Susan Cabot and Jeff Chandler in The Battle at Apache Pass

Broken Peace for Chandler and Lund

"Broken Arrow" is widely known as a groundbreaking movie for portraying Native Indians not purely as savages whilst telling the story of peace talks in the early 1870s. Two years later came "The Battle at Apache Pass" which whilst again portraying Native Indians in a more realistic light also works as a sort of prequel to "Broken Arrow" with it's story of how the white man's greed caused unrest. In fact making it seem even more like a prequel is the fact that Jeff Chandler stars as Cochise having played the Chiricahua chief in "Broken Arrow".

Maj. Jim Colton (John Lund - Dakota Incident) and Chiricahua leader Cochise (Jeff Chandler - War Arrow) have a respect for each other which means that there is peace between the white men and the Indians. But when Government Indian agent Neil Baylor (Bruce Cowling) arrives with a goal of moving the Chiricahua's off their land trouble starts as along with his scout Mescal Jack (Jack Elam) pay Geronimo (Jay Silverheels) to start causing trouble and making it look like the Chiricahua's are behind so that he can have an excuse to start a war with Cochise and force them to move on.

John Lund as Maj. Jim Colton in The Battle at Apache Pass

I've watched plenty of westerns but few have done such a good job of showing how the unrest started between Native Indians and the white man as "The Battle at Apache Pass" does. What we see after it is established that Maj. Jim Colton and Cochise have a friendship which means peace, but Geronimo wanting to fight against the white man is how trouble starts. That trouble comes in the form of greed and Neil Baylor a Government Indian agent who knows the land occupied the Chiricahua's will be worth a fortune and whilst Colton won't back his plans to move them off goes about it in another way. That other way is by having his scout Mescal Jack cut a deal with Geronimo to make it look like the peace loving Chiricahua's have started to attack white folk and so leading to all out trouble.

Now I don't know how much truth there is to the story of "The Battle at Apache Pass" but it does make it clear that greed and treachery was behind much of the trouble and in this case Cochise forced to fight because of Baylor's trickery in getting the naive Lt. George Bascom to start trouble by taking hostage Cochise's family. It's basically very believable and also kind of heart breaking as we watch Colton and Cochise forced to go to war against each other despite having been friends. And all of this builds to a terrific ending as we watch the fight between the cavalry and the combined force of many Indian tribes hit a new level as Colton is forced to use canons.

The thing is that aside from this interesting and easy to follow story built on treachery and greed "The Battle at Apache Pass" is nothing more than average western. Director George Sherman does a solid job of delivering the action, keeping things moving whilst also capturing the stunning location but it is nothing any different to what other directors were doing at the time. Same can be said about the acting because whilst Jeff Chandler is solid as Cochise and both John Lund and Richard Egan are solid as the obviously good guy cavalry men they are not performances which stand out. In fact the rest of the cast which includes Hugh O'Brian, James Best, Beverly Tyler and Susan Cabot are just as good but it is all so average and on a par with other westerns.

What this all boils down to is that "The Battle at Apache Pass" is entertaining and in a way works as a nice prequel to the much more impressive "Broken Arrow". But the trouble is that whilst entertaining and easy to follow it all ends up routine, delivering the same solid performances and action which can be seen in numerous other 50s westerns.