APACHE, one of its era’s Hollylib apologies for treating Native Americans badly, may have shown the sincere social justice intentions of its magnetic star and rising-rebel director, but it still leaves its Noble Savage subjects in the dust by having another 6’2″ blue-eyed renegade warrior in the lead, another knockout ‘native princess’ and acres of mumbo-jumbo third-person referencing dialogue, stilted to fork many tongues among its nomadic drive-in audiences, circling enough station wagons to put this on box-office reservation #23 in those olden days of 1954. *
Lightly based on a real Chiricahua die-hard—Massai—it has him a wage one-man fight against— pretty much everyone, after escaping from captivity when Geronimo surrenders in 1886. Bolting from a prisoner train bearing him to Florida, Massai walks back to Arizona, vows revenge, dishes it out, claims his woman. Since he’s played, with ample force, by Burt Lancaster, he doesn’t walk as much as run, leap, bound, wrestle, ride and KILL! Contacts were not available to hide the actor’s eye color, and he gets the skin-dye treatment that will have p.c. alarmists fume into anthropological shock (if it will get them to keel over and kick off, bring on a truckload of Danes and a tanker of Coppertone).
“And there is no place in Massai’s life for love. Love is for men who can walk without looking behind. For men who can live summer and winter in the same place.” Doofus dialog to the side, Burt at 40 had more zip than most guys at 18.
Jean Peters, 27, comely as ever, does what she can with the words foisted onto ‘Nalinie’, and to her credit puts a good deal of fortitude into being so roughly treated by her bad-tempered mate. John McIntire covers real-life scout Al Sieber (semi-imitated by Charlton Heston in the previous years Arrowhead, which featured an even angrier, and two inches taller, Apache, Jack Palance). Charles Bronson (32, still going by Buchinsky) plays ‘Hondo’ (did anyone consult the Duke, as he must have been close by), cravenly working for the whites (he had a bigger, better role that year, as a non-cooperative native, the famous Modoc ‘Captain Jack’, giving Alan Ladd a battle in Drum Beat ). John Dehner is on hand as a scurvy brute of an Indian agent (plenty of them to go around). Will he get a deserved arrow in the back?
Robert Aldrich was given his first A-list assignment here, and generally managed well with the $1,240,000 alloted. Nineteen different scenic locations were used, in California, New Mexico and Arizona: like too many westerns, the mountains, deserts and forests were chosen mainly for their dramatic effect on a scene-by-scene basis, as the topography covered doesn’t square with geography. David Raksin gives it a dissonant, ear-battering score thats eschews any themes so as to just claxon “Serious Drama!”—it doesn’t help. The studio forced a compromised ending on star and director that comes off as simply ridiculous.
By far the best sequence is early on, when the fleeing Massai/Burt makes his stunned way through the teeming streets of St. Louis, baffled by the weird, abundant and silly variety of capitalism back in “CIVILIZATION!” It lays it on thick, but to good effect. James R. Webb wrote the purple script off Paul I. Wellman’s 1935 book, “Broncho Apache”. Webb would do a great job writing The Big Country and How The West Was Won, but this one has lost whatever shine it once held. Burt used him again, for his immediate follow-up, another rowdy western that took Aldrich, cameraman Ernest Laszlo, Buchinsky/Bronson and busy supporting actor Morris Ankrum south of the border for Vera Cruz—a bigger hit, and more escapist fun than this.
With Paul Guilfoyle, Ian MacDonald, Walter Sande and Monte Blue. 89 minutes.
* In the windswept Ikeland of ’54, yet another altitude-piercing Apache– Rock Hudson–lent his 6’5″ dignity as Taza, Son Of Cochise. Meanwhile, Sitting Bull, who was 5’9″, was enacted by the go-to ethnic expert J. Carrol Naish, who was—progress!–but an inch shorter than the famous medicine man, in the lame movie of the same title. Other standard absurd portrayals of Native Americans that year cropped up in River Of No Return, Garden Of Evil and Saskatchewan. Lancaster and Aldrich would revisit the merciless Apache Wars in 1972, with more fidelity to reality, in the fine Ulzana’s Raid (dying lonesome, staked out on 144th place). The historical character Massai actually did walk 1,200 miles back from St. Louis to his home territory, and subsequently raised all kinds of hell: accounts differ as to his eventual fate.