Thanks to some sort of glitch with where the movies were being shipped from, I received movies on back-to-back days from Netflix last week. After Sorcerer, I got Chuka in the mail Friday. I went into the movie somewhat wary because Netflix's suggested rating that I would give it was fairly low. I guess by now they don't realize I really like westerns, and I love downer endings.
The cavalry isn't the boys in blue that John Ford depicted in his cavalry trilogy. The action is good, especially a vicious fistfight between Chuka and Ernest Borgnine's Sgt. Otto Hahnsbach and the climactic attack on Ft. Clendennon, surprisingly graphic too. There are some flaws here mostly which you can chalk up to the budget. The fort seems to be garrisoned by about 20 troopers because of the lack of extras. And then most of the movie is filmed on an indoor set so you lose the scope of the desert. It's a cool little set, but way too small for the proceedings. The indoor set does add a claustrophobic feel to the siege, but overall there's a feeling of a TV western like The Rifleman.
In one of a handful of westerns he starred in, Rod Taylor plays the lead, a gunslinger named Chuka, pronounced Chuck-A not Choo-ka like I thought. Riding across a desolate stretch of desert, Chuka stumbles across a broken-down stagecoach stranded with a wheel broken. Things get interesting when he discovers who's riding on the coach, a woman from his past who he almost married as a young man. Chuka agrees to help out the driver and shotgun rider help the coach and escort them to the nearest outpost, Fort Clendennon.
It's when they arrive at the fort the little group figure out how bad the situation is. An Arapaho chief, Hunu, is on the warpath leading a huge war party. His tribe needs food and ammunition and what's the most logical place to get it? Why the fort of course. Adding to their worries, the fort is garrisoned by the misfits of the cavalry, men sent to the post as a sort of punishment. The commander and the officers are much the same, the colonel an ex-British cavalry officer who longs for the days of old with his lancers in India. No one seems willing to do anything even as the Indians close in for what could be a bloody massacre.
Chuka overcomes those flaws because of the casting. Taylor is a believable gunslinger, a cold-blooded saddle bum who used to ride as a cowboy but now makes his living as a hired gun. Chuka also racks up an impressive kill count, even more impressive when you consider the movie's running time, only 104 minutes. Borgnine is great as always in a role he perfected over the years, the tough sergeant, the right hand man, a professional soldier loyal to the last breath. John Mills is the commander of the fort, Colonel Stuart Valois, a veteran cavalryman who resents his posting at the far-off fort. Italian beauty Luciana Paluzzi is the love interest, Veronica, a Mexican woman who owns a huge ranch south of the border where Chuka used to work. And looking like he's having a lot of fun, character actor James Whitmore plays Lou Trent, the grizzled old scout who sees what's coming but can do little to stop it.
The DVD only has the movie in widescreen presentation which feels wasted with the indoor set of the fort. Still, the print looks good so I can't complain too much. No trailers of any sort here, the disc is as bare-bones as they get. I'd recommend this more for hardcore western fans, but it's a good watch. It's dark, cynical and violent, and not your typical Hollywood western.
Chuka (1967): ***/****