The Secret of Captain O'Hara Review
From The Spaghetti Western Database
The Secret of Captain O'Hara (El Secreto del Capitan O’Hara)
A cavalry versus Indians western with a bizarre history. Shot in 1964, when Leone was busy redefining the genre on Spanish soil, this entirely Spanish production was hopelessly dated before it was even finished. This type of western in the style of John Ford and Karl May had been quite popular during the early days of the genre, but had become obsolete from one day to the next. In Italy it was only released in 1966, when the genre had become so popular that even non-westerns were re-titled and re-edited to make them look like spaghetti westerns. For the occasion the title was changed to Il Segreto di Ringo, and a new animated credit sequence was created, using some images taken from the credit sequence of Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. In most other countries it was released in 1968, when the spaghetti craze had reached most corners of the world.
The movie has no spaghetti western feel whatsoever. It’s a sort of Fort Apache minus John Ford, John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Monument Valley. Instead it has a couple of romantic subplots involving a pretty squaw, a treacherous gun-runner, a loyal scout, a bad hero and a good coward. A young woman becomes the sole survivor of an Indian attack when she’s saved by a cavalry officer, the captain O’Hara from the title. She is the bride to be of the captain’s superior, Major Brooks, who also happens to be his arch enemy, the one who court-martialed him and falsely accused him of cowardice. The two men also strongly disagree on Indian matters: O’Hara is a friend of the Indians, Brooks thinks the only good Indian is a dead Indian …
The opening scene, O’Hara saving the young woman from the Indian attack, is so poorly staged that I almost gave up all hope before the film had taken off. Make no mistake, there’s very little of special interest here. Most of it is trite and predictable, with the bad guy’s fiancée breaching her promise of marriage because she has fallen in love with the good guy, and the bad guy redeeming himself by clearing his rival’s name. And yet, somehow the film picks up a little as it goes along and the grand finale, with the Indian attack on the fort, is more convincing and energetic than most large-scale action sequences in early euro westerns (paella, spaghetti or sauerkraut). The Spanish Indians also look better than in most other euro westerns, even if they don’t look like Apaches. Moreover there’s a nice romantic sub-subplot involving a beautiful Cheyenne woman, the sole survivor of her tribe. Both a treacherous gun runner (Frank Braña) and a loyal army scout (José Canalejas) have an eye on her, but the funny thing is that she works within the fort, as a kind of saloon girl.
In the version I saw, a copy of a screening on Italian TV, the O’Hara character, played by German Cobos, was called ‘Ringo’, but the credit sequence as well as Italian posters also mention a certain Johnny Harrison. This could be interpreted as an international, anglicized pseudo of Cobos, but his name is also on the credits! (There is not even one Ringo in the movie, let alone two). The Italian version is slightly different from the original Spanish version (See Note 1). The redemptive ending seems – like some other elements of the story - to refer to Fort Apache, clumsily corrupting Ford’s intentions (See Note 2).
Notes (Attention: Spoilers)
- (1) In the Italian version the bad officer is shot by the Cheyenne woman, who utters something like: “Now I remember, he was the man who slaughtered my people”. In the Spanish version she shoots the Apache chief, while the bad officer is shot by an Apache warrior.
- (2) The mortally wounded ‘bad officer’ confesses that he falsely accused Captain O’Hara of cowardice, and that instead it was he, Major Brooks, who was a coward (and a mass murderer according to the Italian version). He nevertheless will be remembered as a hero, like Owan Thursday (Henry Fonda) in Fort Apache, but in Ford’s movie, Thursday’s follies are covered up to save the fame and glory of the Cavalry regiment: the ‘family’ is in Ford’s vision more important than the individual. Thursday is redeemed by others. The twist in this movie, is classic melodrama: the coward dies as a hero because of his confession and his valiant defense of the fort during the finale. Brooks redeems himself.