Release Year: 1961
Directors: Michael Curtiz, John Wayne (uncredited)
Writers: James Edward Grant (screenplay), Clair Huffaker (screenplay), Paul I. Wellman (based on his 1952 novel The Comancheros)
Starring: John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Ina Balin, Nehemiah Persoff, Lee Marvin, Michael Ansara, Patrick Wayne, Bruce Cabot, Joan O’Brien, Jack Elam, Edgar Buchanan
Moviegeek Sunday Classic #240, week 4 2019
Texas Ranger Jake Cutter (John Wayne) arrests gambler Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman), but soon finds himself teamed with his prisoner in an undercover effort to defeat a band of renegade arms merchants and thieves known as Comancheros.
This Western set in 1843 Texas might not be among John Wayne’s greatest films but it is certainly one of his most entertaining and fun ones. The Duke is at his good-hearted best; as usual playing a decent and competent character, always quick to a grin and with a spark in his eye. Here he plays the Texas ranger Jake Cutter who comes across the wanted Louisiana city boy Paul Regret and has to bring him to on a five day hike to hand him over to the proper authorities for hanging. Naturally, things get in their ways, namely Indians and a weapons dealer who can lead them to the secret hideout of the eponymous Comancheros gang. The ranger and his prisoner spends a large part of the film together and so their chemistry sets the tone for the film and the two could hardly be a better match. This final film of Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, 1942) is a humdinger of a Western, complete with Indians (either stereotypically savage or stereotypically drunken), lots of Texas rangers, settlers, and big open spaces. The film is a deluxe technicolor picture and practically every scene is absolutely gorgeous, and packed with breathtaking scenery. Apart from Wayne, who as always casts a great big shadow, though unintentional, the film boasts a great cast, from the young and charming Whitman (Those Magnificent Man in their Flying Machines, 1965) to a number of Western veterans such as Bob Steele (The Big Sleep, 1946 and Guinn ‘Big Boy’ Williams (The Alamo, 1960) in his last film. When reflecting on the filmcrack in the veneer appear; the plot is a big messy, really consisting of three different narratives that do not exactly blend nicely together. One of these involve a highly memorable Lee Marvin (Cat Ballou, 1865) pre-household name fame, but The Comancheros’s biggest asset is its high entertainment value and Wayne at the top of his game having fun. Highly recommended to Western fans and a must-see for fans of the Duke.
Director Michael Curtiz was terminally ill with cancer during the filming of the film and died shortly after filming was completed. On days when Curtiz became too ill to work Wayne took over the direction, but he refused a credit as co-director and insisted that Michael Curtiz alone be credited.
Author Paul Wellman wrote the character of Paul Regret with Cary Grant in mind. However, when the film was made in 1961, Grant was too old for the part and he would never have accepted second billing to John Wayne anyway.
This was the first time John Wayne and Lee Marvin worked together and Marvin’s performance as Tully Cow made Wayne recommend him to John Ford the role of the eponymous villain in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).
Picture Copyright: 20th Century Fox