Jamie (Vincent Van Patten) is riding through the countryside, headed who knows where, when he stops at a cottage somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. He approaches it gingerly, but is surprised when the front door opens and a man steps out, asking him what he wants. Jamie does not have a good answer, but the man takes pity on the boy and invites him in for something to eat, an offer he warily accepts. The man introduces himself as Chino Valdez (Charles Bronson), and tells the boy he can stay with him for one night - but this is the start of a friendship...
The Valdez Horses was an unusual western for Bronson, in that he does all the things you would expect him to yet the plot still does not turn out the way the more seasoned viewer of his films might anticipate. To his credit he held the uncertain narrative together with a performance that showed what he could do with a slight difference to his persona, although that difference was not as much to do with his character as it was to do with what happens to him over the course of ninety minutes. Yes, there is brawling and horseriding and gunfire, but this is a quieter work for the star.
Not that the tensions run any less high, as Chino is not a popular man in his neighbourhood, not with the whites anyway. With the Indians, he is a big hit and often hangs out with them, taking Jamie with him to see what their lifestyle is like, but with the landowners led by Maral (Marcel Bozzuffi) he is a nuisance despite the fact he provides them with some excellent horses. Maral has a sister, Catherine, and this being a seventies Bronson movie she is played by his wife Jill Ireland who gets a somewhat unlikely explanation as to why she has an English accent distinct from Maral's.
Catherine wishes Chino to teach her how to ride a horse, a task he takes on reluctantly, and there is a odd bit of humour that is no less idiosyncratic than the rest of the film where Jamie tells him that he shouldn't say the word "legs" around her, as she is a lady after all. Actually, she isn't bothered and what starts as a formal relationship blossoms into a love affair, with Chino taking her to see the wild horses he takes his steeds from, and in a heavy handed item of metaphor are comparable to his standing in the community, you know, untamed but everyone wanting to rein him in, that sort of thing.
It's touching to see Bronson and Ireland film love scenes knowing how devoted they were to each other, even if Chino is a little forceful at first, but their characters' passion is rubbing Maral up the wrong way. We are aware that he is trying to control Chino because he has official backing for the barbed wire he has used to fence off his extensive property, well, what he claims is his property anyway, and now that his rival is planning to marry his sister that is the final straw. At this point in the traditional Bronson western it's time for him to start blowing the bad guys away so he can achieve a satisfying conclusion (for him and for us), but it's not to be here, with a misty-eyed and melancholy finale. This is only fans of the star who will be interested enough to track this down, and even then it might not be what they're looking for, but it is different and for some that's refreshing. Country-influenced music by Guido De Angelis and Maurizio De Angelis.