Sunday, April 6, 2014

THE WHITE BUFFALO (1977) movie review

White Buffalo, The (1977) d. J. Lee Thompson (USA)

Produced by Dino de Laurentiis the same year as his Jaws/Moby Dick hybrid Orca, this similarly themed Western epic pits a syphilitic Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson) against the enormous titular bison, with none-too-subtle parallels of them each being the last of their kind.

A  critical and financial disaster upon release, the film ended the star’s string of hits (thus beginning his descent into sleazy low-budget schlock), but while it’s understandable that mainstream audiences might not have responded favorably, more adventurous cinephiles will likely find elements to enjoy.

Foremost among these being the screenplay’s intricate and bizarre vernacular devised by Richard Sale, adapting his original novel – one never believes for a second that 18th century frontiersmen spoke as we hear them, but darned if you don’t find yourself wishing they did.

Sample dialogue, with Kim Novak’s widow character Poker Jenny putting the gentle moves on a tired Bill:

Bill: Ah, Jen, I ain’t got the gumption for it.
Jenny: That’ll be the day.
Bill: Truth.
Jen: You just lie still now. I’ll fly the eagle.
Bill: No, Jen, some time back, one of your scarlet sisters dosed me proper. I’m not about to ride the high horse.

The other mixed bag is the albino beast itself, reputedly designed by Carlo Rambaldi, and looking more like a giant galloping puppet than any living entity. That said, the sheer theatricality of the effect lends a certain charm to the already artificial proceedings.

With a stellar supporting cast (Jack Warden, Will Sampson, Clint Walker, Slim Pickens, John Carradine, Ed Lauter) spouting Sale’s memorable dialogue led by a never-better Bronson, this one’s worth a shot.

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