3/7/10

You Don't Know Shat! - White Comanche (1968)

Hello folks, and welcome to the 2nd annual edition of You Don’t Know Shat, a month long celebration of William Shatner to coincide with the legendary actor’s birthday. Mr. Shatner will be turning 79 this year, and with a career that spans 191 screen credits and nearly sixty years, there’s no shortage of material to check out. Last year, I looked at some of my favorite films from Shatner, the arachnid attacks epic Kingdom of the Spiders, the paintball doc Spplatt Attack, Pray for The Wildcats where he rumbles with Andy Griffith, and my favorite Trek film The Undiscovered Country. This year I’m tuning my attention to films that I’ve never seen before, and each one should prove to be a fascinating trip into his lengthy career.

For the first installment, I chose the 1968 Spanish Western White Comanche [Comanche blanco] also known as Rio Hondo or Hour of Vengance. Shatner was on hiatus between the second and third seasons of Star Trek when he traveled to Spain to join Joseph Cotton in making this picture. Pulling double duty, he stars as both Johnny Moon and his brother Notah, a ruthless Comanche leader. Notah, under the influence of peyote, believes that he is the savior of his tribe sent to lead them in a final conflict with the white man. The first step is leading an army against the sleepy western town of Rio Hondo, a town already divided by rival gangs of gunrunners. Inevitably the brothers must face off, and Johnny Moon alone must stand against his brother.

When Shatner went to Spain to film White Comanche, it must have seemed like a pretty good idea. After all, Clint Eastwood’s star was on the rise because of his Westerns with Sergio Leone. Unfortunately for Shatner, Spanish director Jose Briz Mendez only had eight film credits to his name, and none of them had made any mark outside of Spain. (Mendez would only have one other film dubbed into English, the 1968 action film Devil’s Angel.) The film was made on an extremely limited budget, most of which probably went to hire Shatner and Cotton, and the low production values are clearly evident on the screen. Don’t expect sweeping shots or even basic coverage, and certainly don’t expect a masterfully acted or directed film. What you should expect is a campy good time that far exceeded my expectations though not as a Western but rather an unintentionally comic masterpiece.

Shatner doesn’t take his performance as far over the top as you might expect. He’s actually quite charismatic in that early Kirk kind of way as Johnny Moon. Now when he’s playing Notah, it was time to paint his face, doff his shirt, and get down to the business of hamming it up. I have to say that Notah, even though he’s the leader of the rebel band of Indians, doesn’t bother to grow his hair out or even look dirty like the rest of his crew. I guess it would have been a worse choice to plop a wig on Shatner’s dome, and it would have ruined the mistaken identity sub-plot when Johnny Moon rides into Rio Hondo. The final fight between Shatner and Shatner is something that has to be seen to be believed, and even after seeing it, I’m not sure I have recovered from the awesomeness.

As far as the other performers go, Joseph Cotton picked up quite a few checks by appearing in foreign made films, and this is definitely one of them. Cotton strikes a very lean classic look as Rio Hondo’s resident Sheriff (and got top billing for his efforts) and provides the kind of solid performance that one would expect from a veteran actor. Also making an appearance is Italian actress Rosanna Yanni as the requisite love interest for Johnny Moon. Yanni, who starred in Paul Naschy’s films The Mark of the Wolfman and Dracula’s Great Love, has little to do in the film but looks beautiful doing it. The strange thing about her character is how quickly she goes from being raped by Notah to falling into the arms of his twin brother. Either this girl has some serious issues or no one bothered to think that through.

Speaking of serious issues, the script was written by Frank Gruber and Robert Holt (along with uncredited Spanish writer Manuel Gomez Rivera and director Mendez, and it has the haphazard feeling of a film with too many hands on it. Plotlines are drawn in and dropped at a whim, and the sub-plot about the rival gangs in Rio Hondo seems like no more than filler. While Shatner’s action sequences showcase the best of his Star Trek fighting skills, the massive shootouts in the film are clashes between gunman who the viewer probably won’t care about or even know what their motivation was. While the script has problems with convoluted plot and inane dialog, what really brings this film down is the sets to these filler shootouts that never go anywhere.

Jose Briz Mendez had his shot at the US with White Comanche, and it is easy to see why it didn’t go over for him. Even though Shatner’s star was on the rise, even his fame couldn’t pull this film out of the mire. His presence buoyed film considerably, and it was interesting to see Shatner take on the role while he was taking a break from Kirk. It’s not the best film, but I have to agree with the Razzie’s film guide that named White Comanche one of the most enjoyable bad movies to watch. If you like Euro-westerns from the period or, like me, the acting stylings of William Shatner, then this is a film that you should check out. Just realize that you’re not going to see one of the classics of the genre, but you are going to see William Shatner throw down against William Shatner.

Bugg Rating

4 comments:

  1. Curious, Bugg, did you see this on PD disc? That's the version I have.

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  2. I actually dig the movie's anachronistic jazzy score, and some of the dialogue is inevitably priceless. My favorite is the vow, "I promised my people you would burn in the fire." I guess you really have to hear Shatner say it.

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  3. I saw this on Allegro DVD's Vigilante Western Collection which also contains The Fighting Fist of Shanghai Joe, And God Said to Cain, Four of the Apocalypse and Keoma. The transfers are a little soft. I would always prefer my good DVD or Four and Keoma, but the others are a little harder to find.

    Sam. the dialog was priceless, but the score left little impression on me except for the WTF moment when the opening credits started.

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  4. I love Shatner in anything but the score on this film drives me nuts. It has me at screaming pitch. If only it could be stripped off and an appropriate western-style soundtrack added, then I think this film would become a really decent effort. The music is just so ruddy annoying that I can't concentrate on the story. Sometimes, I watch it with the sound off and it's so much better. Apart from that, I'd have just liked to have seen Notah with long hair but with two Shatners for the price of one, who's complaining?

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