The beauty of John Wayne is not in his limited acting range or the similarity of every character he played. He’s the only actor who could turn Genghis Khan into John Wayne, after all, and even his Oscar win seems a bit forced in the same way many actors get the Oscar for what they’ve done in the past as opposed to what the film they did specifically. Wayne has a screen presence no actor has ever been able to match, dominating the screen in a way never since scene in American cinema. It’s why he remained a star into his 70s and a leading man when any other actor has never been able to maintain that sort of profile. There will never be another actor like him who can do that and the film The Comancheros is one of those films that shows it off.
Wayne is a Texas Ranger in the usual John Wayne role trying to bring down some gun-runners. Forced to team up with a criminal (Stuart Whitman), both have to find a common ground if they’re going to survive. It’s a matter of a lawman trusting a criminal with his life and hoping he does the right thing when the situation calls for it. It’s essentially a buddy film before the genre really came to be with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This is John Wayne owning the screen and Stuart Whitman struggling to keep up because you really don’t act next to John Wayne. You just hope not to get outshone based on screen presence alone. Even Lee Marvin, who comes in early as a criminal, is outshone by The Duke.
Based off the novel of the same name by Paul I. Wellman, it’s a fairly repeatable John Wayne style western as he’s the roguish anti-hero looking to do something right. It’s not a stretch as this is as virtually every character Wayne has played is cut from this same cloth and he plays it exactly the same. He could play this character in his sleep and it wouldn’t be a problem but Wayne gives the lawman enough to make him likeable beyond merely being the latest character to just be another “John Wayne Role.”
One of the more interesting things about the film is that part of it is directed by Wayne himself. Not credited with directing it, as he stepped in for Michael Curtiz when he fell ill. This would be Curtiz’s last film and stepping in for the man who directed Casablanca and other classics is a daunting task, even for a legend like Wayne, and the film doesn’t show the work of two different directors. Wayne manages to maintain Curtiz’s vision, which is also probably something a good editor helped out with.
In the scheme of things, the westerns that Wayne is best known for are always going to be Red River and The Searchers. The Comancheros is a good but not great western but is perfectly acceptable entertainment if only for Wayne’s presence.
The film has been cleaned up from its original release on DVD for Blu-ray and shows minimal grain and dust on the transfer. It looks aged from the manner in which it’s presented, and the style of costuming from the era, but could hold up with a modern film shot the same way.
There’s an Audio Commentary by Stuart Whitman, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael Ansara and Patrick Wayne.
The Comancheros and the Battle for the American Southwest is a history lesson that gives context to the historical setting that the film is situated in. It provides a historical insight as to how this area of the country changed from being Comanche territory to being part of the United States, and all the points between.
The Duke at Fox is a two part documentary about Wayne’s work at Fox. It’s often considered his most important studio, as he worked with plenty of them, because he started there. Coming into Fox via Tom Nix from USC, where he starred as a football player who wanted to become a lawyer, he and John Ford became friends. History was born from there as the two would become legendary working partners as director/actor, including his use of “John Wayne” as his stage name as he never changed his name from its original Marion Morrison.
An Audio Conversation with Stuart Whitman is included but doesn’t give anything of note.
Theatrical Trailers in English and Spanish, as well as a Vintage Fox Movietonews, are included.
The best of the John Wayne westerns is not The Comancheros, but it’s not the worst either. It’s actually quite good, but not special, which isn’t a bad thing for a man who ruled that great era of the genre.
Twentieth Century Fox presents The Comancheros . Directed by Michael Curtiz. Starring John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Stuart Whitman. Written by Paul I Wellman and James Edward Grant based off the novel “The Comancheros” by Clair Huffaker. Running time: 107 minutes. Not Rated. Released on Blu-ray: May 17, 2011.
Tags: John Wayne, Lee Marvin