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Louis L'Amour (1908-1988) was the most prolific modern author of Western tales, with 89 novels and more than 250 short stories to his credit. Needless to say, this output translated into a lot of movies and television series. Apache Territory (1958) was the tenth feature film based on his work and the third starring Rory Calhoun, who this same year starred in the TV Western series The Texan, which based some episodes on L'Amour stories.
Calhoun also produced this picture under the banner of Rorvic Productions, the company he founded with business partner Victor Orsatti in 1956. The same company also produced The Texan TV series.
Apache Territory was the final Hollywood feature directed by Ray Nazarro, an old hand in the genre. His first feature (after a few silent shorts and a stint as assistant director) was the Western Outlaws of the Rockies (1945), one of nearly 70 "B" Westerns he would helm over the next dozen or so years, quite an output by any standard.
The story finds drifter Calhoun rescuing the last survivor of a wagon train attacked by Apaches. Along the way they hook up with a few other stragglers: a young man whose friends have also been killed by Indians; Calhoun's former sweetheart and her fianc, a former Confederate officer, on their way to Yuma to catch the train east; and a handful of cavalrymen, also survivors of previous attacks. The group is soon trapped by Apaches at the Papago Wells oasis, and all seems lost as they are killed one by one, with supplies dwindling rapidly, until a fortuitous dust storm blows in, allowing Calhoun to put an escape plan into action that involves making bombs out of canteens.
The film's working title was "Papago Wells," taken from L'Amour's 1957 novel Last Stand at Papago Wells. The wells, a desert watering hole or oasis, is a real place, and a paperback edition of the book included a map.
The book was adapted for the screen by Frank L. Moss (screenplay by George W. George and Charles R. Marion) with enough effectiveness to get him hired by Calhoun and Orsatti for The Texan show. Changes from book to screen were minor, although L'Amour had even more people showing up at the oasis and becoming part of the besieged group. Moss also wrote an episode for another Western series, Hondo, which was based on the 1953 film of the same name, the first of L'Amour's Western stories to be brought to the screen. In that picture, John Wayne played the title character.
Prolific screen composer Mischa Bakaleinikoff, who wrote the scores and did other music department work for dozens of "B" pictures (and a handful of major releases) between 1929 and 1960, is attributed with at least part of the score. In his many years at Columbia, the studio that distributed this independent production, he was one of the busiest motion picture musical directors in the business, conducting and composing for hundreds of films, including a lot of the studio's serials. Oddly, most of his work was uncredited on screen, and his output seems to have been hundreds of hours of stock music used frequently from production to production. He did not compose the film's epilogue music, however; it was taken instead from the studio's big hit Western of the previous year, 3:10 to Yuma (1957).
Records show that Apache Territory was shot at least partially on location in California's Red Rock Canyon State Park, but the oasis setting obviously looks like a sound stage, quite in keeping with the picture's modest budget.
The juvenile lead in this picture, 26 year-old Arizona native Tom Pittman, appeared in 14 television shows the same year as this release. He made two more TV appearances after this, as well as two feature films--Sam Fuller's Verboten! (1959) and the lead in one of the youth-gone-bad pictures so popular at the time, High School Big Shot (1959). His promising and very busy career was cut short in a fatal car accident on Halloween 1958, just under two months after Apache Territory was released. Pittman had left a party and driven off the road in the Hollywood Hills. His body was discovered about three weeks later in his wrecked car almost completely hidden in a 150-foot ravine. Because of his rebellious youth, his promise as an actor, and his manner of death, he was immediately compared to James Dean.
The women in this picture didn't fare any better. Calhoun's love interest is played by Barbara Bates, whose most remembered role (and ironically one of her smallest) was Phoebe, the adoring and scheming fan who invades the life of Eve Harrington and takes center stage in the indelible final shot of All About Eve (1950). Plagued by depression, bad luck, and ill health for many years, Bates committed suicide in 1969. The following year, Carolyn Craig, who is Pittman's love interest in Apache Territory, died of a gunshot wound.
Director: Ray Nazarro
Producers: Rory Calhoun, Victor M. Orsatti
Screenplay: Charles R. Marion, George W. George, adapted by Frank L. Moss from the novel Last Stand at Papago Wells by Louis L'Amour
Cinematography: Irving Lippman
Editing: Al Clark
Art Direction: Cary Odell
Original Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff< (uncredited)
Cast: Rory Calhoun (Logan Cates), Barbara Bates (Jennifer Fair), John Dehner (Grant Kimbrough), Carolyn Craig (Junie Hatchett), Tom Pittman (Lonnie Foreman).
by Rob Nixon