Apache Drums. 1951. USA. Directed by Hugo Fregonese. Screenplay by David Chandler, Harry Brown. Produced by Val Lewton. With Stephen McNally, Colleen Gray, Willard Parker, Arthur Shields. 4K restoration courtesy of Universal Pictures. 76 min.
One of Fregonese’s most completely realized projects, Apache Drums was also the last film of the creative producer Val Lewton (Cat People), who died a few weeks before its release in 1951. One wonders how different Fregonese’s career might have been had he found other producers as sympathetic as Lewton and settled down in Hollywood rather than becoming a vagabond of international co-productions. Sam Leeds (Stephen McNally) is perhaps Fregonese’s most rootless protagonist, a fast-talking gambler and gunman who we first meet while he’s being kicked out of a New Mexico mining town on the verge of becoming respectable. The embodiment of the emerging middle class social order is Joe Madden (Willard Parker), the town’s mayor and blacksmith, whose motives for running Sam of town are both civil (he’s made to leave with the ladies of the local dance hall) and personal, in that both men are drawn to Sally (Coleen Gray), the owner of the town’s cantina.