Saddle Sores: Apache Blood
For those of you new to Saddle Sores, this is a series that critiques Western films for historical accuracy. It's all in good fun, but these films can range from beloved cultural icons to... today's film.
Hoo, boy... This one was a doozy, and not in a pleasant way.
Filmed in 1971 and released in 1975, Apache Blood has gone by at least two other names: A Man Called She and Pursuit. The film was shot in Arizona and there is surprisingly little information available about the film's production... other than its status as a low-budget Western exploitation film with an all-white cast.
Boy, does this film show its low budget! Normally, we only concern ourselves with the historical aspects of Westerns on Saddle Sores, but every single aspect of this film reflects poorly on it. The editing is some of the worst that we have ever seen. Transitions are nonexistent; the camera either goes black while the sound continues or the camera angle shifts so fast that you feel whiplash. Scenes clearly meant to be taking place at night are spoiled by afternoon sunlight peeking over a hill, a clear sign of egregious lens filter use. What little dialogue there is in the movie does not make up for the lack of character development or context. While silence in a movie can help build atmosphere or create a feeling of loneliness, this movie feels more like a stitched together chase sequence than a story about real people.
Right, we'd better talk about the story, I guess... Ray Danton gets top billing as the Mescalero Apache named "Yellow Shirt", who is out for revenge for the deaths of his tribe under the hooves and bullets of the U.S. Cavalry. Yellow Shirt and his small band of Apaches spend the vast majority of the movie hunting down and killing a group of calvarymen and their scout. The movie's synopsis describes the story as an "epic tale of revenge" as Yellow Shirt pays back the white man for the deaths of innocent Mescalero Apaches, but you would never guess that from how the story is told.
Most of the focus of the film is placed on the cavalrymen and their attempts to escape from the Apaches. We never learn the name of Yellow Shirt's wife or any of his Apache warriors who die one-by-one as he continues his manhunt. All of the cavalrymen (again, nameless) wind up dead by the thirty minute mark, so that just leaves us with a single scout being chased by a small gang of Apaches for the next hour. Speaking of the scout, stop me if this sounds familiar:
A scout is savagely mauled by a bear and is considered mortally wounded by his fellows. They task a couple of cavalrymen to stay behind to watch over him until he passes from his injuries while the rest go on ahead. The scout lasts longer than expected and his watchmen start feeling jumpy about the Indians following them. They are finally forced to abandon him as the Indians approach, but leave him alive to suffer the "tender mercies" of their pursuers. Through sheer willpower, the scout crawls to safety and tries to make his way alone through the wilderness. Oh, and his last name is Glass, by the way.
If the names Man in the Wilderness or The Revenant popped into your head at any point while reading that, congratulations! You have been paying attention. The film tries to hide its warped retelling of the Hugh Glass story by making the scout's first name "Sam". Yeah, nice try... Man in the Wilderness even beat this movie to the punch by about four years!
The biggest problem in the movie (well, aside from the editing done with the same level of care as a last-minute high school assignment) is that we have no idea what is going on in this movie. Sure, Yellow Shirt and the Apaches are chasing this group of cavalrymen, but why? Are these the ones that murdered his tribe or did they only commit the crime of wearing the same uniform? Why does Yellow Shirt leave his wife all by herself? Who are these Apache braves that follow him? Are they from another tribe? Brothers who missed out on the attack because of a hunt? Who are the cavalrymen that they are hunting? Why does the first thirty minutes of the movie focus on the supposed villains? Where are they, even? Why should we even care about any of this?
The only other person who receives anything resembling character development in the entire film is Glass, who has awkward hallucinogenic flashback sequences of his wife and children. Given how Yellow Shirt chases after Glass like a bloodhound and Glass manages to scrape out an escape every time, the movie gives the impression that Glass is the real main character and not Yellow Shirt. This is all to set up a "tragic" twist at the end of the film when a fort trooper shoots Sam by accident, leading to a choppy and nonsensical montage of the film's previous deaths in a pretentious attempt to evoke a sense of loss in the audience... who never had the opportunity to learn about the characters in the first place.
For a story supposedly about one Apache's rampage of righteous revenge, this movie has a lousy way of showing it. Ray Danton's complete stone-faced silence throughout the entire movie negates any sympathy we might have shown for him because of his stated backstory. If anything, Yellow Shirt's backstory seems as much of a knockoff of Geronimo's own tragic history as Sam Glass seems content to put a slightly different haircut on the old Hugh Glass story. Sure, there are small differences here and there between historical figures and these characters, but it makes one wonder why they didn't just make a movie about those specific people.
It certainly doesn't help that Sam Glass is equipped with a high-grade suit of Plot Armor. Despite being mauled by a bear, beating an Apache warrior in a knife fight twice, climbing up steep cliffs under a blazing hot sun, and being sandblasted in a dust storm, Sam Glass still has enough energy to make improvised traps and run by the end of the movie. Oh yes, these booby traps with cacti are the kind of things you would expect to see in a Western parody of Home Alone. Yellow Shirt, who is shown earlier in the movie to be a competent marksman by shooting a cavalryman off of his horse during a chase, cannot hit Glass while he is standing still and Glass is treading slowly across a running river. Sam Glass's string of dumb luck continues as he kills one Apache by dropping a piece of crumbling rock on his head, kills another by swatting him in the face with a cactus, and somehow conjures up the strength to overpower a third and drown him!
If it seems like there is little to no historical critique to be had here... that's because there isn't. The film doesn't even function as a film. The ending comes out of nowhere so fast that we were legitimately dumbstruck. Apache Blood drags its feet and drags its feet and suddenly sprints to the finish line. Due to the movie's incomprehensible scripting and nonsensical pacing, the only critique that we can definitively offer is that the ending song is anachronistic in nature. The song bemoans the broken promises of the white man "like at Wounded Knee" when the events of this film take place in 1866... two decades before the event in question.
It has become a trend in recent years to intentionally watch bad movies for ironic fun. Make no mistake, this is not The Room of Westerns. This film is not "so bad that it's good". It is just plain bad. It is a film only in the barest sense and offers just as much historical insight. I won't say that it was the longest hour and a half of my life, but I only sat through it because I had to review it. There are so many better Westerns out there, even if you are looking for ones that are more geared to the Native American perspective during colonial westward expansion. This movie doesn't deserve to even be in the same sentence as the the films that it references on its release poster.
On the bright side, it can't get any worse than this, so I am looking forward to my next review! Until then, have a good one!