Che Guevara (Omar Sharif) is dead, having been executed in Bolivia in 1967. But how did his life bring him to this point of defeat? To answer that we must have an impression of the man, and many are willing to offer their opinions, from the Cuban taxi driver in New York who said he was a murdering thug to the Cuban schoolteacher who tells us he was grateful to be taught to read by Che, and went on to carry his work in education. For Guevara, it all began when he was acting as the medic to the revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro (Jack Palance)...
Wait a second - Fidel Castro is played by Jack Palance?! Before Steven Soderbergh directed his extensive biopics Che Part One and Che Part Two, the previous most famous attempt to put the man's politics and deeds on the big screen had been this notorious disaster, and in its day of infamy it seemed as though poor old Jack was bearing the brunt of the criticism. Mind you, when you saw how the makeup department had decked him out with a false beard and even more false nose, not to mention the enormous glasses, the star looked more as if he was going to a fancy dress party as the Cuban leader rather than essaying a sincere turn for the ages.
As you can guess by the opening titles which saw the social upheavals of the late sixties depicted in actual newsreel clips, this was 20th Century Fox's attempt at connecting with ver kids who were growing their hair long, joining the counterculture and putting Che's poster on their walls, except that before they knew where they were at, director Richard Fleischer was wanting to portray their protagonist as a hero. The conservative establishment, and that included the Hollywood studio system, were none too keen on that idea and put incredible pressure on the production to have Che seen as some kind of villain, or at least not as heroic, which led not so much to balance as it did a dog's breakfast.
And that was just the ideology: if you were pretty certain what you thought of Guevara before you saw this, then you may emerge confused; it was in no way going to help you make up your mind either pro or anti, and if anything would make you swear off political movies as far too much like hard work if this was the level of boredom they were going to bring out in the viewer. At first, the film may resemble an episode of Mission: Impossible, but it didn't reach those heights of excitement, such as they were, not even once the executions begin on both sides which should by all rights have upped the stakes yet in effect obfuscated matters. What must have seemed like a good idea, the speeches to camera, wound up with those speaking looking like something off an earnest educational play.
Far from the vitality such a story should have fired up in the audience, though the plot did stick fairly close to the facts, but did not make them any more relatable or clear. Therefore after a while what you got was acres of talk, little of it illuminating, and the sort of rendering that gave Peter Richardson the idea for his Hollywood spoofs on The Comic Strip Presents where clueless execs order history to be presented in the fashion they think will play best to the less enlightened members of the potential audience. Alas, while some saw this as a laugh riot, the truth of it was that once you got over the ridiculousness of the casting (which included such recognisable faces as Woody Strode, Sid Haig and er, Jess Franco), most of whom got a chance to chunter to the camera, not even Palance thrashing out the details of their plans with a visibly discomfited Sharif was going to provide the entertainment value necessary to make Che! anything other than a five star yawnfest. Music by Lalo Schifrin.