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Just recently I found a video store in New Haven County where fine old
westerns can be had on VHS. One of the ones I had long wanted to see
was "CHUKA" or Chuka: the Gunfighter, from 1967.
The video transfer was high quality and so watching this movie on tape was an enjoyable experience. Luciana Paluzzi is stunningly beautiful.
Indeed, Chuka is something of a Hollywood fantasy but the tone and the settings of the story are fairly well done.
Both Paluzzi and her niece, played by Victoria Vetri ( as Angela Dorian ), do very well in this western oddity. Ernest Borgnine is good as ever, at being Ernest Borgnine. Rod Taylor was also very good and very believable as the cowpuncher turned hardened hired killer.
The most interesting part of the story was about how Fort Clendennon became a dumping ground for misfits, rejects, and bad officers. This is a well-known but seldom portrayed part of the truth of how the U.S. Army operated in the late 1870's. It is true that in this fiction, many of the soldiers and civilians seem to be just a little too clean for that day and age, but it doesn't really detract from the rapid pace of the events in this drama.
Additionally, the extreme deprivation imposed on the Arapaho tribal nation by the Army at this time is another important element. The "injuns" are rather cartoonish in their depictions but at least some aspects of their true grievances are relayed in the plot.
Perhaps this Chuka -- pronounced Chuck-Uh -- is a lot more savvy than circumstances in that day and age might have permitted, but Rod Taylor does really well at being fast-as-lightning and very tough.
This film gets a vote of 7 from me, which was really a six with a kicker for the beautiful Vetri and the beautiful Paluzzi.
Many of the better westerns have been good about presenting the Mexican culture of that time in a favorable light, and this is one of them, and neither Vetri nor Paluzzi appear as simply being "eye candy" for a rough-and-tumble western. The dinner sequence where Colonel Valois rakes his officers over the coals and embarrasses them all is a piece-de-resistance in western drama. Other elements are not so convincing but this is fun way to see a good western drama from a by-gone era of movie making.
Chuka derives its power from the high quality of the story on which it is based. I can recommend it heartily for western fans, for Victoria Vetri fans, and for Rod Taylor's excellent, dynamic performance.
The story occurs in 1876 , Chuka (Rod Taylor) is a grizzled gunfighter
who helps an unexperienced though honorable cavalry officer to roust
renegade soldiers and a tribe of Arapahoe Indians . When the main
characters arrive at the fort a soldier being flogged for desertion
(though hipping or whipping had been prohibited by the U.S. Army as of
5 August 1861) . There Cavalry commandant (John Mills) is saddled not
only problems with Native American but irritability among his own
troops (Louis Hayward) . Chuka eventually puts the bridle on tight and
protects a pair of damsels (gorgeous Luciana Paluzzi and Angela Dorian
or Victoria Vetri , famous Miss Playboy) in distress . The Indians are
out on a rampage of killing , vengeance against the white intruders and
with the aim for getting food .
This is an unusually brutal tale of a hard-bitten gunslinger assembling a detail of misfit cavalrymen to hold-off rampaging Indians . Rod Taylor and an expert all-star-cast shine in this gripping story about a surrounded garrison and director takes a fine penned screenplay creating a cavalry-Indians tale that is far from ordinary , exploring the anguish and desperation of soldiers . It's the habitual theme about an unit stranded by enemies and their grueling efforts to break the siege , issue imitated many other times . The picture contains nice moments but partially unsatisfying for the reason of the claustrophobic environment . Produced by Rod Taylor , this Western is predictable and conventional but entertaining . It displays a colorful and adequate cinematography by Harold E. Stine . In addition , atmospheric as well as evocative musical score by Leith Stevens .
The motion picture was professionally directed by Gordon Douglas . He's an expert on adventures genre such as ¨Black arrow¨ , ¨Fortunes of Captain Blood¨ , both starred by Louis Hayward and Western , as he proved in the films starred by Clint Walker such as ¨Fort Dobbs¨, ¨Yellowstone Kelly¨ , ¨Gold of seven Saints¨ , Gregory Peck as ¨Only the valiant¨ in similar plot to ¨Chuka¨ , Richard Boone as ¨Rio Conchos¨ considered the best , and on legendary bandits as ¨Doolins of Oklahoma¨ , ¨Great Missouri raid¨ , among others .
Chuka is an unusual and unsatisfying Western with a plot that several
times reminds one of Beau Geste. It starts with the US Cavalry
retrieving their comrades' bodies at a fort that has been overwhelmed
by Indians and then flashes back to portray the events that led up to
John Mills usually plays a sympathetic character but as Colonel Valois he has no redeeming feature at all, even at the end he stands apparently helpless as his ragtag soldiers fight off the Indian attack. (One wonders why a colonel has such a small command, which seems to total barely 40 men, and the fort itself is small enough to fit conveniently into a studio.) It is hard to find much to like about most of the cast, but then the members are playing unlikeable people. Rod Taylor as the gunslinger Chaka shows his good side in the opening scenes when he offers his food to starving Indians but drives a hard bargain when his scouting expertise is needed. Louis Hayward, looking a bit like the British character actor Terry-Thomas, pays for the services of an Indian girl. Only Ernest Borgnine, appearing larger than one usually visualises him, makes much of a screen impact, and his character is one of the few who seems not to have an unfortunate past.
The two Mexican ladies marooned at the post after rashly travelling across country in a stagecoach are an intrusion into the plot (but then I often groan at the contrived introduction of glamorous women into an environment that in real life would be all-male).
All in all, a disappointing oddity.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An unfortunate veneer of artificiality hangs over this otherwise rugged western, giving it a cheap feeling despite its impressive cast. Taylor plays the title character, a drifter and a gunman, who comes upon a distressed stagecoach and escorts it to a nearby fort. On the coach is a former love of his (Paluzzi) and her ward Vetri. Once inside, rather than finding the relief of security, Taylor and the others discover that the fort is actually manned by inept, almost mutinous soldiers and run by a stubborn tyrant with esteem issues. The colonel in charge (Mills) is about to incite an attack from local Indians because he reuses to aid them with food or supplies. Taylor urges him to desert the fort before everyone in it is slaughtered, as they are mightily outnumbered, but Mills is steadfast in his decision. Soon enough, Indians are attacking with rage as the fort's inhabitants options dwindle. Taylor, a reliable and appealing actor, was co-producer on this film. He clearly saw it as an opportunity to essay a serious, deep character. Unfortunately, his inherent amiability makes his tough character a harder sell than it might be for another actor. Still, he does a decent job. Oddly, his character's name comes from the fact that, as a boy, he could always be found around the "chuck wagon", hence the pronunciation "chuck-a" which looks like it would be "chew-ka" (why not just spell it "Chucka"?? Why not "Chuckie" or "Chuck-O" for that matter?) This is stupid and makes viewers glad that Taylor didn't hang out at the "sh*t hole" as a boy. Borgnine is pretty good as one of Mills devoted flunkies who clashes with Taylor in an extended fight sequence. Mills has a badly written role to play and comes very close to embarrassing himself at times. Thankfully, he had an Oscar with his name on it just around the corner for "Ryan's Daughter". Paluzzi, best known as a Bond girl from "Thunderball" is mostly made to stand around and stare, which she does attractively. Vetri barely registers. Her initial scenes are distracted by having a huge crueller stapled to her head. Later, she's basically furniture. If she'd been allowed to show any type of skin besides her face and hands, maybe she'd have been more memorable. Speaking of clothing, this must be a low point for the legendary costume designer Edith Head (if she even, in fact, had anything to do with the dull, non-evocative costumes.) A few other actors pop up in supporting roles including Whitmore as a boozy scout, Hayward as a jaded major and Cole (soon to be one of TV's "The Mod Squad") as a rebellious soldier. Noted voice-over actor Sirola appears as the stage coach driver and a pal to Taylor. Apart from Taylor and, to a lesser degree Borgnine and Mills, the only creative or arresting acting comes from the ever-reliable Whitmore. The script, derived from a novel by the novel's author, is not cohesive enough and really should have been streamlined in order to retain a particular focus. It allows too many characters and subplots to chip away, to no great effect, at the primary story. Even so, the movie is nearly undone by the horrendous lack of authenticity in the settings. A key outdoor scene features plainly artificial snow made up from chipped tissue paper. The fort is almost entirely constructed (obviously) indoors. All the distress to the set, such as char, aging, etc..., is done with all the skill of 4th grade art students. Time and again, the cheapness and confining restriction of an indoor set takes the viewer out of the moment. There is also an atrociously bad matte painting of an Indian camp. These things brand the film as being just above a TV show, if even that! Most of the action occurs at the tail end of the film and it isn't staged in any grand way. This is for die-hard Cavalry and Indian buffs or for fans of the stars only.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Chuka is a strangely written film with some strange characters, all of
whom need to have some tedious expository background scene whilst the
audience twiddles its thumbs waiting for the Indians to attack (that
they win is revealed in the opening scene so there's no suspense here).
Writer Richard Jassup creates some bizarre people who are unlikely to have existed in real life. His army fort is populated by a collection of what is described as the 'scum of the Earth'. As if a USA army fort in Indian territory would ever be (or ever could be) populated with 'disgraced' people. The officer in charge is a disgraced (and, it is implied, castrated) former British officer who, for reasons understandably unexplained, is now a colonel in the USA army. Not only that, but his German sergeant who served with him in the British army in the Sudan (?!) is also with him at the fort. Another character explains that he hates battles because horses get killed (!). With such bizarre creations as these, there is little one can do really but sit it out for the full 105m whilst these people all reveal something 'significant' about their backgrounds and hope that the end action justifies the wait (even know you know it won't).
The real star of the film is not Rod Taylor but the most unconvincing fort set that I have ever seen (and I must have watched over 400 westerns including all 13 of AC Lyles' films). It is so small you only ever get to see one small part of the wall. The inhabitants must number about 30 at most - only about 20 can fit in the non-existent 'parade ground' - and there is room in the stable for about 10 horses. Apart from Taylor, none of the main actors seem to have left this set for the duration. Consequently, the film has a cramped, claustrophobic, artificial look throughout and I was half expecting the source material to be a stage play. The constricted set causes several Indian arrows to defy the laws of physics and gravity - one army officer gets one in the back when his back was up against a wooden wall ! Other highlights include a long fight between Taylor and Ernest Borgnine which ends, following kidney punches and the banging of Taylor's head against a wooden post, with the two simply laughing and seemingly unharmed. Plus a somewhat incomprehensible ending that tries to strain for significance (would a grave really not be dug-up due to 'sacrilege' if a relative was after the body?).
This may be one of the strangest A-List movies ever made. It has a superb international cast (U.S., Great Britain, Australia, Italy), but the story is unbearably childish, intolerably boring, and riddled with errors and plot missteps that defy belief. Just a very few: no cashiered foreign officer could possibly get a commission in the U.S. Army, much less rise to the rank of Colonel; no Colonel wears major's leaves as his rank insignia; no Colonel ever commanded a fort consisting of what appears to be no more than a squad of soldiers (not to mention that no frontier fort was ever held by a mere squad); no Americans served in the British Army's Sudan Campaign; Chuka NEVER misses his shots at the rapidly moving Indians, regardless the range and the fact that, rather than aiming, he lunges, throws out, his pistol when firing, which absolutely GUARANTEES a miss; poor Louis Hayward (at the end of his career) agrees to lead a mutiny, which no officer in the U.S. Armed Forces has ever done; there was no concept, ever, of a fort to which were banished incompetent, criminal officers and cast-off, second-rate men (where do they GET ideas like that?)---this could go on forever. Given the idiocies of the plot and parade of one moronic scene after another (e.g., the Commanding Officer going around the dinner table and grievously insulting every single officer in his command), it must be admitted that the highly professional cast did its very best with the hopeless script (written by someone with no knowledge of the military or the American West)---but that was like trying to breathe life into the first 500 pages of the Manhattan telephone directory. Years from now this film---given its stellar cast---will be pondered upon as one of the great mysteries in Hollywood production and film-making.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When a single concept keeps intruding on one's enjoyment of a film it
has to be mentioned. For myself, I kept wondering how a former British
soldier with a French surname is in command of a U.S. Cavalry garrison
in 1876. I wouldn't mind so much if this was a Thirties of Forties 'B'
programmer but here it was 1967 so maybe a little background would have
been in order.
There's a lot more one needs to overlook in the picture as well, but having Luciana Paluzzi on hand as a Mexican senorita sort of balanced things out. Her mysterious association with gunslinger Chuka (Rod Taylor) is eventually revealed as things reach critical mass at Fort Clendennon, though it's never really confirmed whether she was still married or not. However I did notice a wedding band on her finger at one point, so I guess you have to make up your own mind at some point.
Say here's something I never saw before - how about those clever Arapahoe Indians spearing the wall of the fort so they could use them as steps to breach the perimeter. I thought that was rather ingenious. Speaking of those spears, how is it that Chuka was able to remove one that entirely pierced his body? One minute it was there and the next minute gone. But even that wasn't as amazing as Senora Veronica (Paluzzi) taking an arrow in the back when she was standing against the wall of a barricade. How does that work?
Oh well, trying to make sense of it all isn't going to get you anywhere. There were a couple of good moments like Chuka duking it out with Sergeant Hahnsbach (Ernest Borgnine), and the Indian attack on the fort was staged fairly well. I guess in the end we're supposed to understand that Chuka was a former cavalry soldier based on the narrator's description of the cross placed on a small grave after the dust settled. Just another question mark in the story that could have been explained better to keep us all from guessing.
Among the films of Rod Taylor, one is hard pressed to single any which stand out as wrong for him. This particular film called " Chuka " is right up his alley. The rugged, good looking rough and tumble action hero is right at home in a run down Army post surrounded by frigid miles of empty winter desert. The year is 1876, the place Fort Clandenen, home to an odd collection of misfit soldiers, deserters and questionable officers. The post is commanded by an aging Ex-British Colonel called Stuart Valois. Although disliked by his small command, only one has respect for him. That man is professional soldier Sgt. Otto Kahnsbach. (Ernest Borgnine) Into the shabby excuse of an outpost, looking for a bed is an experienced gunfighter called Chuka. (Rod Taylor) Accompanying him is the overland stage with two Beautiful Spanish women. Senora Veronica Kleitz (Luciana Paluzzi) and (Angela Dorian). With a gathering and ever encircling force of Arapahoes, led by Hanu ( Marco Lopez) a young warrior Chief, his people, ill fed and starving, need the supplies of the fort. The action in the movie is convincing as are the supporting cast. Seasoned actors James Whitmore who plays Lou Trent, the Chief scout, Louis Hayward and Lucky Carson all give fine performances. Despite the interesting stories of the characters, it is Rod Taylor who warrants most of the attention on the screen. Although lacking in cinematic promotion, this story earns the status of Classic western and is therefore recommended viewing. ****
This is a strange western that I think owes some inspiration from John
Ford's classic Cheyenne Autumn. Like the Ford movie it's concerning
starving Indians on the reservation, in this case Arapahoe who resolve
not to starve any longer.
Especially when post commander John Mills has plenty of army supplies in his fort and won't feed the Arapahoe or give them guns to hunt. His fort is a last chance outpost where apparently the army sends all its misfits from the commander on down. Holding some kind of discipline together is Sergeant Ernest Borgnine.
Into the mix rides gunfighter Rod Taylor in the title role together with Luciana Paluzzi and her niece Victoria Vetri. Paluzzi and Taylor had a little something something going back in the day.
In any event the Arapahoes have them boxed in with a massacre impending. Our sympathies are completely with the Indians on this one. This post contains some of the worst specimens of human being ever gathered together in one spot. Mills is a frightening spectacle with Borgnine enforcing his edicts on an unruly post. Of course there's a reason he's a drunken shell of a man which we learn near the end of the film.
Chuka misses being a classic because of the pedestrian direction it got from Gordon Douglas. Someone like Delmar Daves or John Huston could have made it a classic. The cast is a good one.
John Ford would never have directed it though, no way he would have portrayed his beloved United States Cavalry like this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
CHUKA is a fun western for Rod Taylor, not one of the best of its type
but solid enough as a piece of entertainment. The film is set within a
fort occupied by the US army and laid to siege by a vengeful army of
Indians. With little chance of rescue from outside, tempers fray within
the walls and danger comes from inside as well as out.
This kind of backdrop typically brims with suspense and so it proves here. Taylor was always one of my favourite stars of the decade and he plays the ultimate tough guy here with his tough-bitten, unsentimental turn. The film has better characterisation than you'd expect for the genre as well as solid action scenes and a surprisingly pessimistic feel. The violence has a harder edge than expected. It feels a little like THE ALAMO in places albeit a version made on a lower budget.
John Mills has a fine role as the alcoholic colonel in charge of the fort's defences while Ernest Borgnine is a hard-as-nails sergeant. Borgnine's dragged-out fist-fight with Taylor is one of the great ones, up there with those featured in COOL HAND Luke and THEY LIVE. Louis Hayward is the old timer and James Whitmore has a good character part as a boozer. THUNDERBALL actress Luciana Paluzzi's red-haired beauty is a nice addition to the mix to boot.
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