A grab bag of pretty good westerns today, the first two having John Lund in common and the third being a remake of the noir classic Kiss of Death (1947).
In The Battle at Apache Pass (1952), Chiricahua Apaches Cochise and Geronimo (Jeff Chandler and Jay Silverheels) clash over how, or even whether, to coexist with the white man. Meanwhile, the peacemaking Cavalry Major (John Lund) and his loyal likeminded Sergeant (Richard Egan) try and fail to assure a prejudiced government agent (Bruce Cowling) that the majority of Indians pose no threat and can sort out their own affairs without being attacked and relocated. Things go from disagreement to war thanks to trickery, mutiny, conspiracy, hurt pride, and troublesome sorts like scout Jack Elam and a green, ambitious, easily misguided Lieutenant (John Hudson). Good action whether it’s the man-to-man fights or the big climactic battle that ends with a promise of peace talks after the dust settles and the deep rifts created by lies and hate begins to heal.
Five Guns West (1955) are five Confederate prisoners, outlaws pardoned on the condition they use their skills to bring back to the Rebels a gold shipment along with the traitor who took it. They’re soon at odds, scheming about about how to betray each other and split the gold, and there’s more rancor once they reach the isolated way station to await the coach. There they find the only woman for miles, a lonely and attractive Dorothy Malone living with her drunken uncle (James F. Stone). Variety of types and actors keep the outlaw group tense and interesting, with Mike (then still going by “Touch”) Connors as a cunning card sharp, Bob Campbell whose life’s work is keeping a close eye on his psycho brother Jon Haze, and Paul Birch as the weathered elder with the most common sense. Forceful and levelheaded Lund takes the leadership position naturally, or so it seems, because his growing concern for Malone and strange behaviour raises suspicions about his true identity and role in this holdup. Decent pace, look and good action on a shoestring budget by director Roger Corman (note on that poster he’s named “Gorman”).
In The Fiend Who Walked the West (1958), stunted psycho Robert Evans finds out his prison cellmate, handsome Hugh O’Brien, stashed bank robbery cash somewhere before getting caught, so Evans’ mission upon release is to terrorize O’Brien’s wife (Linda Cristal) and anyone else who gets in his way of finding that money. O’Brien is let out early to help catch Evans, which, thanks to his slippery intimidating ways, is harder than expected. Not bad, crime/noir/horror-western hybrids are a weakness of mine and this one isn’t as scary as the title or poster promise, but has really attractive cinematography, good Gordon Douglas-directed action, and a couple of interesting performances. Evans does an immature and pouty heartthrob take on Tommy Udo, using a similar disturbing high-pitched giggle, plus an absent, slack-jawed, unblinking stare. He chillingly, frankly admits to poisoning girls and feeding glass to a bullying inmate, and beats a lover until she perjures herself, then kills her. Third time in a week I’ve seen likable Emile Meyer in a movie, here playing a nasty prison guard. Stephen McNally, always a treat, is the Sheriff who releases O’Brien from prison but is reluctant to let him go too far in pursuit of justice when the court fails and Evans kills yet again.