Thursday, July 8, 2010

Shields Up! There's a Blogathon on the Starboard Bow! Set Phasers on Post! :: Shatner Being Shatner x Two : White Comanche (1968)

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"When you want somebody to play half-breed
twins, you go for the Canadian Jew." x

-- An Ancient Hollywood Proverb
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You'll know right off the bat that you're in for a real gonzoidal cinematic treat when our Frijole Refritos Western cues up and the first thing we hear as our boy rides into frame is a canned wolf-howl culled from the archives of the Children's Television Workshop. Yeehaw!

The long and the short of it: Wild Bill Shatner plays both the forlorn drifter Johnny Moon and his evil twin, Notah; a peyote-bogarting, no-goodnik renegade Comanche with a Messiah complex, who has the local tribe stirred up and on the warpath. This, obviously, is the root-cause for much of our hero's forlornness, and, tired of being mistaken for his outlaw brother by all the resulting lynch-mobs, Moon challenges Notah to an old-fashioned shoot-out to put at least one of them out of the others misery.

When Notah initially waffles at this ultimatum, Moon says he'll be waiting in the nearby town of Rio Hondo if his brother changes his mind to finally settle things. Of course, Rio Hondo is one of those western towns where two rival factions are trying to stamp each other out. And both sides feel a man with such skills as Moon could tip the scales in their favor. But, Moon has no real interest in such matters, feeling there's a pretty good chance he'll be dead in a few days anyway, so everything else is kinda moot. Besides, he's too busy avoiding both the local sheriff and several shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later bounty hunters, and wooing the local saloon girl -- after she stops trying to kill him. See, seems she was raped and pillaged by Notah, and, naturally, she at first mistakes Moon for the man who attacked her. But then our boy loses his shirt and gives her that look -- you know the one I'm talking about ... Head slightly cocked to the side, a raised eyebrow, and the hint of a grin, a grin that knows all your untold secrets that's about to break wide-open -- and, soon enough, the girl is all hot and bothered to sample the *ahem* Captain's Log.

Anyways ... Several soul-searching scenes, padded side-stories, including one concerning Notah's pregnant wife that must be seen to be truly believed, and about, oh, four or five massacres later, the film stumbles upon the climax, where Moon and Notah decide to settle things, Shatner-o a Shatner-o, in a deadly climactic duel / joust / game of armed chicken...

Along for the ride with our boy, Shatner, are the salty veteran Joseph Cotten as the sheriff, who helped extend his career by running around all over Europe and adding his screen-cred to the likes of this, Baron Blood and Lady Frankenstein, and the sock-knocking beauty of Rosanna Yanni as the prerequisite love interest. More on her in a second, but this was the second on-screen team up for Shatner and Cotten in 1968, who co-starred in Phil Karlson and Robert Pirosh's equally jaw-dropping adaptation of Alexander the Great. Truth be told, that tele-film was shot back in 1964 but was such a train-wreck it was shelved indefinitely; only to be unearthed again when Shatner and Adam West, who also had a pivotal role in that deliriously awesome fiasco, became household names when their respective TV franchises, the Trek and the Bat, hit big. And it was during Star Trek's second season hiatus that Shatner was lured over to Spain for this exploitation quickie; and judging by what we see on screen I think they blew half the budget on the plane ticket to get him over there.

Yanni, meanwhile, was an Argentinian beauty who broke into film with a few Paul Naschy fright flicks but is probably most remembered from when she teamed up with the equally eye-popping Janine Reynaud in Jesus Franco's wonderfully demented Red Lips double-dip, Sadist Erotica (a/k/a Two Undercover Angels) and Bésame monstruo (a/k/a Kiss Me, Monster), where our two femme fatales play detectives / cat-burglars in a Diabolik vein and foil a couple of kidnapping plots as Franco piles on the eye-candy, kitschy decor, and swanky absurdity to such Herculean levels it's almost impossible to process it all. But, who cares; and by all means check them out!

Behind the camera four sets of hands had their fingers in the plot-pot for this oddball oddity. Along with an uncredited Méndez and Rivera, Robert Holt and Frank Gruber hammered out the script for Comanche Blanco a/k/a White Comanche a/k/a Rio Hondo; a script that takes all the basic elements of spaghetti westerns past and systematically checks them off as the story progresses past each yard-stick. I honestly thought Holt and Gruber were perhaps "American" names adopted by their Spanish counterparts to help it sell, but, according to the IMDB, the pair had a long and storied career writing for the old Boob-Tube. Adding to the surreality of the proceedings is Jean Ledrut's plunky-guitar and horn-heavy soundtrack that sounds like the interstitial muzak from some 1960's game show that was cross-pollinated with a ditty from a vintage porn-loop. So, yeah, it doesn't fit the action or setting of Comanche Blanco all that well. And although Méndez and cinematographer Francisco Fraile manage a few interesting set-ups they become a little too obsessed with some trick mirror shots that were cool the first three times they used it but began to wear thin by the seventh or eighth refraction:

But, you say, we're here for the Shatner, right? Right. Okay, well, truthfully, though he veers into full-blown Captain Kirk mode more often than not, where he brings the Grade-A ham, especially during the fight scenes, our boy actually manages to bring some gravitas to the role of Johnny Moon. But as good as he is with that half of the equation Shatner totally screws the pooch with the other, as he portrays Notah with all the subtlety and nuance of a game of Whack-A-Mole. Part of the problem lies with the script, which calls for a climax where we can't keep track of which twin is which during the deadly duel, which, in turn, also calls for Notah to be clean-shaven, clean-cut, with the perfect Wild Bill wave of hair, for all of his other scenes -- where, on top of all that hootin', hollerin', and war-whoop'n, his evil sneer makes him look like ... well, kind of an idiot.

I also think it's fair to warn potential viewers that even though a movie that promises and delivers William Shatner as belligerent half-breed Indian twins White Comanche is not a whole can of lunacy from beginning to end.
Expectation can be a harsh mistress seldom satisfied, which is why, in the end, this film is a bit of conundrum on the whole so bad it's good scale. Sure, there are some blinding flashes of stoopid to be found here; but in between those Notah interludes are a lot of dull stretches and soggy subplots to contend with and conquer. Just remember: when a movie sounds too good to be true it usually is. Keep that in mind when you pop this into your DVD player and you should be good to go.

Alas, this post is my final entry for Stacia's Shatnerthon Blogathon over at the delightful She Blogged by Night. Be sure to click on over and check out all the other contributions. Fantastic stuff.

White Comanche a/k/a Comanche Blanco (1968) Producciones Cinematográficas A.B. :: International Producers Corporation / EP: Vicente Gómez, Philip N. Krasne / P: Sam White / AP: Bruce Yorke / D: José Briz Méndez, Gilbert Kay / W: José Briz Méndez, Manuel Gómez Rivera, Frank Gruber, Robert I. Holt / C: Francisco Fraile / E: Javier Morán, Gaby Peñalba, Nicholas Wentworth / M: Jean Ledrut / S: William Shatner, Joseph Cotten, Rosanna Yanni, Perla Cristal, Luis Rivera


Stacia said...

Outstanding! I have been waiting for this the whole week, and you did not disappoint. It's been years and years since I saw this and for some reason my memory has put braids on Shatner as Notah. I don't know why! Probably because the clean cut 1960s 'do on a Comanche warrior is so ridiculous.

W.B. Kelso said...

You're more than welcome. And thank you, most noble host.

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