Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Comanche Blanco/White Comanche (Spain, 1968)

Sometimes the temptation to fudge thing a bit is great. In the case of White Comanche, to describe it as “William Shatner in a Spaghetti Western” presents an equation so perversely attractive that it takes all my strength to resist making the factual oversight that would allow me to put it forward. But, alas, I am fettered by my principles, and White Comanche, being a Spanish production with no participation from the Italians whatsoever, technically cannot be called a Spaghetti Western. However, it does, along with all Spaghetti Westerns, fall squarely within the Euro Western category, and as such follows most of the conventions of same. Except in the area of having good music, that is. The music is actually quite terrible.

White Comanche is a bit of a cult item with a “so bad it’s good” reputation. Still, though it is artless, cheap and poorly written, it’s no better or worse than a lot of Euro Westerns whose directors were named neither Leone, Solima or Corbucci, and who were rather just working men churning out product to satisfy the demands of a Western-crazy European movie audience. Nonetheless, there is the presence of The Shat, who reliably delivers all the wanton scenery chewing and baffling acting choices that anyone tuning into this one for a good chuckle could hope for. Ironically, however, this particular context ends up having a surprising kind of normalizing effect on him. It’s as if, ugly duckling-like, Shatner’s bizarre acting style has finally found its true home in the world of post-dubbed Euro cinema, where odd, halting speech patterns and sudden brief explosions of dialog that end as abruptly as they started are commonplace.

Here Shatner famously plays a duel role as twin brothers, one a lone gunfighter named Johnny Moon (you have to wonder if Shatner and the producers had visions of sequels dancing in their heads: Johnny Moon: If You Live, Shoot!; Hang Your Boots High, Johnny Moon, For Tomorrow You Die!; Five Coffins for Johnny Moon, etc.), the other the murderous White Comanche, Notah. It seems that the two brothers are half-breeds who were forced onto the reservation as children. Eventually Johnny broke away and joined the world of the white man, while Notah became addicted to Peyote, leading him to become a wild-eyed messiah figure intent on leading his tribe to domination over the “pale eyes” and all other tribes.

This above would seem like a very late sixties conceit, except for the fact that, as White Comanche presents him, there is nothing anti-heroic about Notah in the least, and he is instead presented as being pretty much a bad egg through and through. As such, his tendency to kill and occasionally rape those white people he comes into contact with ends up creating a bit of a problem for Johhny, who, like him, looks exactly like William Shatner. Wearying of having to constantly evade arrests and lynching attempts intended for his brother, Johnny finally comes to see a showdown with his wayward sibling as inevitable. Meanwhile, we have a subplot about two warring outlaw factions and that hoary old business about cowardly townsfolk slowly finding the courage to take up there own defense through the efforts of a noble sheriff.

Playing that noble sheriff is Joseph “nothing will ever change the fact that I was in Citizen Kane” Cotton, here at the midpoint in his colorful adventures through European genre cinema, and, as usual, giving a far more surefooted performance than the shaky material deserves. For fans of such cinema, Shatner’s presence is granted further novelty by him being fitted with a leading lady in the form of Argentinean actress Rosanna Yanni, one half of Jesus Franco’s Two Undercover Angels, who I enjoyed here more than in Franco’s Red Lips movies for the simple reason that she was dubbed with a less annoying voice.

Ultimately, White Comanche lets us down the most by giving us far too much of Shatner as Johnny Moon and far too little of Shatner as Notah. For it is in the role of the White Comanche that Shatner, face painted and inexplicably speaking in a clipped Fu Manchu accent, really lets his singular gifts shine. It’s a spirited, if entirely non-credible performance, something which the hair and makeup department gives Shatner very little assistance in improving upon. As wild-eyed and drug-addled as he may be, Notah is still the only Comanche who makes regular trips into town for a haircut, because he sports the exact same young Republican ‘do as his brother. This clued me in to why Shatner didn’t go on to have a career in Euro Westerns. He has an antiseptic quality to him that makes me doubt the patina of grime necessary to being a true lone Spaghetti Western gunslinger would ever stick to him.

White Comanche is not a good film, and, while I didn’t hate it, I would only recommend it to Shatner obsessives (among which I don’t count myself; I only made it through about ten minutes of that creepy talk show of his) and Euro Western completists. Then again, the copy I found in a Mission Street junk shop only cost me a buck, and if you can get it for the same price – and have ninety irreplaceable minutes to spare our of your oh, so preciously brief time on this Earth – you could do worse. There. See what I do for you people?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Truly a horrible movie, but also as good as real camp gets. Watched this the other day on a 6-dvd set of spaghetti westerns purchased from a bargain bin for $4.00. Enjoyed the review.