Archive for the ‘Hugo Fregonese’ Category

Directed by Hugo Fregonese
Starring Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray, Willard Parker, Arthur Shields, James Griffith, Armando Silvestre, Georgia Backus, Clarence Muse

Apache Drums (1951) was producer Val Lewton’s last film; he died before its release. Though this was his only Western, and the only time he would produce a Technicolor film, Apache Drums is very much an extension of his earlier work in horror films at RKO. It’s a terrific, but sadly overlooked, 50s Western.

It’s coming to DVD and Blu-Ray in November from Explosive Media. I’m so stoked about this one. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

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There’s a lot going on these days, which is probably a huge understatement. At the same time, within the confines of each of our homes, there’s not much going on at all. I hope everyone is safe, healthy and watching a lot of movies. Thought I’d bring up a few things.

Apache Drums (1951) is coming to Blu-Ray from Sidonis out of France. This is very good news. It’s a terrific picture.

RIP, James Drury.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been asked for quite a few movie recommendations, and it’s been a blast to suggest Westerns and crime/noir movies to my homebound friends. It makes me feel good to know that yet another person has come to appreciate Man In The Saddle (1951) or Armored Car Robbery (1950).

Saw Day Of Triumph (1954), a low-budget, heartfelt, but talky story of Christ. It had a great cast — Lee J. Cobb, James H. Griffith (as Judas!), Joanne Dru (as a lovely Mary Magdalene), Burt Mustin, Robert Cornthwaite, Barbara Billingsley, Mike “Touch” Connors and Ralph Moody. The minimal sets are pretty effective, but Burbank is a long way from the Holy Land, in about every possible way.

Completed the commentary for Kino Lorber’s When The Daltons Rode (1940) last week. Due to coronavirus closings and stuff, we recorded it at the engineer’s home. We had to take a break when a train came through town — the tracks run behind his house. Ironically, it was the train robbery sequence.

Hang in there, folks!

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Apache Drums LC

Yesterday, I posted our favorite DVD releases of the year. Today’s list is made up of films we discovered during 2014. Titles that made the list were mentioned by at least three people. It’s a great lineup of fairly obscure, medium-budgeted 50s Westerns — and if you haven’t discovered them yourself, search them out.

Ambush At Tomahawk Gap (1953) Fred F. Sears was extremely prolific, and his 50s Westerns are worth seeking out. This is one of the better ones, available through Columbia’s on-demand DVD program.

Apache Drums (1951) A suspense picture dressed up in cowboy clothes, produced by Val Lewton and directed by Hugo Fregonese. With Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray, Willard Parker, Arthur Shields, James Griffith and Clarence Muse (who’s superb in a small part).

Border River (1954) With George Sherman directing Joel McCrea, Yvonne De Carlo and Pedro Armendáriz, how could it not be great? Shot around Moab, Utah.

Cow Country (1953) Coming across a new Lesley Selander picture is always a treat. This one features Edmond O’Brien, Helen Wescott, Bob Lowery, Barton MacLane, Peggie Castle, James Millican and Robert Wilke.

A Day Of Fury (1956) One of the most unusual, and overlooked, Westerns of the 50s. Harmon Jones directs Dale Robertson, Mara Corday and Jock Mahoney. I’m so glad this one’s being rediscovered.

Four Guns To The Border (1954) Rory Calhoun, Colleen Miller and Walter Brennan in an excellent Universal Western directed by Richard Carlson.


Fury At Gunsight Pass (1956) Another good one from Fred F. Sears. Wish this one would see a real DVD release — black and white widescreen is so cool.

The Silver Whip (1953) Dale Robertson, Rory Calhoun, Robert Wagner, Kathleen Crowley and James Millican star in this taut, tight picture from editor-turned-director Harmon Jones. The staging of the climactic chase is masterful.

Stage To Tucson (1950) Rod Cameron and Wayne Morris. Lone Pine in Technicolor. Surely that’s worth an investment of 81 minutes.

Yellow Tomahawk LC

The Yellow Tomahawk (1954) Sadly, this color film is only available black and white. But it’s still a solid effort from the ever-dependable Lesley Selander — with a cast that includes Rory Calhoun, Peggie Castle, Noah Beery, Jr., Peter Graves, Lee Van Cleef and Rita Moreno.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

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Directed by Hugo Fregonese
Produced by Val Lewton
Screenplay by David Chandler, from “Stand At Spanish Boot” by Harry Brown
Director of Photography: Charles P. Boyle, ASC
Music: Hans J. Salter
Film Editor: Milton Carruth

CAST: Stephen McNally (Sam Leeds), Coleen Gray (Sally), Willard Parker (Joe Madden), Arthur Shields (Reverend Griffin), James Griffith (Lt. Glidden), Armando Silvestre (Pedro-Peter), Georgia Backus (Mrs. Keon), Clarence Muse (Jehu), Ruthelma Stevens (Betty Careless), James Best (Bert Keon), Chinto Guzman (Chacho), Ray Bennett (Mr. Keon).


Happy Halloween. This is my contribution to the Val Lewton Blogathon — a celebration of the life and work of the great producer.

Hosted by Stephen aka Classic Movie Man and Kristina of Speakeasy, you can find more posts at either Classic Movie Man’s Lewton page or Speakeasy’s Lewton page — by film bloggers from all over the Intenet. I’m honored to be rubbing cyber-elbows with them.

If this is your first stop on the Val Lewton blogathon, you’ve come in at the end of the show. Apache Drums (1951) was producer Lewton’s last film; he died before its release. Though this was his only Western, and the only time he would produce a Technicolor film, Apache Drums is very much an extension of his earlier work in horror films. A little backstory is in order.

Val Lewton was a novelist who wound up a producer. In the early 40s, he found himself in charge of a small unit at RKO, making horror films for $150,000 each. His psychological approach, preying upon our fear of the dark and the unknown, was both effective (the first, Cat People, grossed millions and helped save the studio) and cost-effective (little light, minimal sets and no monster makeup). Lewton believed it was better to suggest horror than to show it. Leaving RKO in 1946, he made films for Paramount and MGM, and considered starting an independent production company with two of his directors from RKO, Robert Wise and Mark Robson. It fell through. There was talk of an association with Stanley Kramer at Columbia. And there was a producing gig at Universal-International — which resulted in Apache Drums.

The town of Spanish Boot is on a mission to make something respectable of itself. So when Sam Leeds (Stephen McNally), a gambler, shoots a man in self defense, he’s run out of town by Mayor Joe Madden (Willard Parker) and Reverend Griffin (Arthur Shields). He’s also forced to leave his girl Sally (Coleen Gray) behind.

Not long after leaving town, he comes across the bodies of saloon owner Betty Careless and her dance hall girls — also banished from Spanish Boot by Madden and Griffin. They’ve been massacred by Mescalero Apaches. Jehu, the piano player (Clarence Muse), is still alive as NcNally rides up. His warning: “Apaches, Mascalero Apaches… A hundred, maybe 200. They came down out of the rocks like ghosts… You gotta warn the town.”

Leeds rides back to warn the good people of Spanish Boot, but no one will believe him — until a stagecoach shows up with its passengers dead. This sets things in motion, the Apaches comes, and Leeds and the remaining townspeople take refuge in an adobe church, hoping to hold out till the the cavalry can arrive.

Filmed under the working title War Dance, Apache Drums was based on a story by Harry Brown, “Stand At Spanish Boot.” I haven’t read it to see how the story was adapted for the screen, but it’s obvious Lewton was able to approach it like his horror films for RKO. Here, the Apaches are the unknown that hides in the dark. Like the people of Spanish Boot, the audience waits in the church, listening to the drums outside, knowing that when the music stops, the siege will begin.

Director Hugo Fregonese keeps things moving and the tension mounting. It’s only 75 minutes long. The literate script was by David Chandler, no doubt with plenty of input from Lewton. Chandler later wrote Tomahawk Trail (1957).

Cinematographer Charles P. Boyle enjoyed a long career that began in the Silents. His handling of the darker scenes near the end of this film, with lots of Technicolor candles, is very effective, and contributes to the mood Lewton knew was key to the film’s success. A few years after Apache Drums, Boyle shot the Davy Crockett TV shows for Disney, which were re-edited into the feature Davy Crockett, King Of The Wild Frontier (1955). His last film was Old Yeller (1957).

Location shooting was done at Red Rock Canyon State Park, scenes that must’ve been incredible in dye-transfer Technicolor. The Joshua Trees elsewhere are a clear sign of other Mojave Desert locales. (Some sources list Tucson, AZ, and Apple Valley, CA, as other locations.) The expansive, gorgeous outdoor scenes are contrasted by the dark, claustrophobic interiors of the last reel, as the painted warriors leap from the church’s high windows onto the determined settlers below.

To help manage costs, the Mescalero Apaches were often played by Los Angeles lifeguards. They were athletic enough for what was required — and cheaper than professional stuntmen. Their presence in the last third of the film is handled largely through sound design — the drums of the title, an effective way to heighten tension while staying within budget. It’s to the credit of everyone involved with Apache Drums that we’re never actually aware we’re watching a low-budget picture.

Stephen McNally is quite good as Leeds, a scoundrel we can’t help but like, and who comes to see the error of his ways. As Sally, who also can’t help but like Leeds, Coleen Gray does all she can with a pretty standard part. If she’d had more to do in the final attack in the church, it would’ve made a huge difference.

Coleen Gray: “A very good Western picture. Val Lewton was a fine producer… He was a very poetic, creative man, very sensitive person.”*

Back to the cast. Willard Parker’s mayor is a bit too stalwart — it’s easy to guess his fate. As the self-righteous reverend, Arthur Shields is, well, Arthur Shields — and that’s a great thing indeed. His character undergoes a real transformation over the course of the film. James Griffith is good, as always, as the wounded cavalry officer barricaded in the church with the townspeople. His knowledge of the Apache informs the audience as we go along. Unfortunately, Clarence Muse has too little screen time as Jehu, the saloon’s piano player.

With Apache Drums, Lewton had brought his strengths to another genre and another studio — crafting a tough, atmospheric Western that makes a strength, not a handicap, of its limited budget. After the disappointments of his post-RKO years, it looked like things were getting back on track. But following a couple heart attacks, Val Lewton died on March 14, 1951, at just 46. Apache Drums was released in May. Imagine if he’d continued to work his magic in Universal Westerns for the rest of the decade.

An aside: John Carpenter has always claimed his Assault On Precinct 13 (1976) was an homage to Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo (1959). To me, Carpenter’s taut, suspenseful film seems much more a riff on Apache Drums.

I urge you to read Colin’s excellent post on this film at Riding The High Country.

* From Westerns Women: Interviews With 50 Leading Ladies Of Movie And Television Westerns From The 1930s To The 1960s by Boyd Magers.

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This Halloween, we can all curl up with our laptops and a plastic pumpkin full of our kids’ candy and make our way through the Val Lewton Blogathon.

I’ll be bringing up the rear with a post on the last film Lewton produced (he died at a way-too-young 46), Apache Drums (1951). His only Western, it benefits from all the mood and suspense we know and love from his wonderful horror films. In a lot of ways, it plays more like a horror film than a cowboy picture.

Directed by Hugo Fregonese and starring Stephen McNally, Coleen Gray and Arthur Shields — and with a good part for ace character actor James Griffth — it’s a solid, unique Western with plenty going for it. You’ll find further details on the Lewton blogathon, including a lineup of the films and bloggers, here.

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