Chino Valdez is a half breed horse breeder. One day, a runaway teen called Jamie shows up at Chino's ranch and is sheltered by him. They learn to work and live together. But problems arise when one of Chino's horses is cut to shreds on the barbed wire fence of a local cattleman. When Chino confronts the cattleman about this, by charging in the house, he finds the cattleman's beautiful half sister. They soon fall in love but this doesn't sit well with the cattleman.
Chino is a rather odd film. Some diehards may not even call it a true Spaghetti Western. But it was produced soley by three European countries (Italy, France, Spain). But the deal breaker in this case is the direction of famed American director, John Sturges, of Magnificent Seven fame. The film stars one of the seven, Charles Bronson, who like in so many other films, stars with his good lady wife. The beautiful Jill Ireland, in a pairing comparable to Bogie and Bacall. And with this casting set up, it is natural that a good deal of Chino's subject matter involves romance. Romance is usually left aside for most Spaghettis. The hero is almost always given a girl but big problems usually arise there as well. But since the two lovers here are actual lovers in real life, it's only natural. But the tender relationship is one of several aspects that make Chino a far more gentle, touching, and inevitably melancholy Western.
One could say that this is one of the first Twilight Spaghettis (for now, let's not beat around the bush about this one's Spaghettiness). Beyond the downer tone of the film, we also have a De Angelis score. Which is a lot of the same sad tune. But the lush Italian countryside used for the most known Twilights is gone. We still have good ol' Spain and it has never been filmed as beautifully. Cinematographers Armando Nannuzzi and Godofredo Pacheco do wonders with the wide open Almerian desert they are given. Very little of the film is set in town (though a western town was constructed in Almeria for this film). The town we have is rather small compared to the Italian studio sets. The same town was reused for Alex Cox's Spaghetti tribute, Straight to Hell. Anyway, the open spaces, touched by civilization, also allow for some great horse scenes.
But beyond any visual beauty, the emptiness of the land is also symbolizing Chino Valdez's lonliness. He is a man caught between two lifestyles. The Whites detest him and the Indians, though remaing on good terms, steal his horses from time to time. He is a loner. The only care he has is for his horses which give him his humanity. His care for them is like that of children and the attention given to them makes them almost like the sweet dog in many films. Some of the saddest scenes here are the death of horses. Beyond horses, the introduction of Jamie also sheds light on Valdez's gentler side. He takes the boy on as a hand and treats him as a friend. But being a sort of a Twilight, you know....
Seeing that so much attention in this film is on character and mood, there is little time for action. Sturges was renowned for his skill in filming action sequences. The action in Magnificent Seven is somewhat of a precursor to the frantic gunplay of Italian Westerns. But he leaves that aside here in favor of making a more emotionally involved film that is sort of a ballad. Though the fight scenes on the film are filmed very well and get the most attention. Especially the bar fight. One of the better fight scenes in a Spaghetti, though there isn't much competion in that department. Except maybe California. I went into this film expecting no real gunplay. But was pleased to see some action towards the end.
Some mild spoilers here: Chino's ending is rather pessimistic to put mildly. Let's just say, things don't really go according to plan. But the ending is something of a statement about the half breeds. Many Spaghettis employ the half breed formula to give the character a reason to be so mean, but this one is perhaps one of the more realistic depictions. It is resolved that Chino can never really find his place in society and he just accepts that.
The direction here is as I said, different for Sturges but despite the near absence of gunplay, the film is still interesting and never feels boring. Sturges doesn't let any scene go too long but I did think one scene was done a little clumsily. Mostly the first romantic scene between Bronson and Ireland. They watch the herd and each other. Some horses start making babies and Bronson starts a' thinking. Sure it's symbolic but overly so and unintentionally goofy in my opinion. Beyond that, the directing is fine.
The acting is good if unmemorable all around. Most of the main actors were filmed with live recording sound while Spanish and Italian extras are dubbed. Bronson pulls a Bronson performance but I never thought Bronson was bad. He does what he does best and it fits his character fine. Jill Ireland is also playing a role she knows well. That of the stuck up rich woman who finds love in the lower class. Vincent Van Patten as Jamie is also good. He doesn't get annoying as some Spaghetti children do but he is not a Spaghetti child. More of a grown up and more mature than Joey from Shane.
The De Angelis score is great, not over blown and the deep voices are gone, with a softer more folky sounding voice. They deliver the goods and their main theme is great. Its instrumental version is very catchy but not in a bad way.
An unfairly ignored film. A great mood and tragic story make it very engaging. Though if you're looking for standard spaghetti vengeance, chauvenism, blasphemy, shoot em' up, look somewhere else. Chino isn't like that, mostly.