The White Buffalo (1977)
A thundering spectacle! A shattering experience!”
What more could one ask for when joining up for a blogathon celebrating nature’s fury kindly hosted by Cinematic Catharsis. It’s a welcome opportunity to see Charles Bronson in what might be his most outlandish movie from “the creators of King Kong who bring another legendary creature to the screen.”
In other words, Dino de Laurentiis.
Take a large dose of the Bronson machismo, a top supporting cast led by Jack Warden and Will Sampson, director J. Lee Thompson, music by John Barry and a return to the big screen by Kim Novak. Now sprinkle all these elements over dreamlike sets involving a Moby Dick sized White Buffalo that look as if they were put together for the next Rankin – Bass animated TV special.
The year is 1874 and Bronson stars here as a haunted Wild Bill Hickok. He has a nightmare that just won’t let him sleep in peace. In it, he faces down the giant buffalo in a dreamlike snow covered mountain setting. Bronson’s heading to the mountain peaks of Colorado to find his dreamlike landscape. While at the same time Bronson is on the move, the White Spike as he is referred to on more then one occasion, stampedes through an Indian camp as if he were a wrecking ball. Countless braves are gored and when Will Sampson’s young child is killed as well, he must avenge his daughter’s death by wrapping her body in the great white robe.
Sampson as Crazy Horse is on a collision course with Bronson and Bronson’s tag along Jack Warden. Warden as Charlie “One Eye” Zane is quite good here as the heavily bearded mountain man who backs Bronson up throughout the many bar brawls and ambushes they face. I can’t help but think that Warden has taken over the duties usually reserved for Lloyd Nolan here.
Before Bronson even rejoins Warden in the mountains he’ll have faced down the likes of Ed Lauter, Stuart Whitman and rode shotgun for stage driver and character player extraordinaire Slim Pickens. When he and Slim pull into the next snow covered frontier town carrying three frozen bodies in the back, they come across the undertaker played by none other than John Carradine who suggests Slim lay them out in the snow. “Keep’em fresh.” It’s a line only Carradine can deliver with such zest.
Time for Bronson to meet his old flame played by Kim Novak. It’s a relatively short scene for the famed beauty and if one listens to the dialogue, it offers a good example of the script playing with words on occasion. When Bronson spurns her advances for a love making session, he hints at not being up to it. After a nightmare causes havoc and he awakens shooting wildly in the bedroom, she asks him, “has the sickness gone to your head?” Syphilis?
Eventually the mustached one will tangle with his old Dirty Dozen alumni and mountain of a man, Clint Walker. It seems Bronson killed Clint’s son in a previous shootout. There’s a great saloon scene here that is far removed from the days of the studio western and probably more realistic then most genre films. It’s seedy, packed full of loud and noisy mountain men with hookers plying their trade behind hung up blankets in the corner. It’s here that a lightning fast Bronson will take down Walker’s thugs leading a man in the crowd to shout, “He got’em both with one shot.”
And so, another Hickok legend is born.
Retreating, Bronson and Warden head for the mountain peaks and face off with Sampson, the White Buff and their destinies.
I’m well aware that this film was pretty much trashed on it’s initial release and was actually retitled for it’s network premier under the new name, Hunt To Kill. Am I too caught up in Bronson fandom? Perhaps, but I believe this film can grow on you with repeated viewings. While I admit the buffalo is far from being Jaws here, the fact that the creature is kept mainly in Bronson’s dreams lends credence to the Toho like effects they keep him in. When not dreaming, the sets are seem very realistic in a pioneering way. The frontier towns look suitably muddy and sparse, the Colorado countryside is stunning for the location shots and when Bronson arrives in Cheyene by train, the mountain of buffalo bones is a grim reminder of what transpired during this era of North America’s heritage.
This was Bronson’s final film for producer Di Laurentiis. They had some great successes earlier in the decade on films like The Mechanic and the controversial Death Wish. This odd frontier tale was the second of nine films that J. Lee Thompson would direct Bronson in over the latter part of their careers. Jack Warden would join Bronson in another film during the 1977 season. The highly regarded telefilm Raid On Entebbe.
Will Sampson of Cukoo’s Nest fame, had a double shot of fighting nature’s wrath in 1977. On one screen he’s facing down the White Spike while across town you might have caught him at a local drive in joining Richard Harris for a go with the Killer Whale in Orca. On the flip side John Carradine never squared off with the Buffalo here but he did tangle with Satan’s Cheerleaders and Shock Waves’ nazi zombies from the deep in the same calendar year.
Thanks to Kino Lorber’s recent blu ray release, this relatively obscure title from the Bronson cannon can now be seen once again.
Time to head over to Cinema Catharsis and check out all the other nasty’s that nature can unleash upon mankind including giant ants, sharks, grizzlies and God knows what else. Have fun!