Tuesday 9 April 2013

Movie Review: Captain Apache (1971)

A muddled Spaghetti Western, Captain Apache gallops headlong into a botched collection of nondescript characters killing each other at drudgingly predictable intervals. Lee Van Cleef's substantial presence and some wry notes of humour are not nearly enough to rescue the film.

A half-breed member of the US Cavalry known only as Captain Apache (Van Cleef) is investigating a murder when he learns of a mysterious plan known only as April Morning. With everyone in town seemingly hiding something but no one willing to talk, Captain Apache's snooping eventually leads to Griffin (Stuart Whitman) a rich industrialist, who enjoys the company of Maude (Carroll Baker), a higher-class prostitute of sorts.

A sub-plot involving gun smuggling may or may not have something to do with April Morning, and as Captain Apache treks back and forth across the Mexican border to investigate, he runs afoul of a witch with hallucinatory potions. As the calendar ticks towards April, Griffin, Captain Apache, Maude, various gunmen and shady senior cavalry officers converge on a train as the heinous plan starts to unfold.

Director Alexander Singer, who spent most of his career in television land, fills Captain Apache with characters who make brief appearances, their role in the overall plot never fully understood, and within a few scenes they end up as so much gun fodder. From a chicken-chomping general in charge of a barracks, to a priest with something to hide, to twin blond and mustachioed gunfighters, disparate people come, spout a few lines, and are shot dead. The Philip Yordan and Milton Sperling script sacrifices all search for depth in the rush for the next undefined body to hit the floor, riddled with bullets.

A sturdy Lee Van Cleef, looking strange without his moustache, tries to hold the film together, and his half-breed law man offers some originality. He gets to wear a cool jacket and in one scene stands almost naked, stomach sucked way in, to prove his redskin credentials.

But even he is defeated by a story that offers him nothing except a search for the mysterious April Morning from the first scene to the last. Basic plot-advancement devices such as gradually revealing tantalizing additional clues to maintain interest are foreign here, Yordan and Sperling confining their hero to asking the same question and getting the same none-answer for the best part of 85 minutes.

Stuart Whitman gives Griffin some personality as the main antagonist, but Carroll Baker's role is poorly defined, Maude hastily sketched-in to inject some frivolous female participation.

Jarringly edited and photographed with no style, Captain Apache can at least boast Van Cleef singing, or at least warbling, the title song over the opening credits. It's a tune so ridiculously bad it's really good, which is more than can be said for the rest of the film.

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