Tag Archives: Stuart Whitman

The White Buffalo (1977)


By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Buffalo haunts his dreams.

Based on the novel by Richard Sale, who also wrote the screenplay, the story, which takes place in 1874, centers around Wild Bill Hickok (Charles Bronson) who’s suffering from reoccurring dreams involving a giant white buffalo. He travels to the west in order to find the beast and confront it. It’s there that he meets Crazy Horse (Will Sampson). The two initially don’t get along. Bill is not a fan of Indians and once said “the only good Indian is a dead one”, but the two share a common bond as they’re both after the elusive buffalo in Crazy Horse’s case it’s to avenge the death of his infant daughter who was killed when the beast violently attacked their campsite. Having formed an uneasy alliance the two, along with old-timer Charlie Zane (Jack Warden) go out into the cold, wintry terrain in search for it while debating over whose land this country really belongs to: the white man or the Native Americans.  

Story-wise the film lacks any explanation for why Hickok is having these dreams, or what exactly the image of the white buffalo is meant to represent if anything. The plot goes off on a lot of tangents including a segment where Hickok visits an old-flame (Kim Novak) that doesn’t have much to do with the central story, nor propel the plot along, and could’ve easily been cut. There’s also a few proverbial gun fights though they’re generic in nature, don’t add much excitement, and quickly forgotten. 

Bronson gives his typical wooden performance though seeing him with dark circular glasses and sporting long hair does make him, in certain shots, resemble Ringo Starr. The rest of the cast if filled with familiar B-stars in minor roles including Stuart Whitman and Cara Williams, who have an amusing bit as a vulgar couple whom Hickok shares a stagecoach ride with. Jack Warden, who’s almost unrecognizable, has a fun moment when he takes out the glass eye that he’s wearing much to the shock of Crazy Horse.

The only diverting element is the opening dream sequence that’s done over the credits where the viewer looks right into the eye of the beast close-up. Normally I’m not a fan of outdoor shots done on a sound stage, which always comes-off looking artificial, but in this instance it helps accentuate the surreal elements. The climactic sequence though in which both Hickok and Crazy Horse come face-to-face with the buffalo doesn’t work as it becomes painfully clear that the beast is special effects generated especially when Crazy Horse gets on top of it and repeatedly stabs it, which looks like someone stabbing into a sofa cushion with tacky fur stuck to it. We also never get to see a full-shot of the buffalo, just its head, so it’s difficult to gauge how big it really was. The truly disappointing part is that the illustration of the buffalo on the film’s promotional poster seen above is far more impressive looking than anything you’ll actually see in the movie.

Probably the only interesting aspect about the production is not what occurred in front the camera, but behind-the-scenes. Will Sampson, who’s by far the better actor and the story could’ve been centered around his character alone and it would’ve made it a more interesting movie, refused to read his lines for over 24 hours when he became aware that white actors had been hired to play the roles of the Native Americans and only went back to performing his role once the producers agreed to casting actual Indians for the parts. This then directly lead to the American Indian Registry of the Performing Arts, which he founded. 

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: May 6, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Studio: United Artists

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, YouTube (with ads)



Sands of the Kalahari (1965)

sands of the kalahari

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stranded in the desert.

Based on the novel by William Mulvihill the story centers on a group of six individuals, five men and one woman, who fight to survive the blistering heat of the Kalahari Desert when their plane crashes after it’s struck by a large swath of locusts. Instead of working together as a team the group quickly disintegrates with infighting and tensions. The young and virile Brian (Stuart Whitman) who initially takes control of the situation starts to feel that his own survival would be heightened if there were less people needing food and water, so he decides to carefully eliminate them one-by-one, which leads to many interesting confrontations and a very unusual climactic finale.

Filmed on-location in Namibia the desert becomes its own character. The stunning sandy landscape is breathtaking and watching the characters walk along it under the crystal blue sky becomes almost awe-inspiring particularly during birds-eye view shots. The viewer feels like there are right there feeling the heat along with the rest of the characters. Writer/director Cy Endfield keeps things on an authentic level and stays for the most part faithful to the book with the exception of changing one of the characters who had been African American in the novel to Caucasian here. His use of actual animals is what impressed me the most particularly the baboons who become a major part of the story as well as seeing a live scorpion crawling up a man’s arm. The only real technical weakness is the cloud of locusts forming on the horizon, which looked like dust being sprayed on the plane’s windshield and when they started to splatter onto the window it looked more like scrambled eggs and not quite as impressive as I think the filmmaker’s had hoped.

I also had a bit of a problem with the Sturdevan character, which had been the plane’s pilot and is played by actor Nigel Davenport who attempts to rape Grace (Susannah York) after they had only been stranded in the desert for a day and a half. I felt this was too quick for people to so suddenly drop their civilized veneers and cave into their more animalistic urges. I could see this maybe occurring after being there for weeks or months, but I would think initially the urgency would be finding help and just plain surviving and sex being the last thing on anyone’s minds. This same issue occurs with Grace who becomes romantically attached to Brian and even professes her ‘love’ for him after only a couple of days, which again seemed too rushed. The romantic scenes make the film seem soap-opera like and gives it an unnecessary melodramatic feel that does nothing but bog down the pace.

Whitman whose career dissipated after the 60’s and was confined with less significant roles and films is memorable here. The character who comes onto the plane at the last second is initially big and brawny heroic and watching him devolve into a selfish anti-social man is interesting as are the scenes with him trapped in a hole. The segment where he throws a fire into a cave filled with baboons and then shoots the animals as they run out is quite startling. I also enjoyed York. She has always been a splendid actress, but here with her blonde hair matched against her red skin and torn dress looks genuinely sexy.

The one-on-one confrontations between the characters especially the one between Grimmelman (Harry Andrews) and Brian and then later between Brian, Grace and Mike (Stanley Baker) is what helps the film really stand-out. I would have liked it played-out a bit more, but the twist that comes at the end is indeed unexpected and leads to one of the more unusual climactic sequences you will ever see.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Release: November 24, 1965

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Cy Endfield

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video