Captain Apache Review
In 1971 the spaghetti western was over its peak, but Lee Van Cleef was still busy trying to convert his fame into hard cash, making more westerns than ever, on both sides of the ocean. Captain Apache was a British-Spanish coproduction, filmed in Spain, scripted and directed by Americans, and starring actors from all over the world. Lee is wearing one of the most ridiculous wigs in history and is also singing two songs. Excuse me: singing? Well, 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.
The title character is a US army Captain of Native American descent who is asked to investigate the murder of an Indian agent. His only clue is "April morning", the last words spoken by the victim. Lots of people seem to know more about this morning, but they are all shot before they're able to talk. With the lead character investigating a murder and uncovering an intricate scheme of corruption, the film often feels like a detective story in a western setting. The source material (a novel by S.E. Whitman, published in 1965) has 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.
Captain Apache is a movie with an ultra-bad reputation, and no, it's not good, but it might be enjoyable when watched with low expectations. The plot involves a corrupt business man, a shady lady, a couple of homosexual gunmen, 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). 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 a medicine woman has administered him a brew of hallucinogens. This is obviously a sign of the times as well: in those days, it was often thought that drug-induced techniques led to altered states of consciousness and that interrogating a hallucinating witness could provide investigators with viable information (*3).
Van Cleef looks a bit weird with his wig and without his moustache, but he works himself bravely through the labyrinth plot. Stuart Whitman and Carroll Baker make surprise appearances as the shady business man and the seductive saloon lady. We see a lot of familiar spaghetti western faces in minor roles, but we never get the idea that we’re in a spaghetti western; there’s only one scene (involving a blind guitar player) that seems to have some genuine spaghetti western atmosphere. 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 influenced the scene in which Van Cleef’s character ‘sees’ things thanks to an altered state of consciousness during an acid trip (he even 'sees' things he had never witnessed in real life, so it must have been a powerful drug).
- (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