Valdez is Coming Review

From The Spaghetti Western Database

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VALDEZ IS COMING (1971)
Cast:
  • Burt Lancaster
  • Susan Clark
  • Jon Cypher
  • Richard Jordan
  • Barton Heyman
  • Frank Silvera
  • Hector Elizondo

Director:

  • Edwin Sherin


Valdez is coming

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One of the American westerns shot in Spain in the early seventies. Like most of these productions, Valdez is Coming appears to acknowledge the influence of the spaghetti western without showing much understanding for it. The result is a somewhat indistinct (if highly enjoyable) genre outing.

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Burt Lancaster is a blue-eyed Mexican called Bob Valdez, a constable of a border town, who tries to interfere in a conflict involving a black man who is trapped by a gun runner (John Cypher) and his men. Cypher thinks the black man has killed his brother, and is desperate to bring him to (his kind of) justice, because some people have suggested it was he who did it, in order to marry his brother’s beautiful bride (Susan Clark). Bob discovers that the black man is probably innocent, but is forced to kill him in self-defense. Cypher confesses the black man is not the person he was after, but rejects Bob’s request for a financial compensation (a lousy $ 100) for the man’s pregnant and Indian woman. After a few repeated requests, Bob is tied to a cross by Cypher’s men and sent into the desert, but he is miraculously saved and just won’t give up. Tell them Valdez is coming ...

As a thriller-western Valdez is Coming is quite good. The script, based on the Elmore Leonard novel, is well-plotted, with some real unexpected twists and revelations, and an anti-climactic surprise-ending that is particularly effective. But it also tries to make some statements about racial prejudice and bigotry, turning the affair into some kind of message movie. It also adopts some characteristics of the Italian revenge western, but the story is more about dignity and pride than the ritual blood-calls-for-blood philosophy of the spaghetti westerns. The protracted ‘crucifixion’ scene is rather painful to watch, not only because of Lancaster’s obvious hardship, but also because it seems out of place in this context. I had the idea that it was used to ‘explain’ Lancaster’s persistence and tenacity: if he weren’t humiliated personally by Cypher, it would have been very hard to accept that he would act like he does in this movie, killing a handful of his men and kidnapping his mistress – and all this for those lousy $ 100 !

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It’s not easy to accept Lancaster as a celestial blue-eyed Mexican (and the mascara doesn’t help at all), but his performance is so disarming that he manages to overcome our objections. Furthermore his transformation from a vulnerable, even pitiful victim into a hardened killer is handled very well. At one point he digs up and dons an old army uniform, and we're told that he has a history as an Indian hunter. Thanks to Lancaster's acting we accept that there's so much suppressed anger in the old man. Some of the other actors fare less well. Susan Clark’s part is underdeveloped and Cypher’s character is too much a cliché. There are some nice hints at Freudian and biblical themes like repressed sexuality and fratricide, but none of them is adequately developed. Acting kudos go to some of the supporting cast: Richard Jordan turns in a spot-on performance as a confused angry young man, capable of sadistic behavior as well as demonstrating compassion, and Barton Heyman is a delight as Cypher’s heavily moustached henchman.

Valdez is Coming was director Sherin’s first movie. He had previously worked as a director on Broadway and apparently was Burt Lancaster’s choice. His direction is anonymous and the action scenes are disappointing; they’re sudden and rather bloody, but lack intensity. There are some similarities to John Sturges' Eastwood vehicle Joe Kidd (also written by Elmore Leonard) and Andrew V. McLaglen’s The Last Hard Men (without any Elmore Leonard connection). Valdez is Coming is more compelling than Joe Kidd, and less violent than The Last Hard Men.

--By Scherpschutter

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