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The Comancheros

Director: Michael Curtiz, John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin

Cast: Michael Curtiz, John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin


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Michael Curtiz's The Comancheros was a deceptively complex movie -- so enjoyable, that it masked some of the best character development seen in a John Wayne vehicle that was not directed by John Ford or Howard Hawks, and so well made that it got by with some of the most violent action seen in a major studio release of the era. It also bridged the gap between


Michael Curtiz's The Comancheros was a deceptively complex movie -- so enjoyable, that it masked some of the best character development seen in a John Wayne vehicle that was not directed by John Ford or Howard Hawks, and so well made that it got by with some of the most violent action seen in a major studio release of the era. It also bridged the gap between Ford's The Searchers and the upbeat buddy movies of the late '60s and '70s (The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, etc.). It's 1843 in the Republic of Texas, and Jake Cutter (John Wayne) is a two-fisted Texas Ranger who runs across a gang of white renegades, called the Comancheros, who are trading guns and other contraband with marauding Comanches from a secret hideout in Mexico. Substituting for a repentant gun-runner, he goes undercover as a partner with Crow (Lee Marvin), a vicious half-breed who is a contact man with the Comancheros and knows the whereabouts of their hideout in Mexico. But Crow manages to get himself killed, and Cutter is forced to throw in with Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), a bystander who also happens to be an itinerant gambler wanted for killing a man in a duel in New Orleans, to complete his mission. It turns out that Regret is a more decent man than most, and he and Cutter, despite some different outlooks on right and wrong, take a liking to each other. Their quest eventually takes them south of the border, where they find the Comancheros and their leader, Graile (Nehemiah Persoff), a bitter, brilliant cripple -- think of The Sea Wolf's Wolf Larsen in a wheelchair -- who has established a landlocked pirate society, and his daughter Pilar (Ina Balin). The only thing that keeps Cutter and Regret alive when they enter the camp is that Pilar and Regret have a history, and she still has feelings for him, enough so that she won't tell what she knows about Cutter and who he is. The two men must play on Graile's greed and Pilar's love in the explosive surroundings of the Comancheros' camp, while figuring out a way to stay alive long enough to get word to the rangers about where they are -- and to survive the attack that must inevitably follow. Director Michael Curtiz was ill for part of the shoot, and Wayne took up the slack, but The Comancheros displays some of the same freewheeling charm and deep passions that informed classic films of his such as Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Sea Hawk. Wayne and Whitman between them manage to evoke some of the rambunctiousness of Errol Flynn, and when Balin (one of the sexiest leading ladies ever to grace a John Wayne movie) arrives onscreen, the testosterone level shoots up even higher and the sexual sparks fly. The film's 105 minutes go by very fast, and this is a movie whose ending comes almost too soon. Curtiz's final film is one that leaves audiences with a smile, but also wanting more, which was a pretty good way to go out. John Wayne's daughter, Aissa Wayne (who subsequently went into a law career) appears in a small role.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Wheeler Winston Dixon
The Comancheros is Michael Curtiz's last film as a director; from all accounts, he was weak and ill during the filming, although one would never know it from the finished product, which is skillfully directed and bears the unmistakable stamp of Curtiz's professionalism. John Wayne stepped in to direct some scenes when Curtiz faltered, and Cliff Lyons, an excellent stuntman whose career traced back to the silent era, directed the second-unit action sequences, and certainly these contributions added considerably to the film's final cut. The film boasts a particularly interesting cast; aside from Wayne, stars Stuart Whitman and Lee Marvin, as well as veteran character actors Jack Elam, Henry Daniell, and Richard Devon are on hand to liven up the proceedings. The plot is simplicity itself; Wayne plays Texas Ranger Jake Cutter, a role he could stroll through without breaking a sweat, who arrests itinerant gambler Paul Regret (Whitman) as another routine assignment. But Whitman and Wayne soon find they must pool their resources to defeat a band of renegade arms dealers known as the Comancheros, led by Jack Elam at his slimiest. The Comancheros is a deeply formulaic film, designed to keep Wayne in the public eye and his loyal audience members satisfied. None of it makes much sense, but Curtiz directs in his usual hectic style, so that the incidents pile up so quickly that one soon forgets the absurdity of the film's premise. Interestingly, veteran Western director Budd Boetticher was originally slated to direct this film during a particularly down period in the director's life when he was in jail in Mexico during the production of his film Arruza (which was eventually completed after much hardship in 1972). Astoundingly, Boetticher turned the offer down, preferring to remain in jail rather than tackle what he saw as a mediocre project. Michael Curtiz died shortly after production of the film was completed.

Product Details

Release Date:
Original Release:
20th Century Fox
[Wide Screen]
[DTS 5.1-Channel Surround Sound, Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]
Sales rank:

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
John Wayne Capt. Jake Cutter
Stuart Whitman Paul Regret
Ina Balin Pilar Graile
Nehemiah Persoff Graile
Lee Marvin Tully Crow
Michael Ansara Amelung
Bruce Cabot Maj. Henry
Joan O'Brien Melinda Marshall
Jack Elam Horseface
Edgar Buchanan Judge Thaddeus Jackson Breen
Henry Daniell Gireaux
Richard Devon Estevan
Steve Baylor Comanchero
John Dierkes Bill
Roger Mobley Bub Schofield
Bob Steele Pa Schofield
Luisa Triana Spanish Dancer
Iphigenie Castiglioni Josefina
Aissa Wayne Bessie Marshall
Harry Carey Actor
Leigh Snowden Hotel Girl
Tom Hennessy Graile's Bodyguard
Patrick Wayne Tobe
Guinn "Big Boy" Williams Ed McBain
George Lewis Iron Shirt
Gregg Palmer Duel opponent
Don Brodie Card dealer
Jon Lormer Elderly man on riverboat
Phil Arnold Nervous man
Alan Carney Bartender
Ralph Volkie Riverboat steward
Dennis Cole Actor

Technical Credits
Michael Curtiz Director
Harold Belfer Choreography
Elmer Bernstein Score Composer
Marjorie Best Costumes/Costume Designer
William H. Clothier Cinematographer
James Edward Grant Screenwriter
Clair Huffaker Screenwriter
Louis Loeffler Editor
Robert Priestley Set Decoration/Design
Walter Scott Set Decoration/Design
George Sherman Producer
Jack Martin Smith Art Director
Alfred Ybarra Art Director

Scene Index

Audio Commentary by Stuart Whitman, Nhemiah Persoff, Michael Ansara and Patrick Wayne; The Comancheros and the Battle for the American Southwest; ; The Duke at Fox - A Two-Part Documentary; Vintage Comancheros Comic Book Gallery; ; A Conversatio with Stuart Whitman (Audio Only); ; Fox Movietonews: Claude King and Tilman Franks Receive Award for The Comancheros; ; Theatrical Trailers (English and Spanish); ; 24-Page Collectible Book Packaging


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