Chuka (film)

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Chuka
Directed by Gordon Douglas
Produced by Jack Jason
Rod Taylor
Written by Richard Jessup
Rod Tayor (uncredited)
Based on novel by Richard Jessup
Starring Rod Taylor
Ernest Borgnine
John Mills
Luciana Paluzzi
Victoria Vetri
James Whitmore
Music by Leith Stevens
Cinematography Harold E. Stine
Production
company
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • July 23, 1967 (1967-07-23)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.7 million[1]
Box office 14,545 admissions (France)[2]

Chuka is a 1967 American western film starring Rod Taylor who also produced and worked on the screenplay.[3] The film began a series of tough guy roles for Taylor. A story of honor, debt, and personal redemption, it was directed by Gordon Douglas and is based on 1961 novel by Richard Jessup,[4] who also wrote the screenplay.[5]

Plot[edit]

The film begins with a U.S. Army fort destroyed and burned as an U.S. Army Cavalry patrol combs the ruins for survivors, but everyone is dead. The commander of the cavalry patrol is dictating a report to his clerk in the office of the fort's commander. Held prisoner in the former commander's office is the Arapahoe war chief, Hanu (Marco Lopez), who led the raid. He will say very little. And all the searchers can find is a single grave and a Colt pistol left behind by a gunman Hanu remembers as a "quiet, lonely man..."

After finding the Arapahoes starving, a wandering gunman named Chuka (Rod Taylor) gives them the last of his food. "For the children", he says. His gift impresses Hanu. Later, Chuka encounters a stagecoach with Mexican passengers Senora Veronica Kleitz (Luciana Paluzzi) and her niece Senorita Helena Chavez (Victoria Vetri).[6] The Arapahoes arrive, led by Hanu. Everyone is prepared for death, but Hanu recognizes Chuka and simply rides on.

Later, Chuka finds himself stranded in an isolated U.S. Army fort with the coach and passengers. The fort's second-in-command, Major Benson, asks the stage driver about the "saddle tramp" hanging around the stable and is told not to let him hear Benson calling him that, warning him: "That, Major, is a hired gun. He's called Chuka and he is fast. Awful fast."

The fort's commander, Colonel Stuart Valois (John Mills), is worried that the Arapahoes may have ambushed his overdue patrol and refuses to allow the civilians to leave. He sends out his scout Lou Trent (James Whitmore) to reconnoiter, but his horse returns without him.

Meanwhile, it is revealed that nearly everyone in the fort has a past they would rather forget. Before he became a hired gunman, Chuka was in love with Kleitz, but because he was only a lowly hired hand on her wealthy father's ranch, he was beaten and run off and she dutifully married a man selected by her father from their own social class. The soldiers are the dregs of the army. Valois was cashiered from the British Army for suspected cowardice for being drunk when his command was attacked. His second in command, Major Benson (Louis Hayward) is a card cheat, while Lieutenant Daly was acquitted of the charge of treason. Only Sergeant Otto Hansbach (Ernest Borgnine) is a first-rate soldier; he had served with then British Captain Valois in the Sudan and owes his life to Valois. Hansbach tells Chuka that when Hansbach was a young soldier under Valois's command in the Sudan he blundered and was captured by the enemy. Valois's and his unit raided the enemy camp and rescued Hansbach from horrible torture and certain death. But Valois was captured by the enemy. Valois was horribly tortured by the enemy and it is implied that they castrated him. Valois's unit eventually rescued him, but he was left scarred physically and psychologically. Hansbach tells Chuka because of this he will always serve under Valois's command and never question his courage.

Chuka tries to renew the relationship with Kleitz, now a widow, but she tells him it is too late. He offers to take the two women to safety, but by the time Kleitz asks him to save her niece, the fort is under siege.

Chuka agrees (for $200 and a good horse) to sneak out and scout the enemy for Valois; in the process, he rescues Trent. Chuka then pleads with Valois to abandon the fort, since Hanu only wants the food supplies in the fort, but Valois is determined to find out if he really is a coward or not, even though he is hopelessly outnumbered. He has to put down an attempted mutiny, killing the ringleader Spivey (Michael Cole), which turns out to be the first time he has killed a man. That night, as they wait for the impending attack, Senora Kleitz goes to Chuka, and she spends the night with him.

The next day, the Indians attack. Senora Kleitz is killed early on, as is Valois; with his last words, the colonel mourns the fact that he was struck down too soon, never to learn if he was a coward. With nearly everyone else dead and himself seriously wounded, Chuka hides with Helena Chavez. The victorious Arapahoes take the supplies and leave. As Hanu passes, he spots them and Chuka puts his pistol to Helena's head. ready to kill her to keep her from the Indians, but Hanu, expressionless, lets them both live presumably because he again recognized Chuka and thus the debt he owes this man is now paid in full.

Back in the present, the commander of the cavalry relief column is finishing his report. He speaks about the grave and the gun and that he will not disturb the grave. Of Chuka and Helena there is no sign, but as a relationship between them was foreshadowed it is a logical conclusion.

Reception[edit]

The film performed disappointingly at a box office and remains the only film to date on which Rod Taylor is credited as producer.[7]

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

The novel was optioned by New Art Productions in 1964.[8] Rod Taylor became attached in 1966, as actor and producer.[9][10]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Stephen Vagg, Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood, Bear Manor Media 2010 p 125
  2. ^ French box office for 1967 at Box Office Story
  3. ^ http://www.rodtaylorsite.com/chuka.shtml
  4. ^ http://brokentrails.blogspot.com/2009/02/fridays-forgotten-book-chuka-by-richard.html
  5. ^ pp.214-218 Herzberg, Bob Savages and Saints: The Changing Image of American Indians in Westerns 2008 McFarland
  6. ^ http://www.glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com/show/627/Victoria+Vetri/index.html
  7. ^ Rod Taylor: An Aussie in Hollywood, Bear Manor Media 2010 p 125
  8. ^ PICTURES AND PEOPLE: Debuts for Warner LeRoy, 'Atrox' -- War in Norway -- Local Producers By A.H. WEILER. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 09 Feb 1964: X9.
  9. ^ Producer's Lot Is Not a Happy One Champlin, Charles. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 14 Sep 1966: D14.
  10. ^ Leslie Gets Into 'Gunfight' Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 24 May 1966: c11.

External links[edit]