Apaches (1973)

One day, at MMT's main offices in Indiana...

Nate: Kelby, what the hell? It's 3:15 in the afternoon, where have you been all day?

Intern Kelby: Sorry, boss, what happened was, I had trouble getting dressed this morning. And then I went to the strip club.

Nate: Goddamn it.

Intern Kelby: Hey, but I'm at my desk now, right? Let's get to work!

Nate: I don't even care anymore. Did you find me a movie to review next?

Intern Kelby: I did, boss, it's a Western called Apaches from 1973.

Nate: Ugh, you know I hate the Western genre. The boots, the chaps, the horses, the insulting portrayals of Native Americans, it all just bores me to death.

Intern Kelby: This one was made in East Germany.

Nate: ...what? Like, Behind the Iron Curtain East Germany?

Intern Kelby: Wait, let me Google that. Yes, that one.

Nate: Hmmm...now I'm interested. Let's watch it, Kelbs.

Intern Kelby: No thanks, I'm up against my lunch break so I'll be out of the office for a bit.

Nate: Lunch? You just got here four minutes ago!

Intern Kelby: Sorry, boss, can't hear you. [door slams]

Nate: Sigh.

You know, I really shouldn't be that surprised that the Warsaw Pact made a number of classic American-style Westerns. They copied every other genre of free-world cinema, from spy films to beach blanket comedies, why wouldn't they cash in on the 1950s/60s heyday of the Western? Yes, there were few (no?) ethnic Native Americans in East Germany, but that never stopped American directors from casting white guys in facepaint in their movies, right? What else do you need to make a Western? Horses, revolvers, ten-gallon hats, temperate evergreen forests? All of that can easily be found in Eastern Europe. Is it a bit disorientating to hear a guy in spurs and a fringed vest speaking German? Yes, actually, but no worse than all those Italian Spaghetti Westerns from the same era.

So Apaches is a classic Western story of the Wild West Frontier, set in 1848, when the Americans were slowly, unstoppably, pushing their national borders west and southwest into traditional Apache lands. Conflict ensues, people are killed, treaties are made and broken, and the Noble Savages take it in the tenders in the end. In an American movie with the same plot the valiant, upstanding John Wayne-esque soldiers of the US Army Cavalry Corps would be the heroes. But in our movie, and really in the entire Communist Western genre, it's the honorable, stalwart Indians who are the heroes and the dastardly, land-stealing American Army is painted in a most unfavorable light.

I don't speak enough German to really do a thorough review of this movie, and if there's an English subtitled/dubbed version out there, I can't find it. Though I can find it dubbed into both Polish and Russian (not exactly super-helpful). But since my fantastic 720p digital copy is so clean and colorful, I thought I'd review it mostly in screen captures. And yes I'm justifying the captions to the left, trying something new with the html.

Seriously, could this not be any place in Montana?

Or any dude ranch in Southern California?

Our movie starts with a band of scruffy white American bros out illegally prospecting for gold in Indian lands. Right off the bat we can tell that the movie wants us to hate these guys and their claim-jumping ways.

They meet some of the local Apache tribe and things go well at first. It won't last. The “saguaro cacti” in this movie are surely fake, they only appear in a few shots, strategically planted where they need them to be.

Our protagonist is ApacheWarriorGuy, a well-tanned Serbian, of course.

I know, I know, but not any different than a typical John Ford Western, ok?

Our scene shifts to the Apache village, where they discuss what to do with the American interlopers. Much care was taken to keep it “accurate”. And by “accurate” I mean “not accurate”.

The wise and slightly senile ComicReliefChief dispenses words of wisdom.

I don't even know what to say anymore.

Yes, good idea, I may just go lay down for a while. I should call HR.

This being the 1800s in the Southwest, we now go to a local Mexican village. This looks to be entirely made of plaster stage fronts and burrito stands. Any interior sets we see don't match the outsides at all.

Unsurprisingly, the Mexicans are not well represented in this movie. Sheesh.

The few Mexican Army dudes are comically inept, but they have awesome uniforms.

Worst of all, the town's mayor is in cahoots with the slimy American prospectors. Money is sure to be changing hands in this deal, and probably blackmarket Chihuahuas.

They invite the Apache tribe to come visit, because Injuns love Fire Water. Of course they do.

Except for ApacheWarriorGuy, he's clean and sober and high on life. This dude is so amazingly awesome at everything that you wonder why he isn't Chief.

The evil hairy Americans need to eliminate the Indians so they can steal their land. This is the Wild West, remember, the only law is the gun.

So they ambush the Apaches in the town with a cannon and snipers. The Indians here are armed exclusively with bows and knives, so they must retreat when faced with firearms and artillery. I think the cannon is a prop, it only fires once and then they just forget about it.

A lot escape, but many, many Indians are massacred and the white guys rob their corpses.

The survivors stumble back to their village where several die of their wounds. The blood in this movie is censor-friendly bright crimson, though there is more than you would expect.

Having lost many friends and relatives, and feeling betrayed by both the Mexicans and the Americans, ApacheWarriorGuy is suuuuuuper pissed.

As is his crazyhot girlfriend, SquawEyebrowTweezer.

You don't mess with the Shirtless Mafia, yo. Revenge has been sworn, oaths have been made, harsh words have been spoken, and the warpath has been set. I wonder if they even considered some peaceful conflict resolution solutions, do we have to resort to violent retribution? Yes, yes we do.

First up is to smack around the Mexican Mayor. Yes, grandpa is a drunk, we get it, all Indians are drunks. Seriously, movie, you are not even trying.

For some reason, the Apaches then try and strand a caravan of poor Mexican farmers in the desert without water. One minority trying to knock off another minority to keep their Most Favored Status, I bet (Go Trump!).

Not sure why they would do such a thing, these schlubs look pretty innocent to me. A weird amount of time is spent (wasted?) on this subplot, which really seems unrelated to the main 'Muricans-vs-Indians storyline.

But ApacheWarriorGuy seems to have a plan and who am I to question this plan?

They do, eventually, get around to ambushing the evil American prospectors, though they only manage to annoy them a bit.

This guy is totes annoyed.

This guy probably should have been more annoyed, might have stayed alive longer. This is one of those movies where an arrow hit to any part of the body, even the shoulder or leg, will instantly kill the bad guy. Unless it's coated in Sarin VX, an arrowhead stuck a half-inch into your arm isn't going to cause sudden death mid-step.

Once again, bows-versus-rifles is a losing bet.

The one success is that the Apaches capture StinkyPete, the group's leader and head Indian-killer. Not sure why they wanted him alive, as they don't do much to him and he ends up escaping ten minutes later. Should have just scalped him.

But he is paraded around the Apache village where the squaws gawk at him in amazement.

I really think some of the squaws are dudes.

IndianJosephGordonLevitt is not amused by my racist humor.

Neither is IndianMandyPatinkin.

So it's around here that the US Army shows up. They are shown to be cowardly and selfish fools with funny US Grant beards and fake felt hats, so don't expect much dering-do from them.

The prospectors try and get the Army to help them, but the soldiers are too scared of the Apaches to even leave their tents. I'm sure this played well in Soviet Bloc theaters in 1973. Western cinema of the same era was equally as insulting to the “enemy”, that's just a time-worn aspect of film-as-propaganda.

So, the final battle is upon us now. The avenging Apaches against the last remnants of the prospectors, currently holed up in some cabins in a wooded area. The change of scenery from the high deserts to the evergreen hills is a welcome addition of color.

During a recon foray, ApacheWarriorGuy is captured and flogged with a whip. He takes it stoically, of course, because Native Americans never get scared or break under the pressure.

StinkyPete is especially brutal with his punishment, he's one of those cigar-chomping stock bad guy characters with zero redeeming qualities.

Well, other than he looks like Matthew McConaughey.

ApacheWarriorGuy is rescued by ComicReliefCheif. Everyone has a bad wig on and it gets distracting after a while. The stupid headbands don't help any.

The prospectors close ranks and manage to fend off a couple of Apache attacks with their superior firepower and fortified defensive positions.

While there is a lot of bloodshed and mean words, the outcomes of these early skirmishes are never in doubt because, again, bullets hurt way more than arrows.

Though you probably shouldn't mention that to this guy. Kudos to the stunt guys for being shot with real arrows (!) for these scenes, even with padded vests on that's still a big risk. Can you imagine the insurance premiums if this was a Hollywood movie?

Eventually the Apaches gain the upper hand, mostly because their horses provide them with invaluable mobility to flank the defenders. The Indians all ride bare-back, by the way, which I'm not exactly sure is historically accurate this late after First Contact with the Spanish in the 16th Century.

In the final minutes, ApacheWarriorGuy and StinkyPete have their plot-mandated one-on-one knife fight in the burning cabin to end their story arcs. The winner should be obvious.

And with that, the victorious Apaches ride off into the sunset...to be shipped off to a reservation in Oklahoma in 20 years. Sorry about your luck, guys.

I was keeping score as the movie went along and the final death toll is pretty severe. By the closing bell about 15-20 American prospectors lost their lives, against probably 50-60 Apaches. This high death toll is surely crippling for this relatively small and isolated Apache tribe, especially as the majority of members lost were young warrior men in their primes. Those dead Americans can be replaced with ease, there are endless numbers of jobless Irishmen on the East Coast itching to Go West in search of gold and fortune. Manifest Destiny, baby!

The End.

Written in November 2016 by Nathan Decker.

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