Categories

  • Home
  • |
  • |
  • News
  • Additional Information

    Site Information

     Loading... Please wait...

    News

    Native American Screen History

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    By 1972, Charles Bronson, a Pennsylvania native of Lithuanian descent, had logged substantial mileage portraying Native Americans in Westerns directed by noteworthy filmmakers. He did so twice in 1954. For Apache, director Robert Aldrich’s first color feature, he played Hondo (no relation to the John Wayne classic of the year before), an Apache who allies with U.S. Cavalry forces amassed to track and capture the fugitive holdout “last warrior” Massai (Burt Lancaster). Months later, he memorably played a warrior chief himself, renegade Oregon territory Modoc leader Kintpuash, aka “Captain Jack,” so named for appropriating the uniform of the U.S. Army officer he killed, proving a spirited and brainy adversary to Indian fighter-turned-peace commissioner Johnny MacKay (Alan Ladd) in Drum Beat for director Delmer Daves. He was more conciliatory, enlightened and quite impactful in Samuel Fuller’s powerful Run of the Arrow (1957) as Sioux chief Blue Buffalo, who accepts embittered Civil War Confederate veteran O’Meara (Rod Steiger) into his tribe in that undervalued Western’s prefiguring of Dances with Wolves. Eleven years hence, after his star had risen considerably, he shared star billing with Anthony Quinn and Anjanette Comer as a halfbreed who leads marauding Yaqui tribespeople terrorizing a Mexican village in Guns for San Sebastian (1968, directed by Henri Verneuil). Forty-five years ago today marked the arrival of a film that gave him top billing and a role that formed the template of the lone, taciturn justice seeker that propelled him into the superstar realm: Chato’s Land (1972), the first of six outings (to later include Death Wish and its first two sequels) with director Michael Winner. With minimal dialogue and maximum physical dexterity, he plays the half-white/half-Apache Pardon Chato, who only wants to mind his own business and have a drink at a dusty, ramshackle bar in New Mexico territory. But a taunting, trigger-happy racist sheriff won’t let him and an inevitable eruption of gunplay turns Chato into a fugitive on the run from a posse composed of righteous reprobates who’ll one by one discover the consequences of challenging a man who instinctually knows the surrounding, unforgiving natural wilderness like a spirit-animal. In Menacing Face Worth Millions: A Life of Charles Bronson, author Brian D’Ambrosio quotes lean, mean and by now veteran “red man” portrayer Bronson’s thoughts on the project: “I wanted to play the role because I wanted to play an Indian as an Indian should be played. I’ve not seen an Indian played realistically on the screen yet. I want to give a good, clean-cut and fair identification of the Indian. After all, the Indian was as wrong as the white man.” It’s almost a contradictory star vehicle if you consider Stuart Galbraith IV’s DVDTalk.com observations in his evaluation last year of Twilight Time’s hi-def Blu-ray: “Probably Chato's Land isn't as highly regarded because Winner is so routinely dismissed by critics, and perhaps by Bronson fans because, as it turns out, he's not its central character. Though [he’s] top-billed, the movie really isn't about his half-breed Apache Indian at all, but rather about the posse that pursues him. Of its 100-minute running time Bronson is onscreen perhaps 15 or 20 minutes, and probably says fewer than a hundred words, half of those in unsubtitled Apache. But the film itself is superb, an understated allegory to an America then mired in an unwinnable Vietnam War. Its best quality is writer Gerald ‘Gerry’ Wilson's script. As he did in Lawman, Wilson tells a familiar story, of a posse pursuing an outlaw, with an unusually high-degree of authenticity and verisimilitude, with characters that are rich and distinctive. In most Westerns, for instance, posses are generally little more than a faceless mob, with one or two heroes/bad guys leading them, with maybe a sidekick or juvenile male tossed in with the heroes, or a sadistic lieutenant with the bad guys. The posse in Chato's Land consists of about 15 men, all of whom are different from all the others, with widely varying motives and attitudes.” That cretinous cohort, whose diverse character quirks and squabbles foreshadow their undoing, includes a vaingloriously sinister Jack Palance, plus the deeply talented bench of James Whitmore, Simon Oakland, Richard Jordan, Ralph Waite, Richard Basehart, Roddy McMillan and Victor French. But if not dominant in screen time, Bronson majestically towers over the story and scenery in a laser-focused performance utilizing the fewest words that he ever uttered in his Native American depictions. TT’s Julie Kirgo nails his Chato’s Land effect thusly: “He was…an almost scarily spare actor, his physical charisma riding roughshod over virtually everything but the purely visual. We give him credit for anger, hatred, tenderness; but it’s just possible that we were – and still are – reacting to a physiognomy like no other.” He makes visiting Chato’s Land on TT disc both bruising and breathtaking.

    A Bum's Fantasy Ride

    Around the time of the movie’s release, the hell-for-leather Lee Marvin reportedly bemused, “I get a special kick playing rebels over establishment types. I’ve always been a bum, so I’m being paid to act out my fantasies.” That personal fantasy took root in the bruising, rough-and-tumble action adventure Emperor of the North (1973), which opened 44 years ago today. Lee Marvin: [...]

    Read More »


    A Consummate, Disquieting Road Movie

    Though it opened 43 years ago this week, a certain movie that seemed quite emblematic of its era has later emerged as quite something else. Indeed, the venerated movie critic, historian and filmmaker wrote in 1996: “What the movie says in its quick-step, sidelong sort of way is that the American center, if there ever was one, has not held [...]

    Read More »


    Cinematic Ecstasy Lost and Rediscovered

    There are movies that are lean and focused, executed with purpose and precision and shaped to relate its story and values with the goal of guiding their audiences toward a predetermined response. Other movies strive to another level, stuffed with complex symbols and grandiose visual tapestry, playing with time and memory, risking viewer disorientation in a quest toward a deeper, [...]

    Read More »


    Magic, Borrowed Yet Real

    When it opened in New York 63 years ago today on the tail-end of the so-called “golden era” of 3D movie production and exhibition, Columbia Pictures’ The Mad Magician (1954) had a decent shot at success. The Creature from the Black Lagoon (February) and Phantom of the Rue Morgue (March) recently proved that there was some life in the horror genre [...]

    Read More »


    Texan Transformation

    At a world premiere screening event in Houston 39 years ago today, audiences caught lightning in a bottle when they saw the fruits of a long-in-the-making effort that involved one son of Texas paying true and galvanizing tribute to another Lone Star State legend through sheer dedication and innate musical ability. They saw then-33-year-old Goose Creek native Gary Busey playing [...]

    Read More »


    A Weird, Drunken Display of Awesome Talent (Part 2 of 2)

    The animal-inspired lunacy of Jackie Chan’s first 1978 release was the opening volley in a cinematic one-two punch. In I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action, its author relates: “The idea we’d been working on would take the successful formula we’d begun with Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and bring it to the next logical level. It would [...]

    Read More »


    From Snake, Eagle and Cat to Stardom at Last (Part 1 of 2)

    Four decades ago, the Hong Kong-born Chan Kong-sang (a name he says literally translates as “Born-in-Hong-Kong” Chan) had already worked in movies 15 years, starting as a child actor and growing through the years as a supporting performer and/or stuntman/stunt coordinator on 29 films (including two projects placing him on the business end of the badass fighting fury of the [...]

    Read More »


    Simmering Hi-Def Summer

    The summer wind blows hot and fierce with Twilight Time’s five-film midsummer lineup, with one North American premiere of a distinguished historical saga from Japan, plus four other tantalizing titles (from such literary notables as William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal and Dead Poets Society Academy Award® winner Tom Schulman) promising barn-burning fisticuff excitement, mischievously murderous mayhem and star performances that [...]

    Read More »


    Mother's Birthday Wishes

    The cusp of Mother’s Day weekend also brings the confluence of today marking the birthday of three gifted ladies who played mothers memorably coping with difficult homestead situations in a trio of well-regarded family dramas. She told biographer A. Scott Berg, “I would have been a terrible mother because I’m basically a very selfish human being,” but the legendary, childless-in-real-life [...]

    Read More »