Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin, Nehemiah Persoff, Lee Marvin, Michael Ansara, Patrick Wayne, Bruce Cabot, Joan O'Brien, Jack Elam, Edgar Buchanan, Henry Daniell, Richard Devon
Written by: James Edward Grant, Clair Huffaker, based on a novel by Paul I. Wellman
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 107
Date: 10/30/1961
IMDB

The Comancheros (1961)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Indian Givers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Wayne's most notable films were directed by John Ford and Howard Hawks, which is not to say that the others are totally worthless. Michael Curtiz was always known as a Warner Bros. company man, reliable and skilled, but without much personality. He worked with Wayne twice, in Warner comedy, Trouble Along the Way (1953), and in The Comancheros (1961), made at 20th Century Fox. Curtiz possessed neither Ford's poetry nor Hawks' effortlessness, but he had an unobtrusive quality that served actors well. Not to mention that, when Curtiz fell ill during the production, Wayne took over directing (without credit). This was Curtiz's final film.

Wayne plays a Texas Ranger, Jake Cutter; people call him "Big Jake," although there's no connection to Wayne's later movie, Big Jake (1971). He's assigned to catch a gambler and womanizer, Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), who has killed a man in a duel. Jake succeeds, but loses his quarry in an unguarded moment. Moving on, he is assigned to stop a gun-running scheme, and going undercover, meets up with lowlife Tully Crow (Lee Marvin, in his first of three movies with Wayne). Oddly enough, while working on this case, Jake runs into Regret one more time. Together, they wind up infiltrating the "comancheros" of the title, or a group of renegade whites that has thrown in with the Comanche. To make things even more complicated, a woman that Regret loves, Pilar Graile (Ina Balin), is with them.

By the early 1960s, Wayne had grown totally comfortable with his onscreen persona, and was glad to share the screen, not only with Marvin -- one of his best and most perfectly matched co-stars -- but also with Whitman, who had quite a bit less star power than the Duke. The two form a warm-hearted bond with lots of playful bantering and tough-guy one-upmanship. (Wayne calls him "Mon-soor," because Regret likes to wear expensive, tailored clothes.) The action is crisp and spacious without being too frenetic, and the pacing is brisk. No one can make any claims for it as a great Western, but it's a good one, and highly enjoyable.

Fox has released a new deluxe Blu-Ray book edition for 2011, with 24 glossy pages. The Cinemascope transfer looks bright and sharp. Extras include a commentary track by Whitman, actor Nehemiah Persoff, and Patrick Wayne, who is Wayne's son, but also appears in the movie. There's a terrific documentary about Wayne's films at Fox, and a featurette about the real Comancheros. There's an audio interview with Whitman, Fox newsreels, and trailers. Best of all is a digital version of the original Comancheros comic book, published just before the movie was released.