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July 2015

White Comanche

cast: William Shatner, Joseph Cotten, Rosanna Yanni, Perla Cristal, and Luis Prendes

director: Jose Briz Mendes (as Gilbert Kay)

91 minutes (12) 1968
Odeon DVD Region 2

RATING: 2/10
review by J.C. Hartley

White Comanche

The second point for this review is for the drama-documentary The Great American West, narrated by Jason Robards, as an extra on the disc; the actual feature film White Comanche is appalling. There is a certain amount of mileage in the notion of 'so bad it's good', and that epithet might be applied to the original Casino Royale (1967), and What's New Pussycat (1965), but affording White Comanche some sort of cult status, presumably from the presence of its star, is taking bad taste to extremes.

Drifter Johnny Moon (William Shatner) narrowly escapes a lynch-mob accusing him of being the 'White Comanche'. Johnny seeks out a Comanche camp and there confronts White Fawn (Perla Cristal, who was in Jess Franco's genuine cult The Awful Dr Orloff, 1961). White Fawn is pregnant with the Comanche leader's child. Meanwhile, a band of renegade Comanche attack the Rio Honcho stage killing driver and passengers. One of the passengers Kelly (Rosanna Yanni) is beaten and raped by the Comanche leader Notah, Johnny's twin brother.

Back at the camp, Johnny challenges Notah to a gunfight but Notah is saved by White Fawn's intervention. Johnny has had enough of being mistaken for Notah and being accused of his crimes, he sets a date of four days hence to face Notah in Rio Honcho in a duel to the death. Both Notah and White Fawn are chewing on peyote buds; Notah's visions have convinced him that he will lead the Comanche to victory over the white man.

In Rio Honcho, Sheriff Logan (Joseph Cotten) has his hands full with a range war between General Garcia (Mariano Vidal Molina), and saloon-owner Grimes (Luis Prendes), the two richest men in the territory. Harassed by the local Mayor, Logan is attempting to keep the warring factions apart. After saving Grimes' henchman from the General's lynch-mob, Johnny is offered a job, an offer he says he will review in four days time. Johnny gets into a bar-fight with the General's brother and narrowly avoids being shot by Kelly who mistakes him for Notah. Johnny eventually reveals the truth about his rivalry with his brother, and their mixed-race parentage, to Kelly who inevitably starts to fall for him.

When Johnny kills the General's brother, who has attempted to bushwhack him, the General launches an all-out attack on Rio Honcho. After initially resisting Logan's request for help, Johnny single-handedly slaughters most of the General's men, the General is slain by Logan, and Grimes dies of his wounds. When Notah's Comanches advance on the town, the Mayor finally rallies the townsfolk to aid the Sheriff, but it is Johnny's defeat of Notah that heads off the attack.

Shatner took time out from Star Trek to film White Comanche in Spain and it's easy to see why he might have been attracted to the project, he got to work with Joseph Cotton, he got to play two parts, and he got to film most of the story with his shirt off. Such is Shatner's status now it is easy to forget that his career pre-Trek was workmanlike. Trek was not an immediate hit and was eventually pulled, and prior to the re-launch of Trek on the big-screen Shatner suffered real financial hardship and struggled for regular work. White Comanche isn't some sort of misjudged vanity project by a star at the height of his powers, it's an example of an actor taking a paying job, and putting himself out there for audiences and producers. It's just unfortunate that it's dire.

In a year which saw Once Upon A Time In The West, Hang 'Em High, Will Penny, and even Andy Warhol's Lonesome Cowboys, White Comanche was never going to add much to the genre. It takes a bunch of western tropes and throws them at the screen: conflicted hero and his nemesis, saloon-girl with a heart, beleaguered grizzled lawman, warring factions, renegade red Indians; adds in gun-play, violence, and some sexual titillation, and stirs the pot, but not the audience. The largely European cast are dubbed in that curious spaghetti/ paella western way so it can't have been that easy for Shatner and Cotten to deliver their lines with much conviction. A bigger budget, a better script, and a decent studio and director might actually have made more of this story, as a commentary on race and gothic doubling, especially in an era when the western was being regularly redefined, but if you want your cowboys to be art-house or all-action you'll have to look elsewhere.

The Great American West, the other little feature on this disc takes the frontier from the Louisiana Purchase, via the Lewis and Clark expedition to find an all-river route from the Missouri River to the Pacific, and covers the great push west and the Gold Rush, whilst skirting some of the more unpalatable aspects of Manifest Destiny. The scenery looks great.

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