DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: THE COMANCHEROS

Saturday 31 May 2008


The Comancheros (1961) dir. Michael Curtiz
Starring: John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin, Lee Marvin


The Comancheros is the last film from the great studio director Michael Curtiz, and ironically despite over 30 years in Hollywood, “The Comancheros” it's his only collaboration with John Wayne. It’s not Curtiz’s finest hour, nor Wayne’s, but still a competent action Western, for fans of the genre.

The film opens with a classic duel of pistols. Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), a Louisiana city man wins, but since duels are illegal, Paul is forced to flee the state. John Wayne plays Texas Ranger Jake Cutter, the man on his tail. When Regret escapes from Cutter’s grasp, Cutter changes his attention to a ring of gunrunners supplying those 'evil' Comanche. Cutter goes undercover to find those treachourous ‘Comancheros” that are siding with the enemy. Cutter joins up with a particularly gruesome and drunk Comanchero Tully Crow (Lee Marvin) in order to find the buyer of the guns.

But when Cutter’s runs into his former prisoner, Paul Regret, on a boat this threatens Cutter’s cover. Eventually Cutter forms a mutually beneficial partnership with Regret to take down the Comancheros.

Like most Westerns of its era, ‘the Indians’ serve only as the anonymous antagonists. They are referred to as ‘savages’ and killed off indiscriminately. It’s now glaringly irresponsible and naïve to the real conflict of the Comanche, and so the film must be watched with historical and Hollywood context in mind.

Much like Wayne’s classic sprawling revenge Western, “The Searchers”, ‘the chase’ is the engine which drives and pushes the film and keeps the audience entertained. “The Comancheros” doesn’t aspire to have the pathos or intensity of “The Searchers”, instead Curtiz keeps the film light and colourful. The opening theme song establishes that. Elmer Bernstein’s music has the skip of a “Bonanzo” episode. It was 1961, an era of television, and so the influence on the titles and music is evident. 

The film is shot in the awesome 2:35:1 colour cinemascope that makes westerns, and particularly Monument Valley, so gorgeous. It’s the same location we’ve seen John Wayne in a dozen films before, but the grand mesas, cliffs and canyons still look awesome. The action is fast and furious – all on location – featuring top notch stunt performers. No expense is sparred in crafting audience-satisfying scenes of gunfights, horse-riding and fist-fighting.

Unfortunately the film is invisible to the great Michael Curtiz stylistic flare he was famous for, but of course Western were never his genre. But like his work in the great studio days Curtiz delivers on the genre expectations of a John Wayne western. Enjoy.

"The Comancheros" is available on DVD in the J'ohn Wayne Fox Westerns Collection' from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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