Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Comancheros

Ina Balin reprises her role of Margaret Carruthers in The Comancheros, a 1961 color film that runs 107 minutes. No, wait, it’s the other way around: Miracle at Santa Marta was broadcast ten years after this movie.

But as the female lead in The Comancheros, Balin’s appearance, voice, and mannerisms are all the same as her character on ASJ. In Miracle, she plays the girlfriend of the leader of an outlaw gang; in The Comancheros, she plays Pilar Graile, the daughter of the outlaw gang leader. Early in the movie, Pilar says, “It is unusual to be honest,” a theme Balin’s characters seem to have wholeheartedly embraced!

The story starts off clearly enough, with a duel taking place in 1843 New Orleans. The victor, Monsieur Paul Regret, played by Stuart Whitman, who speaks without a French accent (unlike fellow New Orleans native Michelle Monet in Journey from San Juan), flees to Texas, by way of a riverboat where he meets not only Pilar, with whom he falls in love, but also Captain Jake Cutter, a Texas Ranger played by John Wayne, who arrests Regret by handcuffing him to the bed in which he is sleeping.

A series of adventures ensues as Cutter is determined to bring Regret in to face justice, which would be the gallows in Louisiana. Eventually, Regret escapes and Cutter returns to his Texas Ranger station empty-handed. There, a second plot involving rifles being sold to Comanches, who are attacking white homesteads in the region, takes precedence over capturing the fugitive.

Halfway through The Comancheros, Cutter, now impersonating a gunrunner, encounters Regret again and in a somewhat implausible plotline, they end up as partners trying to find out who is buying the rifles so they can put a stop to the Indian attacks. The rest of the movie deals with what happens when they discover what is really going on.

Jon Lormer has a small role in The Comancheros. While his name may not be instantly recognizable, his appearance is. Lormer is the man with unruly white hair and a distinctive-looking face who played minor characters in five episodes of ASJ (perhaps most noticeably the telegrapher in Jailbreak at Junction City, as well as Wrong Train to Brimstone, Return to Devil’s Hole, The Biggest Game in the West, and The Long Chase). In this movie, he plays an elderly gentleman who would like to dance with Pilar as the riverboat on which they are travelling makes its way to Galveston. However, Pilar spurns him for Regret.

Directed by Michael Curtiz, The Comancheros, like ASJ, has loads of witty banter, especially between Cutter and Regret. Another connection to ASJ is that the movie was partly filmed in the Moab area and views of Castle Valley can be seen at about the one hour and twenty-second minute mark. Also, John Wayne sings "Red Wing" (which is anachronstic because the song wasn't copyrighted until 1907) and he sounds as good as Kid Curry singing in Jailbreak at Junction City.

Despite a somewhat disjointed plotline, The Comancheros has enough action and suspense, as well as a strong female lead, to make it a film worth seeing.

Description of the real Comancheros from the Texas State Historical Association: