Hugo Fregonese, USA, 1951, DCP, 76′
Images Courtesy of Park Circus/Universal.
To become a respectable and appealing, western town Spanish Boot must rid itself of its prostitutes and its notorious gambler and gunslinger Sam. But a band of Apaches is descending upon them and Sam is the only one that can deliver a warning. As the townspeople take refuge in a church, the Apache warriors gather outside, their drums beating up tension you could cut with a knife. With Apache Drums, Argentinian Hollywood outsider Hugo Fregonese and brilliant creative producer Val Lewton (who died shortly before the film’s release) created a seemingly classical Western of their time, but in fact a bold and unique tour de force, filled with hidden political subversion.
“An unknown masterpiece.”
– Bertrand Tavernier
“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, Il Cinema Ritrovato