North Hollywood, California
July 28, 1968
To come right out with it, according to “C- uster of the West”, Americans who settled the great West were practically ALL a miserable, greedy, scroungy mob of grubby “Capitalists” – no matter what the historical records say. And this includes, according to this “screenplay” the Administration at the time and the War Dept. In fact, we kept waiting for some of the golf prospectors, rounded up to keep them off the Indians’ reservation, to start yelling “Army brutality” at Custer.
Those “American” westerns made I Italy, bad as they’ve been, fake this “epic Western” filmed in Spain to look bad by comparison. To be sure some terrible injustices were done to the Indians in American history, This so-called screenplay by Bernard Gordon and Julian Harvey shows them in only a 4th of July massacre against the Whites; all the other “massacres” here are White against Indians. Until the final fiasco at Little Big Horn, that is.
The name of Philip Yordan appears on the screen as producer of this abortive story but not in the advertising. Writer and-or Producer Yordan used to work the same side of the street in Hollywood before he went to Spain for Samuel Bronston Productions before its bankruptcy. He has done some tight sound dramas in his time, including the latest, beautiful, “King of Kings.”
“Custer of the West”, now at the Fox Iris in Hollywood and a handful of other city runs, is simply a curiously old-fashioned and pretentious movie, a caricature of American history. In fact, one scene has General Custer attending a stage show in Washington in which he and his troops are caricatured and ridiculed. The scene has as little to do with history as this film has with entertainment.
This release by the new Cinerama Releasing Corp. actually started out last year as a “roadshow” (never in Los Angeles). As now shown it is a jerky, unpolished print of film. There are sudden changes of scene with no motivation ever established, new characters introduced right out nowhere (Robert Ryan, Ty Hardin and Jeffrey Hunter all come into the story that way.) This may be the result of cutting its still excessive length down from “roadshow” length.
Robert Shaw, one of the strongest, best and most handsome actors around today, is seen as Custer, playing “Yellow Hair” blond as he was in his great “Battle of the Bulge,” Shaw and the lovely Mary Ure as his patient wife and Jeffrey Hunter as his Captain also on his side of the Indians, are the only “good guys” in the whole schmeer. The rest of the Army, politicians, loggers, railroaders, settlers, manufacturers, etc. are the “imperial capitalist villains.”
Robert Siodmak, also long absent from Hollywood films, directed with a heavy hand. His actors look physically good in the excellent photography in Super Technirama-70 and Technicolor, except when chewing some of the indigestible lines of this script.
Would you believe Kieron Moore, the British actor, as the Indian chief (never named) who massacres Custer? But he’s very good. Also Lawrence Tierney whose Gen. Sheridan is made a very gutty character. Jeff Hunter is always, good, of course, and Ty Hardin has such vital screen presence it’s a pity to waste him again as the drunken Major.
We still can’t figure out the bit role Robert Ryan as a deserter who’s shot because he wanted out of the Army to seek some gold, girls and fresh strawberries, in about that order.
There is a thrilling attempt to get the old “Cinerama” effects in a runaway train sequence and an escape in a log sluice. On the other hand, the camera at the end dwells five, gory minutes on the static scene of Custer’s slaughter while the exhaustive screen “credits” unwind.
[submitted by Mike Hauss]