Chuka Chaps

Rod Taylor in Chuka (1967)

Riding through the outlands Chuka (Rod Taylor) comes to the aid of a stagecoach which not only has a damaged wheel but he also escorts them to Fort Clendennon after they encounter a group of Indians. On arriving at the Fort to see that commanding officer, Colonel Stuart Valois (John Mills), having one of his men whipped for insubordination it quickly becomes clear that his problems are not only with the prowling Indians outside of the Fort but the men inside it. With Valois hell bent on attacking the Indians Chuka has to help out and get his men to see sense.

Consider the unlikeliness of having John Mills, that great British actor, playing a Colonel in the US Cavalry, it just doesn't seem right. But that is one of the entertaining things about "Chuka" as the casting is as curious as the movie with Rod Taylor as a drifter, James Whitmore as a scout and Ernest Borgnine as an eager to please Sgt. It is one of those times where on paper the casting seems wrong yet it works better than expected.

John Mills and James Whitmore in Chuka (1967)

But the reason why the casting works is that Fort Clendennon is a home for an odd bunch of people, almost a bunch of misfits. As such "Chuka" becomes a movie all about these characters from the often booze ridden Colonel with a chip on his shoulder to Borgnine's eager to please sgt who elsewhere would have probably been ignored but the Colonel is fond of him, knowing he will do what ever he is told. We also have old relationships which come to the fore as we discover Chuka use to be with one of the ladies he rescued in the stagecoach whilst it becomes clear the Colonel is missing having a woman around the place. All of which makes for a mixing pot of issues which come to a raging boil the longer the movie goes on.

Now "Chuka" is another one of those westerns which features some beautiful scene staging with seeming the smallest detail, be it the way the light moves off of the water in a horse trough to the way Rod Taylor's hair flicks in a small breeze being taken in to consideration. It does make it one of those westerns which you end up admiring for its look despite it not being an epic western. But it is a case that whilst those scenes which can be heavily staged with choreographed camera work are impressive it does lead to this being a dialogue heavy movie and when it comes to the action it fails to deliver the same visual punch often feeling forced as it becomes too controlled rather than organic.

What this all boils down to is that "Chuka" is certainly an entertaining movie which works because for what so often seems like it should be wrong. But it is very much a character based western with many a scene which is dialogue heavy which to be honest you really need to be in the mood for.

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