Tuesday, July 04, 2017
Overlooked Movies: Ambush at Tomahawk Gap (1953)
Not only had I never seen this Western movie, I don't think I'd ever even heard of it until we watched it recently. It's certainly a little unusual for the time period in that there are no real "good guys". Four ex-cons are released from Yuma Prison and go after the loot from a hold-up that was hidden before they went to prison. The twist is that one of them (played by John Hodiak) wasn't even part of the robbery. He was just an innocent cowboy swept up by the posse when the others were captured. The actual fourth man who was in on the job got away, and the others are supposed to meet him and claim their shares of the loot. Hodiak wants a share, too, because he did the time even though he didn't do the crime.
But the fourth man is dead, and nobody knows where the money is, except that it's supposed to be hidden in the town of Tomahawk Gap, and there are Apaches on the war path, and when they get to Tomahawk Gap it's a ghost town, deserted except for a crazy old geezer who's taking care of the graveyard, and they also have a girl on their hands, a Navajo prisoner they rescued from the Apaches, and it's a question of whether they'll all kill each other before they find the loot or will the Apaches get them?
That's a long sentence, but that's the way the plot tumbles out in this movie, not always making complete sense but never slowing down, either. In addition to Hodiak, the guys after the money are David Brian (a suitably despicable villain), veteran character actor Ray Teal, and an incredibly young John Derek. The crazy old geezer is played by another great character actor, John Qualen (with no Swedish accent this time), and yet another great character actor, Percy Helton, has a small part early on. This is a good cast, and the production values are high for the most part. Lots of good stunt work during the Indian battles. The fistfights are embarrassingly bad, though, with the actors clearly missing each other by a foot or more.
This could have easily been one of those hardboiled Western novels published by Gold Medal in the Fifties, by Lewis B. Patten or William Heuman or Harry Whittington. The bleak tone it achieves works really well. I'm not sure why I never ran across AMBUSH AT TOMAHAWK GAP before, but I'm glad I watched it now.