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By MARK TURNER
I’ve seen tons of movies and have always been a fan of John Wayne. He epitomized the West for an entire generation of moviegoers. But the amazing thing is that with all of the films that he made that I’ve seen, there are still a number that I’ve never gotten around to.
THE SEARCHERS is one. Until watching this film the other night, THE COMANCHEROS was another. The film has just been released in a 50th anniversary blu-ray edition on Fox’s book style format. It’s a keeper, folks.
Wayne stars as Texas Ranger Jake Cutter, who captures a riverboat gambler named Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman) wanted for murder. Regret really didn’t murder anyone, but killed a young man in a duel who happened to be the son of a judge. In any event, he’s wanted and Wayne sets out to take him in.
Regret escapes, leaving a bump on the Duke’s head and a bit of razzing from fellow Rangers when he returns empty-handed. But there’s no time to waste as the Comanche Indians are attacking settlers in the area. The Rangers have just captured a gunrunner who was set to sell them rifles and plant Jake undercover to pose in his place.
When he turns up he meets the man who set up the deal, Tully Crow (Lee Marvin). With a scalped look to him, Crow is a hard drinker and a hard man. The two make peace with one another as partners and head out to drink and play cards. Who should be at the card game but Regret?
Regret doesn’t sell out Jake but when Jake wins as Tully loses, the partnership comes to a bloody end. The link to the buyer for the guns closed, Jake heads back with Regret once again prisoner.
As they get back home, Jake discovers that the Indians are on the move and attack once again. But his hunch plays out correct when it’s discovered that the Indians are not acting alone. They’re accompanied by a group of white renegades who call themselves the Comancheros. With a new lead, and with a reformed Regret at his side, Jake sets off to find the Comancheros hide out and put an end to the Indian attacks.
This is pure western history as written by Hollywood starring the Duke. No one worried about the authenticity of the story being told, it was a western and guns blazed, people fell off horses and the good guys won. It’s a simple story. But this was one of the movies that showed Wayne heading in a new direction.
At 54 years old when the film was made, Wayne was still a box office draw and a leading man. But who would buy a 54-year-old in love with a 21-year-old girl? Wayne knew this and changed his ways, offering the lead romantic interest to Whitman, who searched for a woman he met at the films opening and who, as fate would have it, is a part of the Comancheros.
This is a Western in the classic mold with easily defined good guys and bad guys. It featured plenty of stunts and a handful of Wayne’s constant companions, men who had starred with him in a number of films. If nothing else he was loyal to his friends.
So what makes this film worth adding to your collection now? I mean it’s been out on DVD and included in the JOHN WAYNE FOX WESTERNS box set. The truth is that the movie has just been released on blu-ray. And if nothing else you can see why the format is worth investing in.
Colors seem to jump off the screen beginning with the bright red title. A clean crisp image of the Western scenery used in these classic films is breathtaking. A combination of big screen and blu-ray makes you feel like you’re seeing this film as many others saw it the first time it came out.
This movie may not be the best Wayne ever made (many will argue which ones they think best), but it was one that showed him willing to make a change in his roles. And it offered up entertainment for fans of the genre. Truthfully, what more could we expect of the legendary icon of the West?
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