The Comancheros (1961)

The Comancheros (1961)
 
 

One Regret for Big Jake

It's time we both quit, Crow. You don't like losing to me, and I don't like winning from you - Jake Cutter

Stuart Whitman and John Wayne in The Comancheros

During the making of "The Comancheros" director Michael Curtiz was battling cancer and on the days he was unable to direct the star of the movie John Wayne stood in as director. Now that surprises me because "The Comancheros" actually feels like it's a movie made at the hands of several directors and writers with a storyline which keeps on evolving and changing. And because it appears to keep on changing, delivering individual segments of a story before shifting on it almost feels unfocussed. That doesn't mean it's a bad movie and there is plenty which is enjoyable about "The Comancheros" but in the long list of John Wayne movies it sits somewhere in the middle, entertaining but for the most forgettable.

After a failed attempt to bring in gambler Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman - Wounded Heart) for murder, Texas Ranger Captain Jake Cutter (John Wayne - The Searchers) finds himself trying to track down a group of criminals known as The Comancheros. In trying to discover their hidden fortress Cutter comes face to face with Paul Regret again and is forced to enlist the help of the criminal in order to try and find the gang.

Stuart Whitman and Ina Balin in The Comancheros

Part of my problem with "The Comancheros" is the evolving storyline which starts with Big Jake Cutter trying to bring in gambler Paul Regret for murder. In trying to evolve into something else, Big Jake and Paul Regret ending up working together to try and stop a gang known as The Comancheros and the gun runners who supply them, it becomes choppy. You get one scene and storyline and then it feels like it jumps to another and it keeps on doing this so whilst the storyline does evolve, including a romantic sub plot, it feels also bitty. It actually has a feel like there has been several directors working on the movie, each tackling a specific story but then none of it links together smoothly. And as such it makes me wonder whether the screenplay for "The Comancheros" was much bigger but due to the illness of Michael Curtiz elements were left out and what had been filmed was then quickly spliced together in the editing room.

Despite this feeling of being roughly thrown together "The Comancheros" is entertaining and has its moments which are surprisingly enjoyable. The whole comedy aspect of Big Jake trying to stop Paul Regret is quite amusing especially as at times it borders on being a game of one-upmanship. And it has to be said that the scenes John Wayne shares with his son Patrick Wayne are amusing especially for the in-joke when Patrick as Marshall Tobe is winding Big Jake up over his initial failed attempt to bring Paul Regret back. And in a similar manner the scene where Big Jake goes to help Melinda Marshall and her daughter Bessie move from their ranch to somewhere safer is fun because Bessie is played by John Wayne's daughter Aissa Wayne. But it is also the cameo appearance of Lee Marvin as a half scalped drunk which makes it so much fun. Marvin may only have a handful of scenes but the comedy of him acting as a rowdy drunk is great especially in the way Marvin and Wayne interact so brilliantly.

Whilst "The Comancheros" does have moments of being good unfortunately one of those is not the action which surprisingly feels remarkably sparse. And sadly those few action sequences which are served up are very ordinary with a case of Big Jake and his men taking on an attack from advancing Indians and shooting them. There is very little which is special about these various action scenes and whilst the punishment dished out by the Comancheros on anyone they dislike is a little surprising it doesn't really liven it up. It again feels that because of the issues with illness the action scenes were delivered in a very formulaic manner and so are less than memorable.

And being less than memorable extends to the performances and characters with Lee Marvin's drunk being the most memorable character and performance in the entire movie. In a way you get what you expect from John Wayne as Big Jake, yes playing the same sort of big hero character once more and whilst enjoyable feels like you have seen it all before. Wayne is entertaining when acting with his son Patrick who steals the scenes from his father quite brilliantly thanks to the cheeky dialogue but then fails to be memorable beyond that. And whilst Stuart Whitman as Paul Regret does is hardest to make his character more than 2 dimensional and handsome struggles to shine under the immense shadow of John Wayne. Basically with the exception of Lee Marvin the performances and characters in "The Comancheros" are forgettable.

What this all boils down to is that "The Comancheros" ends up for me a very average John Wayne western, spoilt by it being so choppy when evolving the storyline. Whether this was down to the illness of director Michael Curtiz or the screenplay I am unsure but it does make it a bit of a slog. That doesn't mean it is a bad movie and there are some fun moments and a nice but brief performance from Lee Marvin as a drunk but it ends up for the most entertaining but average.

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