Hero Worshipping for Heroic Murphy
"40 Guns to Apache Pass" was Audie Murphy's penultimate movie and would once again see him starring in a western and to be honest delivering another solid performance. The sad thing is by 1967 the western was dying a quick death and whilst there are various elements to "40 Guns to Apache Pass" which are good it all seems so cliche. Basically if it had been made maybe a decade earlier it would have been good rather than a movie which at times feels desperate not only in its old style but some corny elements and dialogue which makes it cheesy in places.
With Cochise (Michael Keep) rallying the tribes to unite to declare war on all white people Capt. Bruce Coburn (Audie Murphy - Six Black Horses) and his men have been rounding up civilians to bring them to the safety of the Fort, but with just old guns they look to be in deep trouble. Sent out to collect 40 repeating rifles from some scouts who agree to bring them half way Coburn finds himself being betrayed by his men lead by Cpl. Bodine (Kenneth Tobey - Seven Ways from Sundown) who not only leave Coburn for dead but steal the rifles to sell to Cochise.
The truth of "40 Guns to Apache Pass" is that it is little more than a collection of ideas which had been explored in previous westerns. Right from the start this becomes apparent as we learn that Cochise is uniting the Indians to bring war on the white folks and so the Cavalry are trying to bring in the settlers to the safety of a Fort. We also meet Capt. Bruce Coburn, a by the book Cavalry man who pushes his men to the limits and is unpopular for doing so especially with Cpl. Bodine who resents taking orders from a man who during the Civil war was on the other side.
So we have this tension between Coburn and Bodine, an element which feeds through out the entire movie, but the main story is Coburn leading a small group of men to try and pick up 40 repeating rifles which will be crucial to the men at the Fort holding off attack. We get treachery as Bodine and the men who dislike Coburn decide to take the rifles for themselves to feather their own nests by selling them to the Indians. And we also get the Malone boys, Doug and Mike whose father was killed by Indians and enlist because they want revenge. In fact this leads to Doug, being timid, not fighting when his brother is attacked and so branded a coward.
Now lets just say what follows is obvious, seriously obvious as having been left for dead by Bodine after he stole the weapons Coburn not only makes it back to the Fort but then goes out against orders to try and retrieve the guns. This leads to an opportunity for young Doug to do the right thing and get redemption for his earlier cowardice. It is really that obvious and throws up no surprises when it comes to what the outcome is and how we get there. Although these various cliches, and that is what they are, work well together and could have been the basis for a much better western than "40 Guns to Apache Pass" ends up.
Now the big problem with all this is that "40 Guns to Apache Pass" is filmed in exactly the same way westerns had been made for the past decade, with Saturday morning matinee styling heroics, music and action footage. And sadly not only does it feel dated but it also feels incredibly corny. It is not helped by some cheesy dialogue where Coburn's second in command Sgt. Walker tells Coburn what a hero he is, it feels like the director desperately trying to remind audiences what a real life hero Audie Murphy was with his heroics during the war.
The irony of all this is, is that Audie Murphy is his reliable self doing what he had done in so many westerns but doing it well so that it is still entertaining. Although even Murphy looks embarrassed when it comes to the hero worshipping dialogue. And to be honest whilst Kenneth Tobey as Bodine and Michael Burns as Doug are important characters they make little impression because of the hero worshipping story.
What this all boils down to is that "40 Guns to Apache Pass" is basically a 1950s western but one made towards the end of the 60s and comes across very old hat. Not only that because it seems that director William Witney worshiped Audie Murphy, or at least it comes across as such, and so we have some seriously cheesy hero worshiping scenes and dialogue which make it feel very cheesy in places.