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APPALOOSA, THE (Southwest to Sonora)(director: Sidney J. Furie; screenwriter: from the book by Robert MacLeod/James Bridges/Roland Kibbee; cinematographer: Russell Metty; editor: Ted Kent; music: Frank Skinner; cast: Marlon Brando (Matt Fletcher), Anjanette Comer (Trini), John Saxon (Chuy Medina), Rafael Campos (Paco), Miriam Colon (Ana), Emilio Fernandez (Lazaro), Alex Montoya (Squint Eye), Frank Silvera (Ramos); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alan Miller; Universal; 1966)

“Never seemed anything but a pointless horse tale told in a style that was too mannered.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Sidney J. Furie directs this brooding vengeance Western without ever making it come to life. He goes south of the border using too many obscure shots that focus on close-ups on shiny teeth, squinting eyes, and bad skin. Those oddly angled shots made it seem that getting the nonessential details right was more important than telling an interesting story. The Appaloosa never seemed anything but a pointless horse tale told in a style that was too mannered.

Marlon Brando revisits his similarly crazed characterization from the dreary 1961 One-Eyed Jacks, playing this time the obsessed lone drifter named Matt. Set in 1870, Matt rides back to his border hometown of Ojo Prieto looking like a bum. In church, Matt tells the priest during confession that he wants to stop his killing ways and lead a peaceful life as a rancher. The priest tells him to light a candle and say a pray. But while Matt’s praying his ass off, crazed Mexican bandito Chuy Medina (John Saxon) pulls a gun on him because his pretty young wife Trini (Anjanette Comer) complained that the drifter violated her in the church. Trini lied so she could buy time to escape from her boorish hubby and his cutthroat gang, by taking off on Matt’s prized spotted Indian horse–an Appaloosa stallion. Trini’s brought back by Chuy’s men to the not amused gang leader. In order not to lose face with his men, Chuy unsuccessfully tries to buy the horse from the unwilling Matt.

Matt is embraced as a hero by the large peasant family of Paco and Ana, when he surprisingly arrives in his humble home. Paco’s father raised the juvenile delinquent when he became an orphan as a child, and now Matt’s dream is to take the Appaloosa stallion and build a stud ranch from scratch with the help from the $200 he saved just for this rainy day. He shows his gratitude to his stepfather by making Paco his full partner. When Matt gets drunk celebrating his homecoming, Chuy and his gang steal the valuable horse and embarrass Matt further by calling him dirty names while dragging him by rope, torturously dunking him in the water and stringing him up to a tree. In order to regain his lost dignity and his stolen horse, Matt shaves off his scruffy beard, gets dressed up in a fancy sombrero and poncho and rides alone across the border into the hostile Mexican territory of Sonora hoping to be successfully disguised as a Mexican to chase down Chuy and his large gang.

Matt gets humiliated again when he confronts the psychopathic bandito in his town hideout ranch and loses an arm-wrestling match to him. But even worse is that he’s about to die, because he’s stung by a scorpion when his arm goes down. To the rescue of the gringo comes Trini. She deserts her hubby to bring him to a recluse goat-herding healer (Frank Silvera) who nurses him back to life. By the climactic scene everything looked as familiar as it always does in a routine Western. Matt fights off the many baddies and gets into the expected gunfight with Chuy. If Matt wins he aims to bring the beautiful horse and woman across the border. The now professed religious man hopes to live happily ever after on the land (that is unless another Mexican bandito tries to steal either his horse or woman or dignity).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”