Cabo Blanco (1980)
I like to refer to this movie as “the lost Charles Bronson film.” The first reason I can come up with is that wayyyy back when I was a kid and discovered Citadel’s book The Films of Charles Bronson this was the final film covered in the book. But even then it was pointed out that the film was still in production. By the time I got this book, Borderline, Death Hunt and Death Wish II had come and gone from movie screens. They had been released following the publication of the book. So how come I knew nothing of this movie? If it wasn’t for the book I wouldn’t have noticed the film poster in a pile I was working my way thru spending my weekly allowance at a downtown comic store that inexplicably had some posters all folded up in a box for sale. Finding that poster was like locating a nugget of gold in an old abandoned mine shaft to a teenage kid hell bent on collecting movie posters of his hero.
There’s also the fact that the film had trouble finding a distributor. Despite the fact that Bronson was still a heavy hitter at the box office, looks awesome in this film and is well suited to a Bogart like role, there’s little action in it and Charlie isn’t packing a gun either. That alone isn’t overly appealing to backers looking for an easy return on their investment. And how about the approximately thirty minutes of footage from the European release that has gone missing after the film was trimmed down to a paltry ninety or so for it’s North American go round? What gives? This isn’t a silent film from the twenties!
Yes as I say, it’s “the lost Charles Bronson film.” Is it any good you ask? Hey I’m a Bronson fan, they’re all good ……
Honestly, it’s really an opportunity missed. It’s got all the right ingredients for a thrilling big screen adventure. It’s Peru in 1948. Cabo Blanco has become a safe haven for Jason Robards, a Nazi who evaded the Nuremberg trials that would most likely have seen him hang for his war crimes. Here he runs the ocean side paradise with the local police chief, Fernando Rey, in his hip pocket. As for the mustached icon? He runs a local bar/hotel and keeps to himself as he too has a past best left forgotten in his U.S. homeland. Two things are going to collide in Cabo Blanco that upsets the sleepy eyed day to day goings on.
British agent Simon MacCorkindale is on hand deep sea diving looking for the wreck of the Brittany. A ship said to be full of stolen Nazi loot. When his partner James Booth is killed in an exploding diving bell, he suggests to Bronson that Robards is behind it. Secondly the arrival of French siren, Dominique Sanda, at Bronson’s hotel looking for her past lover and maybe the man who holds the key to the Brittany’s whereabouts has both Robards and Bronson heading for a collision of deadly proportions.
Under Robard’s orders, Rey, secures Dominique’s passport and Bronson isn’t impressed. He’ll bypass Rey and go straight to the scenic estate that overlooks Cabo Blanco where it will also be revealed that Bronson’s ex-lover, Camilla Sparv, is now living with Robards. Yes the plot is getting a bit twisted. Robards feigns disinterest but lays a subtle warning at Charlie’s feet. For his part, Bronson knows more than he is telling about the Brittany and the whereabouts of Dominique’s lost love.
That’s it, that’s all you’ll get out of me concerning the plot. By this point I don’t think it sounds half bad.
Problems? Well for starters it’s forever identified as a Casablanca wannabe. The title alone sets that in motion. Fernando Rey is a very Claude Rains like police chief with an eye for the ladies who pass thru Cabo Blanco. Holding their passports might be one way of getting to know them better. Robards is in a role that on a stretch could be compared to Conrad Veidt’s and Sanda naturally would be slotted into the Bergman role. As for Bronson, it’s more than obvious who he’s taking on if indeed this is a warped copy of the 1942 classic. I’m not going to bother starting a war of words here as I love Bogie just as much as any card carrying classic film fan, but, I will say that this could have been a great role for Bronson had the production delivered a winning product. It suits him to a T. No Sam the piano man here but we do have Nat King Cole crooning a number of times over the soundtrack when Charlie hits the dancefloor. Yes, you heard me right.
Not to be overlooked is the location shoot, a tremendous Jerry Goldsmith score and a cast that also includes Denny Miller, Clifton James (edited out of the North American print) and one of my personal favorites from yesteryear, Gilbert Roland.
Should you get a copy of the Kino Lorber blu ray release, a few things to point out. For starters I was surprised when watching it that it’s about one minute shorter than a budget label DVD release I have around here. The Kino edition has one violent scene severely trimmed. Kind of shocked me. On the plus side the disc has a great interview with producer Lance Hool who talks extensively of the film’s production and subsequent problems. A vintage featurette is included that gives us a rare look behind the scenes of a Bronson production. Finally it also has a very detailed commentary from noted Bronson historian, Paul Talbot. He shares many of the script changes that occurred once the film’s director J. Lee Thompson moved the focus from a more Indiana Jones type of action adventure to a tale of romantic intrigue.
A fair bit of nudity might surprise you and yes it’s easy to see how the plot jumps a bit too quick here and there. If only we could shoehorn the missing footage back in then maybe it might play better as a whole. Either way, it’s a Bronson film where he tried something different and good for him. Just too bad it didn’t work out in the end. It’s the box office failure of this and a movie like From Noon Till Three that I believe were detrimental in Bronson’s choice of roles moving forward, rarely throwing us a curveball in his future movies.
A couple bits of trivia for the buffs. Most obvious would be the reteaming of Bronson and Robards who blessed us with what some refer to as the greatest spaghetti western if not western of all, Once Upon a Time In The West. Also the fact that Bronson is acting opposite Simon MacCorkindale who would soon marry Susan George in real life. The English lass once played opposite Bronson in what I would suggest is his most unlikely role in Lola also known as Twinky. It’s a Lolita tale seeing a fortysomething Bronson marrying a 16 year old schoolgirl. No fooling!
O.K. You’ve seen Cabo Blanco? What did you think? If you haven’t heard of it, then please check it out and get back to me.
As for me and Brando? We just wish Cabo Blanco really existed. It’s clearly marked on that poster I found years ago so we figured on heading down for a couple of weeks to get away from this cold Canadian winter.