Chato (Charles Bronson) is an Apache "halfbreed" who has made the mistake of venturing into a bar where only white men are allowed to drink. When he was confronted by the local sheriff, Chato was forced to draw his gun on him and shoot him dead in self defence, not that the courts would take that into account and now he has to flee into the desert. There are those who refuse to let him get away, though, and resident Captain Quincey Whitmore (Jack Palance) is recruited to lead a posse after him. But who is chasing who?
Chato's Land was the first film to team star Bronson and director Michael Winner, and pretty much spelled out the formula for their subsequent collaborations: violent confrontations from those in the right against those in the wrong. This one was scripted by Gerald Wilson, and was in a way a precursor to the Winner and Bronson hit Death Wish in that Chato is forced to take vengeance on those who attacked his family and friends; except, of course, this was an actual western and the vigilante thriller was a pseudo-western set in the then-present day.
There are those who view this film as an allegory of the United States' presence in Vietnam, which was contemporary to this storyline, but perhaps that is giving the filmmakers too much credit. Granted, there is the theme of the white men intruding on a land where they are frequently under fire, and ending up humiliated as a result, but when this was made it was not entirely clear that America would be on the losing side as the conflict may have been winding down, but was by no means over. Better then to enjoy the film as a straight western adventure.
Not that there are no themes to be drawn from this if the viewer so desires, as there's one about racism that is pointedly developed throughout. The white men regard Apaches as little better than vicious animals, and Chato, to them, is like a rabid dog who deserves to be put down before he can cause any more trouble. What some of the posse come to realise is that their race can be equally as violent as the Indians, and even be worse as they have some hypocritical claim to be following the traditions of justice in their murderous acts.
If you're anticipating a lengthy showdown between Bronson and Palance's men, then that is not what you get, because the star actually hardly appears. Not that his presence is not felt, but Chato is more like a phantom in the landscape, popping up at unexpected moments to kill off another posse member. Including Palance, there are some interesting actors in pursuit here, and Scottish viewers may be bemused to see Roddy McMillan from popular sitcom The Vital Spark in the role of the conscience of the group (another Scottish thesp, fishing enthusiast Paul Young, is his sidekick). Then there's Richard Jordan as one of the vile (and way over the top) Hooker brothers, who have no redeeming features and meet nasty ends. All very well, but there is barely enough plot to sustain this, and for all the weight of the hand of death hanging over the characters it feels slight, even with its typcially seventies "wait - is that it?" finale. Music by Jerry Fielding.
It's more of a Jack Palance showpiece than a Bronson one, huh? And even his character is pretty much thrown away. If it's a decent Vietnam allegory your after try Ulzana's Raid. And the best lone Indian on the rampage movie is the underrated The Stalking Moon.
27 Nov 2008
Palance and Bronson hardly have a scene together! As I say, it's a really interesting cast, but not enough is done with them and they fall back on caricature too often.
I saw Ulzana'a Raid on Moviedrome many moons ago, and it is the better film. The Stalking Moon has just come out on DVD, incidentally.