Captain Apache Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
In 1971 the spaghetti western was over its peak, but Lee Van Cleef, one of the genre's biggest stars, was still very busy trying to convert his fame into hard cash, making more westerns than ever, in different countries, on different continents. The British-Spanish co-production Captain Apache was shot in Spain, scripted and directed by Americans, and starring an ensemble of actors from all over the world. Lee van Cleef is wearing one of the most ridiculous wigs in history and performing no less than two songs. He only sings one of them - in a style that could be described as Johnny Crash (1) - the second one, the title song, is a sort of slow rap, Lee reading the words instead of singing them.
Lee is the title character, a Native American US army Captain, who's put on the case of a murdered Indian agent. His only clue are the victim's last words, "April morning". Lots of people seem to know more about this morning, but they all get shot before the Captain's very eyes, before they're able to talk. With the lead character investigating a murder and eventually uncovering an intricate scheme of corruption (and worse), the film plays more like a thriller than a western; it has in fact a lot in common with the kind of conspiracy thrillers that were popular in the late sixties, early seventies, offering a mix of social comment and paranoia, often with vague references to the Kennedy killings. The plot involves a corrupt business man, a beautiful but shady lady, a couple of homosexual gunmen, an Indian medicine woman preparing a truth serum, Mexicans dressed like Indians, a president, his double, you name it. The only thing missing, is Lee's moustache. It's a well-known fact that Native Americans don't have much facial hair.
Captain Apache is a movie with an ultra-bad reputation, but I've always thought it was kind of enjoyable when watched in the right state of mind. The mystery is played out well enough to keep you guessing what the hell is going on and the far-fetched (and fairly ridiculous) solution perfectly fits the slaphappy storytelling. There's a lot of wild humor - some intentional, some unintentional (2) - and a truly outrageous sequence of Van Cleef having a bad trip after the medicine woman has administered him a brew of hallucinogens. This is obviously a sign of the times too: in those days, it was often thought that drug-induced shamanic techniques led to altered states of consciousness and that narcoanalysis (interrogating a witness who's having hallucinations) therefore could provide investigators with viable information (3).
The movie feels like a second-hand spaghetti western, that is: a spaghetti western made by film makers who didn't know how to do it. Only one action scene (involving a blind guitar player) breathes some real spaghetti western atmosphere, otherwise it's more like Noir-meets-West-meets-Lee in search of Van Cleef. Luis Induni seems to be the only Italian connection here (he apparently was a political refugee in Francoist Spain): he's the mysterious Mormon who came all the way down from Utah to warn people for April Morning. Stuart Whitman and Carroll Baker make surprise appearances as the shady business man and the seductive saloon lady. The director, Alexander Singer, was a man who had exclusively worked for television but who apparently also was a good friend of Stanley Kubrick (4). The film is shot by John Cabrera, who also did the cinematography of A Man called Noon, but his trademark use of odd camera angles is less obtrusive here. Both Philip Yordan and Milton Sperling were experienced screenwriters and you wonder if they had tasted a few mushrooms too before writing the script.
- (1) For an interview with the composer of the soundtrack and some notes on Lee's qualities as a singer, see: http://thebadnet.blogspot.be/2012/11/interview-with-dolores-claman-captain.html
- (2) There seems to be a "laugh track" release of the movie, containing two different audio tracks, one 'normal', one 'funny', but according to forum member Autephex the normal track is by far the funnier of the two.
- (3) Carlos Castaneda had published his (in)famous Teachings of Don Juan in 1968 and the novel was widely read in artistic circles. The book narrates about Castaneda's experiences with a Yaqui shaman. The novel may have been of influence and led to the decision to turn Van Cleef's character into an Indian.
- (4) See the director's IMDB page
Cast: Lee van Cleef, Stuart Whitman, Carroll Baker, Percey Herbert, Elisa Montés, Ricardo Palacios, Fernando Sanchez Polack, Tony Vogel, Charley Bravo, Luis Induni, José Bódalo, Dan van Husen - Director: Alexander Singer
- For the artwork, I used a drawing by Harnois75
- Harnois75 is Daryl Joyce: http://harnois75.deviantart.com/