The Appaloosa (1966)
Brando and the Bandit
At its heart "The Appaloosa" is an ordinary western, the storyline of a solitary man going after a Mexican bandit for stealing his horse is routine. But then this is a western which stars Marlon Brando and that makes it a bit different, initially wrong for being different as we meet Brando's dishevelled character wearing a hat far too small for him but then right as during the second half Brando delivers a good performance. Yet in the end Brando's performance ends up unimportant for the simple reason that director Sidney J. Furie's vision is wrong, from the closest close ups you will ever see, half obscured scenes and a plodding pace all make "The Appaloosa" a western dirge. Some may like the artsy styling which has a touch of the Sergio Leone about it but for me Furie goes overboard in trying to be different and spoils the movie.
Having decided to return home to his family and friends after working as a Buffalo hunter Matt Fletcher (Marlon Brando - The Score) finds himself confronted by Mexican bandit Chuy (John Saxon - Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation) when his woman Trini (Anjanette Comer) says that Matt attacked her. Whilst the confrontation ends without incident further down the road Matt finds his beloved horse, a magnificent Appaloosa is stolen by Chuy and his men and so Matt vows to get it back.
So strip away the styling and the fact "The Appaloosa" is a Marlon Brando movie and what you have is a basic western storyline. Whilst the catalyst for the movie maybe Trini accusing Matt of attacking her to hide the truth that she was running away from Chuy what it boils down to is that Matt will go after Chuy when he steals his horse. As such there is something quite predictable about the movie that you can guess that come the end it will boil down to a gunfight between Matt and Chuy whilst you can hazard a guess that Matt will end up with the attractive Trini.
But whilst the storyline is ordinary it does have some truly brilliant scenes and the ending itself is much better than you would imagine. Although you have to say that the stand out scene is one featuring a couple of scorpions, a clever scene which delivers atmosphere, something which out the rest of the movie is lacking.
And that brings me to the problem with "The Appaloosa" and that is the styling because it is overkill. It almost feels like the director had watched Sergio Leone's westerns and felt that they could improve by taking typical Leone elements such as close-ups and taking them further. It is not an improvement when you get such a close up on a mouth that all you see is teeth and with many a scene artistically shot with half the image obscured by something it fails. And because it feels like the focus is on trying to be different with the looks it ruins the pacing and "The Appaloosa" becomes slow and painful only really finding a rhythm during the final 20 minutes.
It is roughly those final 20 minutes when Marlon Brando also comes good because up until then he seems at odds with his character; part of which I am sure is down to the styling. It is the styling which makes the opening where we meet a dishevelled Matt with his bad hair and tiny hat a joke; it doesn't look right by any stretch of the imagination. Also what doesn't feel right is John Saxon as Chuy because he seems to be playing him as an over the top Mexican caricature.
What this all boils down to is that "The Appaloosa" didn't work for me and seems to be a case of a director going overboard in trying to create something different. It has its good parts but the look and the pacing end up spoiling it and making it sadly a slog which only comes good during the final 20 minutes.
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