The Comancheros (film)
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Produced by||George Sherman|
|Screenplay by||James Edward Grant|
|Based on||The Comancheros|
by Paul I. Wellman
|Music by||Elmer Bernstein|
|Cinematography||William H. Clothier|
|Edited by||Louis Loeffler|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|November 1, 1961|
The Comancheros is a 1961 Western Deluxe CinemaScope color film directed by Michael Curtiz, based on a 1952 novel of the same name by Paul Wellman, and starring John Wayne and Stuart Whitman. The supporting cast includes Ina Balin, Lee Marvin, Nehemiah Persoff, Bruce Cabot, Jack Elam, Patrick Wayne, and Edgar Buchanan. Also featured are Western-film veterans Bob Steele, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, and Harry Carey, Jr. in uncredited supporting roles.
When illness prevented Curtiz (director of Casablanca and The Adventures of Robin Hood) from finishing the film, Wayne took over as director, though his role remained uncredited. Curtiz died shortly after the film was completed.
In 1843, roguish gambler Paul Regret (Whitman) flees to avoid a death penalty after a duel with Emil Bouvier (Gregg Palmer), the son of a Louisiana judge. Regret claimed that he would have only wounded Bouvier if he had not sidestepped. He is captured by Texas Ranger Captain Jake Cutter (Wayne) after a tryst with a mysterious lady, Pilar Graile (Ina Balin). Regret manages to escape but is recaptured after a chance encounter with Cutter in a saloon.
Returning Regret to Louisiana, Cutter is forced to join forces with the condemned man to fight the "Comancheros", a large criminal gang headed by a former officer who smuggles guns and whiskey to the Comanche Indians, to make money and keep the frontier in a state of violence. Cutter stops at a ranch owned by a friend when the Comanche attack suddenly. During the attack, Regret jumps on a horse and flees but instead of making a clean getaway, he returns with a unit of Texas Rangers and the attack is repulsed. Because of Regret's act of valor, a company of Rangers and a judge lie themselves blue in the face, stating that Regret had been working undercover as a Ranger to spy out the Comancheros' supply line, clear his name, and swear him in as a Texas Ranger.
After finding one of the Comancheros' suppliers and killing him in self defense, Cutter and Regret take over his delivery wagon and infiltrate the self-sufficient Comanchero community at the bottom of a valley in the desert. Pilar reappears as the daughter of the ruthless Comanchero leader Graile (Nehemiah Persoff), who uses a wheelchair. After Cutter and the other Texas Rangers defeat the Comanches and Comancheros, Regret and Pilar leave together for Mexico and Jake rides off into the sunset to rejoin the Ranger company.
Wellman's novel had been bought for the screen by George Stevens, who wanted to direct it after Giant (1956). He then became interested in making The Diary of Anne Frank and sold the film rights to Fox for $300,000. Clair Huffaker was signed by the studio to adapt it for producer Charles Brackett, with Gary Cooper to star. Robert Wagner was in line to play Cooper's co star.
Cooper was in ill health and in early 1961 Douglas Heyes was announced as writer and director. John Wayne and Charlton Heston were announced as stars but Heston dropped out and was replaced by Tom Tryon, then Heyes dropped out and was replaced by Michael Curtiz. Fox had the script rewritten by Wayne's regular writer James Edward Grant.
Whitman's character—Paul Regret—was the lead in the novel and Wayne's part had to be amplified for the film version. Wellman had envisioned Cary Grant as Regret as he wrote the novel. Gary Cooper and James Garner were originally set to be the leads but Cooper's ill health and Garner's blackballing over a dispute with Jack L. Warner ruled them out.
According to Tom Mankiewicz, who worked on the film as an assistant, Curtiz was often ill during production and John Wayne took over the directing. Wayne told Mankiewicz to remove his John F. Kennedy button.
- John Wayne as Capt. Jake Cutter
- Stuart Whitman as Paul Regret
- Ina Balin as Pilar Graile
- Nehemiah Persoff as Graile
- Lee Marvin as Tully Crow
- Michael Ansara as Amelung
- Bruce Cabot as Maj. Henry
- Joan O'Brien as Melinda Marshall
- Richard Devon as Estevan
- Jack Elam as Horseface
- Henry Daniell as Gireaux
- Edgar Buchanan as Judge Thaddeus Jackson Breen
- Guinn "Big Boy" Williams as Ed McBain (gunrunner)
- Leigh Snowden as Evie – Blonde in Hotel Room (uncredited)
- Patrick Wayne as Tobe (Texas Ranger)
Bosley Crowther called the film "so studiously wild and woolly it turns out to be good fun"; according to Crowther, "[t]here's not a moment of seriousness in it, not a detail that isn't performed with a surge of exaggeration, not a character that is credible."
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Although set in Texas in 1843, the characters all use Winchester lever-action rifles and Colt Peacemaker pistols, which were not available until 1866 and 1873, respectively. The Guinn Williams character is said to have stolen rifles from Fort Sill and to have served a sentence in the Yuma Territorial Prison, neither of which became operational until after the Civil War, 1869 and 1876, respectively. The Comanchero leader's status as a former Confederate officer is also anachronistic because the Confederate States of America did not exist until the onset of the Civil War in 1861. Additionally, in the scene between Stuart Whitman and Joan O’Brien in which she explains how her husband died in the Battle of San Jacinto, she says his death occurred “four years ago,” which would’ve been 1839. The Battle of San Jacinto was fought in 1836.
Three years later, Whitman was the lead in Rio Conchos, another film which had a remarkably similar plot to this one. In that film (which avoided the anachronisms of this film by being set after the Civil War), Whitman's character was the upstanding figure compelled to work with rogues who either had criminal pasts, or worked on the edge of the law.
A song recorded by Claude King covered some of the plot of this film. It was meant to be released with the film but was only used in trailers. (sources needed).
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