Jolly Cinema > 11:00


Hugo Fregonese
Introduced by

Cassandra Moore (Universal), Dave Kehr and Ehsan Khoshbakht


Sunday 26/06/2022


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

One of Fregonese’s most completely realized projects, Apache Drums was also the last film of the creative producer Val Lewton (The Cat People), who died a few weeks before its release in 1951. The film follows the fast-talking gambler and gunman Sam Leeds (Stephen McNally), perhaps Fregonese’s most rootless protagonist, after being kicked out of a mining town in the New Mexico desert that is on the verge of becoming respectable. Sent into exile, Sam comes across the bodies of the dance hall girls massacred by a band of Mescalero warriors. He reluctantly returns to town to warn the residents of the impending threat. Even when convention requires Sam to become a hero and lead the townspeople to safety, Fregonese continues to emphasize his weakness and vanity – he’s far more interested in looking like a hero than in actually becoming one, and his flamboyance and impulsiveness leads to disaster. The final siege sequence is one of the most remarkable passages in American cinema. Throughout, Fregonese has developed a visual motif of low ceilings (indeed, some of the interiors seem like shots from a lost Orson Welles western) and cantilevered porticos that give a sense of constraint and claustrophobia even to the exteriors (the locations, mostly in California’s Mojave Desert, are themselves quite dramatic and unusual). When the action enters the hall, the camera goes along with it; there are no exterior views to establish the mounting presence of the Apache warriors, but only the pounding rhythms of the war dance (the music, apparently authentic, was supplied by an indigenous musicologist). One feels the influence of Lewton in the mounting suspense focused on an unseen menace, but the release is startlingly original – warriors suddenly diving through the upper windows, their bodies painted in primary colors and bathed by matching pinspots, an audacious concept that looks forward to the bold stylization of Mario Bava.

Dave Kehr

Cast and Credits

Sog.: Harry Brown. Scen.: David Chandler. F.: Charles P. Boyle. M.: Milton Carruth. Scgf.: Bernard Herzbrun, Robert Clatworthy. Mus.: Hans J. Salter. Int.: Stephen McNally (Sam Leeds), Coleen Gray (Sally), Willard Parker (Joe Madden), Arthur Shields (reverendo Griffin), James Griffith (tenente Glidden), Armando Silvestre (Pedro-Peter), Georgia Backus (signora Keon), Clarence Muse (Jehu). Prod.: Val Lewton per Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc. DCP. D.: 75’. Col.