On a superficial level, a sort of western precursor to their upcoming smash hit Death Wish, Michael Winner’s Chato’s Land starring Charles Bronson offers some of the same thrill of the cat-and-mouse hunt with an added layer in examining the rampant prejudices running roughshod over law and order in the 19th century American West.
The Production: 3/5
On a superficial level, a sort of western precursor to their upcoming smash hit Death Wish, Michael Winner’s Chato’s Land starring Charles Bronson offers some of the same thrill of the cat-and-mouse hunt with an added layer in examining the rampant prejudices running roughshod over law and order in the 19th century American West. For its first hour in particular, Chato’s Land is fairly unique among stalk-and-kill scenarios, and though it rather degenerates later into more typical revenge fare, it’s still worth seeing.
When half-Apache Pardon Chato (Charles Bronson) defends himself by killing the town sheriff who has taunted him into a gunfight, a posse led by former Confederate officer Quincey Whitmore (Jack Palance) sets out after him. Chato knows the land like the back of his hand and has no trouble eluding the posse, but as his wife and family is in their direct path, he attempts to lure them away into hunting him in another direction. The savage, unforgiving landscape makes it tough on the posse and several want to give up after days of privation and no results, but viciously prejudicial Jubal Hooker (Simon Oakland) in particular refuses to rest until they’ve hung Chato and won’t allow any of the other men whose taste for blood has dissipated to quit and go home.
For the first hour in Gerald Wilson’s taut screenplay, the wily Chato lets the harsh landscape do its dirty work on the posse depriving them through various accidents of water, horses, and manpower. Eventually, of course, the men do stumble upon Chato’s family where one member is killed and the woman (Sonia Rangan) is raped by four of the team’s young bucks (led by the especially sex driven Earl Hooker played by Richard Jordan). Afterwards, vengeance becomes the order of the day as Chato sets a series of traps which pick the men off one at a time as the hunters become the hunted. The film could actually have been just as effective without the rape and subsequent revenge scenario. All of the film’s themes on the rampant prejudice of the white men against the Native Americans (the ugly words spoken against them throughout the movie are especially venomous) and their taking the land for granted would have been just as strong without the rape, and it would have been more entertaining (and much less violent) seeing the brutal land chew up and spit out the men with only a slight helping hand from Chato. Director Michael Winner seems to revel in the violent attacks late in the game: a hand shot through, a man’s head bashed to mush, buzzards quick to pounce on any carcass be it man or beast, the various stabbings and shootings. To his credit, he does show the natural beauty of the landscapes, too, with some spectacular shots at sunset being especially eye-catching and an interesting wild horse round-up which rather comes out of nowhere, but the film’s last third is primarily set up to reverse the roles of hunter and hunted.
The cast of spectacular character actors present here makes this one of the most star-laden of all of Winner’s films (apart, possibly, from Appointment with Death in the 1980s). Charles Bronson says very little during the course of the film, but he lets his body language and actions speak more forcefully than any dialogue would have, and he’s most effective. Jack Palance actually gets the most screen time as a war veteran who imagines this quest to be a sort of final campaign for a soldier (things certainly don’t turn out that way) while Richard Basehart is less authoritative here than one would have expected as another posse member. In the later reels, Simon Oakland takes over as the hysterical head of the Hooker family willing to sacrifice anyone to string up the Indian. Ralph Waite and Richard Jordan as the two more amiable Hooker brothers certainly earn their paychecks with galvanizing performances, too. James Whitmore is a quieter presence as a member of the posse who loses interest more quickly than he would have imagined, and William Watson as his friend Harvey likewise casts a more pleasing light amid the baser behaviors of some of their colleagues. Raul Castro as a Mexican scout likewise doesn’t have much to say, but he lets his actions speak much louder than his words.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 1.85:1 original theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. As with many MGM high definition transfers, there is both good and bad here, the good being general sharpness and color saturation levels which are generally fine (only some occasional long shots seem a bit soft, and skin tones in the early scenes seem a bit on the pink side though that isn’t a problem later on). The bad, though, is the expected problems with dust and dirt and debris which crop up sometimes in very distracting ways only to subside for long periods before rearing their ugly heads again. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix is very typical of the era of mono soundtracks. Fidelity is decent but not outstanding with not much on the high end. Dialogue is easy to understand, however, and the Jerry Fielding score and the atmospheric effects all blend together nicely. Engineers have done a fine job eliminating age-related problems with hiss and crackle.
Special Features: 3/5
Isolated Score Track: Jerry Fielding’s score is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono.
Gerald Wilson Interview (17:48, HD): the film’s screenwriter expresses his aims and themes for his script and recalls some of the casting which he had suggested and how he feels the final product turned out.
Theatrical Trailer (2:07, SD)
MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains some color stills, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s piquant evaluation of the movie.
Chato’s Land offers an unusual starring role for Charles Bronson and a first-rate cast acting a revenge-fueled western with more strong than weak points. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.