1948, in Caboblanco, a remote fishing village off the coast of Peru, American café owner Giff Hoyt (Charles Bronson) finds himself caught between a band of ex-Nazis, a corrupt local police force, and other mysterious characters after a British deep sea diving team are attacked by scuba diving killers. When Marie-Claire Allesandri (Dominique Sanda), a former member of the French resistance, arrives in town searching for her missing lover, she arouses the suspicion of local lawman Terredo (Fernando Rey), who takes his orders from Nazi-in-hiding, Beckdorff (Jason Robards Jr). Fortunately, Marie-Claire finds a resourceful ally in Giff, to whom her boyfriend entrusted the secret location of a sunken treasure. Now the Nazis want it.
Although the screen team of stone-faced tough guy Charles Bronson and director J. Lee Thompson later lapsed into a series of lazy, misogynistic action thrillers, in the Seventies at least they tried something different. Sometimes the end result worked well as in St. Ives (1976), or else proved fascinating in spite of its failings as with The White Buffalo (1977). Sadly with Caboblanco their good intentions came to naught. The film is often referred to as a remake of Casablanca (1941). One can easily see why: shady goings on involving Nazis amidst an exotic locale, a tough but conflicted American hero reluctant to commit to a cause, a European love interest who convinces him there are some things worth fighting for. Fernando Rey plays a morally ambiguous policeman not dissimilar from Claude Rains. Nat King Cole singing “The Very Thought of You” functions in much the same way as “As Time Goes By”, even though the plot does not reunite two old flames as part of a wartime love triangle. That said, the film includes a subplot about Gif’s old girlfriend (Camilla Sparv) who is now shacked up with Beckdorff.
A lush Jerry Goldsmith score evokes a bygone era of romantic adventure movies not unlike the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman classic, further underlined as Thompson repeatedly fades from sepia tone into vibrant colour. However, Caboblanco remains a strange film, alternating between scenes crafted with great care and others haphazardly thrown together. The film is punctuated with jarring flashbacks that further disrupt the already diffuse plot with the action spiced up with some racy nudity and one gory scene, where a Nazi henchman (Denny Miller) gets spiked through the eye, that ill suit the warmly romantic tone.
In fact the film appears to have been extensively reworked during post-production given its brevity plus the fact actor Clifton James, despite being listed in the closing credits, does not actually appear. Another sign of post-production meddling is the use of a minor character (Simon MacCorkindale) as narrator to spell out the plot, suggesting the studio had no faith in Thompson’s attempts to tell his story using the poetic storybook visuals of classic Hollywood. Bronson glides enigmatically through the movie, quite charismatic although fans may be disappointed he is not playing his usual stone cold killer. Heavily accented Dominique Sanda is miscast and seemingly ill at ease. Action is fairly sparse aside from a few mildly suspenseful scenes but the film does not really end so much as fizzle out. One can usually rely on J. Lee Thompson to stage a few really eccentric scenes, as he so often did throughout his later films. Here these include a surreal sequence with characters cowering from a broken jukebox and the once-in-a-lifetime sight of Bronson interrogating a parrot. You can bet that bird talked.