WHITE COMANCHE (Comanche Blanco)
(director: Gilbert Kay; screenwriters: from a story by Frank Gruber & Robert Holt/Manuel Gómez Rivera; cinematographer: Francisco Fraile; editors: Javier Morán/Gaby Peñalba; music: Jean Ledrut; cast: Joseph Cotton (Sheriff Logan), William Shatner (Johnny Moon/Notah Moon), Perla Cristal (White Fawn), Rosanna Yanni (Kelly), Vida Molina (General Garcia), Luis Prendes (Grimes), Vincent Roca (Ellis), Bart Barry (Mayor Bolker), Luis Rivera (Kah To), Héctor Quiroga (The Parson), Xavier Maza (Coor), Víctor Israel (Carter, bounty hunter); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam White; RKO; 1968-Spain)
“A Western that’s too wacky to overlook.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
William Shatner was on hiatus from playing Captain Kirk on the TV series “Star Trek,” and journeys to Spain to shoot this one-of-a-kind fascinatingly weird and absurd Western, a cultlike film that has to be either loved or hated for not backing away from how ridiculous is the plot. It’s a Western that’s too wacky to overlook. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: a pregnant squaw named White Fawn knifed to death after she stomps with her horse on a fellow Indian, an Indian leader with blonde hair taking peyote, a cowardly town not worth a damn nearly wiped out by a range war and feeling good about itself, a beautiful white woman savagely raped by an Indian, the blonde rape victim then falling in love with a guy who looks exactly like the guy who raped her, an obnoxious and bigoted mayor holding the respect of the solid citizens, and a conclusion that features a fight between ‘me and myself.’
Shatner bares his chest and plays the dual role of antagonistic half-breed twin brothers Johnny Moon and Notah Moon, who could only be told apart because there eyes are a different color. The twins are born to a white father and a Comanche mother, but go their separate ways: Notah takes peyote and becomes possessed by visions that he shall become an Indian leader and leave the reservation to go on the warpath against the whites; Johnny wants to fit in with the whites, but can’t because he’s taken for his criminal brother everywhere he goes and is blamed for his murders–doing all he can just not to be hanged, as no one wants an explanation when they spot him. Deciding that he’s not going to put up with that crap anymore, he rides to Notah’s camp in the hills and challenges him to a fight till death Indian style (on horseback and armed only with a gun, as they ride toward each other). It’s arranged that they will meet alone in four days in the dusty one-saloon prairie Texas town of Rio Hondo.
Just before the enemy brothers met to arrange their duel, Notah and his tribe raided a stagecoach and killed all but Kelly (Rosanna Yanni), a bar hostess heading for her new job with Grimes’s saloon, who was raped by Notah.
After leaving Notah, on his way to Rio Hondo, Johnny sees a gang, owing allegiance to General Garcia, about to hang a shifty-eyed man named Ellis. But Johnny stops the hanging, knowing how it feels to be hunted down by a mob, saying there should be a trial. When the gang resists, the fast drawing Johnny kills two of them and the others put away their guns and reluctantly let Ellis go. In town the elderly sheriff, Logan (Joseph Cotton), greets Johnny and tells him he runs a peaceful town. Grimes (check out this dude’s crooked smile!) tells Johnny he’s grateful he saved his right-hand man Ellis’s life and offers him a hundred bucks just to consider working for him. When Kelly looks up from the saloon gambling table, she points to Johnny and becomes hysterical and stammers out in a quivering voice that’s the man who raped her. She then empties her pistol on him but her shots are wide of the mark. After Logan steps in and figures out that Johnny couldn’t be at both the stagecoach killings and the potential hanging because they are in opposite directions, he lets him go.
Before we have the final showdown between the brothers, we are treated to a range war between the two richest men in the territory–Grimes and General Garcia. All the wounded sheriff can say after both gangs are eliminated is: “Hell of a way to earn a dollar.” All the pastor can say is “Thank God for sending Johnny to us.” You see, Johnny helped out the town even though he didn’t have to after the way they treated him as if he were a pariah. We also witness the following: Kelly and Johnny figuring out they are outsiders, soulmates and deeply in love; a meek looking bounty hunter named Carter making a fatal mistake by trying to pull a sneak attack on Johnny, believing him to be the White Comanche and that by getting him he will receive the big reward offered; General Garcia’s scowling brother Coor trying unsuccessfully to kill Johnny to revenge the death of his two men in the hanging party.
It ends with Johnny absurdly leading his brother’s band of renegade Comanches back to the reservation and promising Kelly he will return to marry her and settle down in the now civilized Rio Hondo.
REVIEWED ON 1/28/2005 GRADE: B