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Monday, November 2, 2009

WHITE COMANCHE -- movie review by porfle

In 1966, William Shatner starred as Captain James T. Kirk in episode #5 of "Star Trek:The Original Series", entitled "The Enemy Within", in which a transporter malfunction split him into two people--the good Kirk and the evil Kirk. Two years later, this wealth of Shatners continued when he traveled to Spain during a series hiatus and portrayed twin half-breed brothers in a low-budget, badly-directed and photographed Western called WHITE COMANCHE (1968). Once again, it was a face-off between good and evil Shatners, and a chance for him to lavish us with a double-dose of that eccentric acting style we all know and love.

How bad is this movie? The opening seconds give a good indication since it looks like we're about to see one of those home-movie-quality documentaries about Bigfoot that used to play in smalltown drive-ins. But instead of a big, hairy monster, we see Shatner as Johnny Moon, dressed in denim cowboy duds and riding a horse through the wilderness, while one of the worst movie scores ever written begins to massacre our brain cells. Suddenly he is set upon by a group of men who put a noose around his neck because they think he's his twin brother Notah Moon, who goes around with his band of renegade Comanches and kills the "pale eyes" for fun. Johnny gets away and rides to Notah's camp to await his return, because he's had it up to here with getting blamed for his brother's murderous shenanigans and is itching for a showdown.

Meanwhile, Notah and his motley crew of cut-ups have just attacked a stagecoach and shot all the drivers and passengers except for a beautiful young saloon babe named Kelly (the way-hot Argentinian actress Rosanna Yani), whom Notah gleefully rapes after slapping her around for awhile. It's weird seeing Bad Shatner here, looking like someone dressed in a half-assed Indian costume for Halloween, yelping "Hi-yi-yi!" and wearing that same goofy expression Captain Kirk used to have whenever he was a little too happy for some reason. He would again appear in a similar outfit later that year in the "Star Trek" episode "The Paradise Syndrome", in which the amnesia-stricken Kirk lives among a tribe of space Indians who believe him to be a god named "Kirok."

Anyway, Notah and his men eventually wander back to camp, which looks more like a dumpy commune full of hostile hippies than an Indian encampment. His wife, White Fawn (Perla Cristal, another Argentinian), who appears as though she might be more at home hanging around a bowling alley in the Bronx, has his peyote ready for him. With it, Notah sees glorious visions of his people conquering the pale eyes, and his stirring exhortations of this impending victory, usually delivered while standing on a big rock, keep his followers all jazzed up and ready for action.

But Johnny steps on Notah's buzz by not only criticizing his copious drug use ("Eat the peyote, drug of the Devil...dream your dreams of hate"), but also by challenging him to a showdown in the nearby town of Rio Hondo in four days. After they diss each other for awhile, both enunciating in that rich, familiar Shatner cadence flavored with pseudo-Indian inflections--

"Notah is well-named...his liver is white, like his Yankee father...his heart burns blacker than the skin of his Comanche mother. He's white-bellied, like his name...'The Snake.'"

"Notah's brother talks like the white man he thinks he is. He's be Comanche."

--Notah accepts the challenge. In four days, it'll be Shatner vs. Shatner on the streets of Rio Hondo.

On his way to town, Johnny comes upon a group of men getting ready to hang a guy, which seems to be the main source of entertainment in these parts. He outdraws a couple of goons and rescues the corpulent fellow, who explains that the men work for his boss' competitor, and the two big-shot land barons are getting ever closer to all-out war. Later in town, one of the land barons offers Johnny a job, but their negotiations are interrupted when the saloon babe, Kelly, grabs a gun and starts shooting at Johnny because she thinks he's Notah. Then he gets into a big barroom brawl with one of the guys who was about to hang the fat guy earlier, and they demolish every stick of breakaway furniture in the whole place.

Shatner seems to be doing his own stunts here, flying through bannisters and crashing through tables, which is interesting. He's also fighting in that odd, stylized way that Kirk used to do on Star Trek, which looks rather strange at times. After he whups the tar out of his opponent, Johnny finally convinces Kelly that he isn't Notah, because his eyes are a different color (Johnny's are brown, Notah's are black--like his eee-vil soul). Needless to say, they begin to fall in love.

Trying to keep the two warring factions from each other's throats while keeping a suspicious eye on Johnny is Sheriff Logan, played by top-billed Joseph Cotten. A veteran of such classics as CITIZEN KANE, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS, and GASLIGHT, as well as scores of lesser films and TV appearances, Cotten gives the closest thing to a good performance in WHITE COMANCHE, although that's not saying much considering the competition. I don't know how in blue blazes he ended up in this--maybe he just felt like a vacation in Spain, or maybe the producer was holding his family hostage. At any rate, I doubt if he considered this one of the high points of his career.

As Johnny waits for Notah's imminent arrival, the tension between the two land barons and their men finally explodes into a big, sloppily-staged gun battle in the middle of town, with lot of guys getting shot between the eyes (it seems like anyone who gets shot in this movie gets shot right between the eyes) and falling over balconies and off of roofs and stuff. I never could figure out why getting shot always caused guys to fly forward off of balconies and roofs--it must be some weird Western law of physics that they don't teach us about in school for some reason.

When the dust settles, a whole bunch of guys are dead and the local undertaker will soon be able to afford that summer home in Miami Beach. Johnny is aces with Sheriff Logan now for helping out, and Kelly is ready to settle down with him and start pumping out a bunch of little Johnnies. But all isn't peachy-keen just yet, because here comes Notah, all hopped up on peyote and ready to take Johnny on in a fight to the death. ("You are as the wild duck that sits on the pond," Johnny tells Notah as he draws a bead on him from a bell tower.) Johnny shucks off his white-guy duds and straps on an official Indian headband so that we can't tell the two brothers apart during the exciting battle, stretching our already-frazzled nerves to the breaking point. (Or something like that.) Shouting "Hi-yi-yi!", the two warring Shatners ride toward each other on horseback, guns blazing, and...'ll just have to see for yourself how it turns out, which I'm sure you'll be aching to do as soon as possible after reading this. Whether you're a bad movie fan, a member of The First Church Of Shatnerology, or simply a masochist, WHITE COMANCHE is one Western you'll be wanting to get your grubby little hands on. This mind-warping tale of dueling Shatners is the perfect movie to stick into the old DVD player next time you want to get the guys together for a little do-it-yourself MST3K action.

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