It’s easy to like Audie Murphy’s later Westerns. He was, almost single-handed, carrying 50s Westerns into the 60s after most cowboy stars had retired or defected to TV. (Murphy had tried television, too, with Whispering Smith.) And he was working on these later films with the likes of William Witney, R.G. Springsteen and Lesley Selander, directors responsible for not only a lot of good pictures, but for the genre as we know it.
Apache Rifles (1964) — an action-filled story of an Indian-hating cavalry officer who has a change of heart when he meets a half-breed missionary — was making the rounds about the same time A Fistful Of Dollars was in production in Italy and Spain. The times they were a-changin’. And pictures like Apache Rifles would soon be almost extinct — short, tough (American) Westerns created by seasoned professionals with utmost efficiently.
Utmost efficiency indeed. One of the real pleasures of Apache Rifles is watching all the pros at work. William Witney with his usual mastery of low-budget filmmaking, especially the action sequences. A tight script by TV Western specialist Charles B. Smith. And solid performances by a cast of veterans at this type of thing: Murphy, Michael Dante, L.Q. Jones, Linda Lawson, etc. This is not to say that the picture succeeds only as a curio — “one of the last of a dying breed” or some sort of cinematic swan song for its participants. It works like so many similar films did before it. If you like medium-budget Westerns, or Audie Murphy pictures, there’s plenty to like here.
There’s also plenty to like with the new DVD from Kit Parker Films and VCI Entertainment. Most important, of course, is the film itself. Apache Rifles has been well served. The transfer is sharp and clean, but without so much digital knob-twiddling it doesn’t look like film anymore. The (DeLuxe) color is a bit muted, but there’s no fading. Grain is evident — and that’s a good thing. The audio’s fine, with a tolerable amount of hiss (that’s probably been there since 1964).
But where the DVD really excels is in its supplemental material. There are short pieces on Witney and the Lone Pine Museum, a still gallery and a longer documentary on Apache Rifles and the end of the conventional Western. It’s always good to see a smaller picture get this kind of attention — and I’m sure we can all come up with a list of dozens more we’d like to see treated this respectfully.