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Apache Drums
movies, Western

1951 | 4:3 | Color | Quality: Excellent

Stephen McNally

Coleen Gray


After gunning down someone in a saloon, a gambler by the name of Sam Leeds (Stephen McNally) is told to leave the town of Spanish Boot by the local mayor Joe Madden (Willard Parker). Mayor Joe is trying to clean up the town, and also shuts the saloon down and kicks all the saloon harlots out of town. Although Joe believes that Sam's presence is bad for the town there is also a woman named Sally (Coleen Gray) who both men are attracted to that might have also factored into the decision to get rid of him. Since he has little choice, Sam sets out into the desert only to discover the saloon ladies have been slaughtered by the Apache. The Apache have been forbidden to hunt food and are starving, and are now on the warpath raiding settlements! Sam rushes back to Spanish Boot to tell them of the news. At first they don't believe him but when a small cavalry unit arrives they realize that they will need every gun they can get-and even then it might not be enough!

Produced by Val Lewton, Apache Drums is directed by Hugo Fregonese and adapted for the screen by David Chandler from the book "Stand at Spanish Boot" written by Harry Brown. It was the final production of Lewton, the celebrated RKO producer who'd revolutionized the horror genre in the early-to-mid-1940s with such releases as CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and THE BODY SNATCHER. It stars Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray, Willard Parker and Arthur Shields. Music is by Hans J. Salter and cinematography is courtesy of Charles P. Boyle. It was shot on location at Red Rock Canyon State Park, California & it's a Technicolor production. Plot sees McNally as notorious gambler Sam Leeds, who after shooting a man in self defense, is forced to leave the town of Spanish Boot. However, outside of town Sam happens across a terrible scene that forces him back into town to warn the folk of an impending attack by the Mescalero Apaches. Whereas on the surface this may appear to be a run of the mill Western where the Indians are the bad guys and the white man stands up to repel them, to dismiss this as solely being formula fodder is unfair. Lewton infuses this film with interesting characters, plenty of tension, a grand piece of action and a couple of genuinely haunting images. There's also some smarts in the writing, where racism and ethical principals are scrutinized. Like Lewton's horror films, one doesn't notice the low budget (the lowest ever for a color film at that time) because of the excellent character development and the plot tensions. And like his horror films, it's what you CAN'T see that's so terrifying. The work involved for the final third of the film, as our group are holed up in a church awaiting Apache incursion, is of a very high standard. Here Fregonese and camera never leaves the room, as the town burns and the Apache chant and bang the drums, we along with the characters are left to our own imaginations, awaiting a savage death in semi darkness. It's a fine claustrophobic set up that's executed admirably. This is a film that deserves to be better known and regarded.

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