Gun Belt (1953, directed by Ray Nazarro)


Outlaw Matt Ringo (John Dehner) escapes from prison and reunites with his old gang.  Riding out to Tombstone, Matt tracks down his son, Chip (Tab Hunter).  Chip is now living with his uncle, Billy Ringo (George Montgomery).  Billy was once a member of Matt’s gang but he’s gone straight, he’s given up his guns, and he now has a ranch of his own.  Billy tries to keep the naive Chip from idolizing his father but Chip is bored with life on the ranch.  Matt not only works to turn Chip against his uncle but he also frames Billy for a bank robbery.  With the town convinced that Billy has returned to his outlaw ways, Billy has no choice but to reach out to the most honest lawman in town, Wyatt Earp (James Millican).

The most interesting thing about this western is the way that it blends real people, like Wyatt and his brother Virgil (Bruce Cowling), with characters who were obviously fictionalized versions of the participants in the gunfight at the OK Corral.  The Ringos are obviously based on Johnny Ringo who, as anyone who has seen Tombstone has seen you, never went straight in real life.  Meanwhile, the head of the gang is named Ike Clinton.  Did someone misspell Ike Clanton’s name while writing the script or was the name really changed for some unknown reason?  Ike Clanton wasn’t around to sue over the way he was portrayed in the movie.

Beyond the mix of a little truth with a lot of fiction, Gun Belt is a traditional western with bad outlaws and upstanding lawmen and a naive cowpoke who has to decide whether he wants to follow the path of good or evil.  George Montgomery has the right presence to be a believable as both a retired outlaw and rancher and James Millican brings quiet authority to the film’s version of Wyatt Earp.  Western fans will be happy to see Jack Elam in the role of one of the gang members.  The only really false note is provided by Tab Hunter, who comes across as very young and very callow and not believable at all as someone who could work on a ranch or successfully pursue a career as a professional lawbreaker.

Seven years after it was released, Gun Belt was remade as Five Guns To Tombstone.

Apache Territory (1958, directed by Ray Nazarro)


In this B-western, Rory Calhoun plays Logan Cates, an old west drifter, while traveling through the desert, comes across a young woman named Junie Hatchett (Carolyn Craig).  Junie’s parents were settlers who were captured and killed by a group of Apaches.  Knowing that the Apaches will still be looking Junie, Logan takes her to a nearby canyon where there’s water and shelter.  Soon, other victims of the Apaches start to show up at the canyon.  With their supplies dwindling and the Apaches surrounding them, Logan has to keep everyone alive and lead them to safety.

Complicating matters is that one of the people who shows up at the canyon is Logan’s ex-girlfriend, Jennifer (Barbara Bates).  Jennifer is traveling with her new husband, the wealthy (and therefore cowardly) Grant Kimbrough (John Dehner).  Also seeking shelter at the canyon are a group of Calvary officers, a Pima Indian named Lugo (Frank DeKova), and a naive teenage cowboy named Lonnie (Tom Pittman).

Based on a novel by Louis L’Amour, Apache Territory is a pretty standard western.  Some of the battle scenes are surprisingly brutal — particularly when one of the Calvary officers gets hit by a flaming arrow — but otherwise, this is a typical B-western, the type of movie that would have been the second part of a double bill at a Saturday matinee.  Logan Cates is able to survive because, unlike Grant Kimbrough, he knows and respects the land and, unlike the Calvary officers, he respects his enemy.  He’s a typical western hero, though well-played by Rory Calhoun.

The main problem with the film is that, for a film about a group of people trapped in one location, it never achieves any sense of claustrophobia.  The size of the canyon seems to change from shot to shot.  The film’s finale involves a well-realized dust storm but it still never reaches the type of action-packed conclusion that most western fans will be hoping for.  It ends with a whimper instead of a bang.  It feels more like an extended episode of Gunsmoke or The Virginian than a feature film.

This one will be best appreciated by undemanding fans of the genre.