in no time at all he’s back to Olympic fitness. Now Martine (photo right, taken in the Fort Sill days) is a more shadowy Apache than Chato but still quite well known. He accompanied Lt. Gatewood into Mexico to try to get the surrender of Geronimo and his band. Martine and his fellow scout Kieta located Geronimo and persuaded him to talk to Gatewood. So Martine was a key figure in bringing Geronimo in. Nevertheless, in the movie he is an out-and-out firebrand, raiding white farms, killing, looting, scalping and raping. He is finally brought to book, however, in a decidedly anti-climactic way. We don’t see him being killed or anything (maybe that bit was cut), just see his body slumped over an Army mule later on.
Rodolfo is the bad guy
So much for it being a true story.
As I’ve said before, I have no problem at all with Western movies being unhistorical. That’s not what they are for. It’s only when they claim to tell the true story that I object. Perhaps the producers want to make it more realistic or sensational but another word for such a claim would be a lie.
The director was Elmo Williams, a former editor, especially at RKO, who earned an Oscar for editing High Noon. He started directing for Lippert and Republic, and was later Managing Director of European Production for Fox. He only directed two Westerns, though: this one and The Tall Texan with Lloyd Bridges in 1953.
Elmo with his Oscar
Keith Larsen, topping the billing (even above Jim) is the Apache Kid. Larsen, a “strapping, dark-haired, ruggedly handsome actor who appeared in mostly secondary roles in a number of 1950s film actioneers” (IMDb) was most famous as Brave Eagle on TV in 1955 and ’56, so was quite used to being an Indian. The year after Apache Warrior he would be Major Robert Rogers in the TV version of Northwest Passage. He plays the Kid as the strong, silent type, finding it beneath him to justify himself before the military authorities and just clenching his teeth at the seven years in Yuma he is awarded.
Larsen is the Apache Kid
The Kid has an amour, naturally. It’s Nantan’s daughter Liwana , played by Eugenia Paul in her first movie. Later that year she would become Zorro’s beloved on TV. She remained typecast in Hispanic or Native American maiden parts in TV Westerns.
And Eugenia Paul is his beloved
The Kid despises Martine (who carves a corporal’s stripes on his bare arm) but feels obliged to escape with him. He is an unwilling raider, though. Still, the Army major attributes all Martine’s crimes to the Kid and finally, in desperation, puts a price on the Kid’s head knowing that loathsome bounty hunters (Ray Kellogg, Karl Davis and Allan Nixon) will crawl out of the woodwork and hunt the Kid down. They actually do, coming up to the Kid and Liwana by following Ziegler, and blasting away with their Winchesters. Of course once Ziegler has seen the error of his ways and joined up with the Kid and Liwana, the bounty hunters don’t stand a chance. They are killed and the trio ride off. The End.
A studio still
A postscript tells us that the Apache Kid was never seen again.
There you go. As long as you don’t believe a word of it you’ll probably be entertained for 74 minutes. It is quite pro-Indian, so that’s one good thing.