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COMANCHEROS, THE (director: Michael Curtiz; screenwriters: book by Paul I. Wellman/James Edward Grant/Clair Huffaker; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: Louis Loeffler; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: John Wayne (Ranger Capt. Jake Cutter), Stuart Whitman (Paul Regret), Ina Balin (Pilar Graile), Nehemiah Persoff (Graile), Lee Marvin (Tully Crow), Michael Ansara (Amelung), Bob Steele (Pa Schofield), Bruce Cabot (Maj. Henry), Jack Elam (Horseface), Guinn “Big Boy” Williams (Ed McBain), Henry Daniell (Gireaux), Richard Devon (Estevan); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: George Sherman; 20th Century Fox; 1961)
“Lively and cheerful, but too banal to be a top-rate Curtiz or Wayne film; nevertheless it’s a pleasingly entertaining film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A genial action-packed old-fashioned Western set midway through the 1800s in Texas, a time when the Comanches were on the warpath and there was an added danger from the Comancheros (renegade white men on the side of the Indians who smuggled whiskey and guns to them). This was veteran director Michael Curtiz’s (“Casablanca”) last film; he died of cancer shortly after the release and was in pain when shooting which did not stop him from doing his usual professionally good work. When Curtiz was ailing, second-unit director Cliff Lyons did a fine job shooting the action sequences. Reportedly even John Wayne stepped in to direct a few scenes (refusing credit as co-director). It’s based on a novel by Paul I. Wellman and written by James Edward Grant and Clair Huffaker.

Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (John Wayne) is on the trail of a Confederate renegade chieftain Graile (Nehemiah Persoff), who schemes to set up an empire in Mexico and arm the Comanches with rifles to attack the Union in revenge for defeating the Confederacy. The ranger gets the reluctant drifter gambler Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), a wanted man who has become his prisoner, to team up with him to invade the renegade’s compound and thwart his plans. Tully Crow (Lee Marvin) is a half-scalped, ill-behaved Comanchero agent. Pilar Graile (Ina Balin) is the daughter of Graile, who rescues the ranger and the gambler when they’re held captives by the renegades.

Lively and cheerful, but too banal to be a top-rate Curtiz or Wayne film; nevertheless it’s a pleasingly entertaining film. It comes at a time when an older and fatter Wayne is comfortable shooting for comic effects by self-parody. In addition, there’s a fine supporting cast that includes such veteran character actors as Jack Elam (slimy renegade gun-runner), Henry Daniell and Richard Devon; veteran western stars Bob Steele and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams add to the lighthearted festivities with colorful cameos. Budd Boetticher was originally asked to direct this film, but preferred to remain in jail while in the middle of filming his beloved bullfighting homage to Arruza. That should speak volumes what he thought of this formulaic project, which was created to keep Wayne in front of the cameras for his faithful followers. Elmer Bernstein’s sweeping musical score plays well in the background to all the action scenes.

REVIEWED ON 10/16/2005 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”