Saturday, December 31

The White Buffalo (1977) - DEG/King Records Japan VHS

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It's easy to see why J. Lee Thompson's bit of historical revisionist fluff concerning Wild Bill Hickok, played by Charles Bronson, venturing after an enormous white buffalo that haunts his dreams failed to spark the interest of moviegoers and critics upon release. Not only was the Western genre in hibernation at the time, but the movie reeks of low production value with cheap wardrobe, "western town" studio backlot sets, and a barely above made-for-television atmosphere (remembering television features were pretty great back then). Although intended to take a mythological tone, the cumbersome animatronic buffalo is unconvincing as a real animal puffing and galloping along hidden rail tracks like part of a Disneyland attraction. Spielberg's Jaws shot the bar sky high for creature features like this, producer Dino De Laurentiis purposely wished to ape that classic here, and Lucas' maiden voyage telling past tales of a galaxy far away certainly didn't help.

But that doesn't mean The White Buffalo isn't entertaining in hindsight. Like many Bronson flicks, it's perfect over a reheated, greasy sub with extra hots at two in the morning as you try futilely to eat something to quell an impeding hangover. Charley is a bit limited, the screenplay doesn't get too deep into any real Wild Bill insight, but the portrayal does retain the gunfighter's rumored case of syphilis with the actor wearing dark sunglasses to ward off worsening light sensitivity. Will Sampson does what he was known for playing a disgraced Native American chief in search of redemption after the beast rampages through and kills many in his tribe. Jack Warden eventually joins in to assist Hickok in his quest but ultimately can't grow to trust the redman also after their prize. A host of familiar faces such as Clint Walker, Stuart Whitman, Ed Lauter, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, and even Martin Kove populate modest roles and walk-ons. I would mention Kim Novak, but the actress is barely in the film as an innkeeper Hickok has prior history with. Innocuous stuff that might actually be a good Bronson primer for little ones as there's only a few splashes of super bright blood mixed into the adventurous folklore.

2 comments:

Erik (Drunketh) said...

I don't know, from the two pictures of that buffalo that I've ever seen just now on that movie cover I gotta say that I think it looks pretty damn cool. I'll watch this if I ever come across it.

Jayson said...

Oh no, I'll definitely see it again eventually. It's just nothing serious at all, nor does it have to be, but going in with wrong expectations could hurt the experience.

One thing I forgot to mention is how the script is PACKED with casual verbiage from the era. It seems like way more time was spent trying to figure out how people spoke back then than honing the meaning of what they're actually trying to convey. If that makes any sense...

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?
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