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Valdez is Coming

Valdez is Coming
(1971)

Valdez is Coming is not quite a spaghetti western but, having been made in Spain by Americans, it appears to acknowledge the European influence on the genre while also attempting to qualify as a "message" movie, the likes of which were popular in the decade immediately preceding its 1971 release. It fails to qualify as a good representation of either genre, lacking both the style of Sergio Leone and the social significance for which Stanley Kramer is known.

The film opens with lawmen descending on a shack where a black man believed to be a murderer is hiding out with a Mexican woman. Bob Valdez (Burt Lancaster), a Mexican sheriff sympathetic to minority concerns, agrees to negotiate his surrender, but when the bigoted members of the hunting party start shooting the minute that the suspect shows his face, Valdez has no choice but to kill him in self-defense.

It turns out that the victim wasnít the man they were seeking, after all, and, overcome with guilt, Valdez wants to take up a collection among the searchers to help the woman that the slain man left behind. He manages to collect a dollar here and a dollar there, but not the amount--$100--he considers appropriate. With head bowed and hand out, the humble Valdez approaches Tanner (Jon Cypher), the wealthy American gunrunner responsible for the ill-conceived manhunt, only to be laughed at, shot at, beaten, tied to a cross then sent off like Jesus on the road to Calvary. Once freed, the angry Valdez sends this message to Tanner through a member of the gunrunnerís army: VALDEZ IS COMING.

Sure enough, Valdez comes, gunning down Tannerís men and abducting his woman (Susan Clark), determined to seek justice for himself and that $100 he believes is owed the dead manís woman.

Directed by Edwin Sherin from a script by Roland Kibbee and David Rayfiel (based on an Elmore Leonard novel), Valdez is Coming strives for significance by examining racial bigotry while also trying to satisfy the audienceís thirst for action. It never succeeds despite a sincere performance from Burt Lancaster that is defeated by a less than credible script and indifferent direction.

If itís possible to exaggerate understatement, Lancaster manages that here. Blue eyes beaming from his craggy, darkened face, Lancaster is so determined to cast off his he-man image and convey the oppression that Valdez faces that he rarely speaks above a gentle whisper. When the lawmanís humiliation becomes too much to bear and he turns violent, Lancaster opts for a subdued rage that is in keeping with the characterís temperament, but the sudden shift from gentle humility to killer, though credible, is in service to a script in which the actions of the supporting characters are not.

When abducted by Valdez, Tannerís woman predictably sides with her captor but her distaste for Tannerís ruthlessness has already been established. But some of Tannerís men, the ones who gleefully followed orders to tie Valdez to a cross, also turn against their boss, but thereís no explanation given as to why these sadists should suddenly turn tame. Itís simply a convenient way to enable Valdez to survive even when the odds are overwhelmingly against him.

In addition to Lancasterís nicely done portrayal, thereís a fine performance from Richard Jordan as a loony bigot who despises our hero but nonetheless demonstrates compassion toward him at a pivotal moment. On the other hand, Jon Cypherís gunrunner is your typical cold-hearted, power mad villain. Susan Clark is simply present to look lovely, a task she handles very well.

Valdez is Coming is pretty average overall, worthwhile for fans of its star whose performance might have been better received had it been delivered in a sturdier movie.

Brian W. Fairbanks

© Copyright 1999, Brian W. Fairbanks. All Rights Reserved.

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