At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Feb 3rd, 2016 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

I missed this the first time around. But after Doug Pratt’s opening salvo in his DVD Newsletter: “OMG. Van Cleef sings the title song… “, I simply had to catch up with it. And I’m both glad and tormented that I did.

I have never – and I have been taking notes about films for fifty years, so I can easily check to see if my memory holds – never, seen a plot as senseless as this one. Scenes adhere to following scenes with no screenwriter’s glue, paste or spittle. They just randomly drop into our eyeballs. It was excruciating. I wonder how it was for Van Cleef? Or was it some desperate development in the editing room? I mean, Philip Yordan is attached as co-screenwriter and co-producer. Yordan had been around the block countless times. Everything from DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS to the Samuel Bronston epics. I really can’t imagine him turning in something this irredeemably incoherent. Director Alexander Singer I can imagine being the author of this miasma somehow. More than 9/10 of his output was put out on TV. CAPTAIN APACHE, one of his very few theatrical features, was just an aberration in an otherwise very different professional trajectory.

And yet, having gotten that out of my system, when we reach the third act, and some kind of mcguffin begins to reveal itself, the film, defying all odds, begins to come together, and actually feels genuinely creepy. Wonders will never, ever cease.

Van Cleef, who didn’t have the great fortune to turn his Sergio Leone success into a monster career like Eastwood, hung around Europe for the most part, where his name could finance an oater like this and many others, collecting paychecks and feeling thankful that shortly after he’d abandoned his early film career, the spaghetti genre reached out and pulled him back in. (Another thing he was fortunate about was being one of the last to succumb to THE CONQUERER Syndrome, the lethal atomic bomb residue cancers that claimed so many of the cast and crew of that foolish film, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward and Dick Powell. Technically he died of a heart attack. But apparently he had cancer as well.)

In CAPTAIN APACHE, perhaps as further compensation for having to endure the meaninglessness of the story, Van Cleef does indeed croon the front and end titles songs. Up front he talks/sings. For the end ditty he sings/sings. Stick with the up front ballad. He pulls that off better.

Carroll Baker, who also had a European B-run of sorts, after she (it is strongly contended) was shut out of Hollywood because of her demanding attitudes upon reaching stardom, pops up occasionally, usually at the most inopportune times, acting as if she belongs in the plot, but never quite evidencing it. She is nonetheless fun – as much fun as one can extract from a blank tablet. Early on, she and Van Cleef have a dinner scene where she pumps him for info and he keeps ravenously ingesting his food and giving her one-or-two word responses. It’s supposed to be funny, and almost succeeds, but the comic approach is soon abandoned in favor of total, maddening incomprehensibility.

Stuart Whitman is, similarly, along for the ride, as a slick, manipulative, shady character involved somehow with discovering the meaning of the great ‘whatsit’ at the tail end of the non-plot. Van Cleef and Baker were down for the paycheck. Understandable. Whitman I can’t figure. He’s been described as one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood. Why would he do this? Two possible answers spring to mind. 1) He hadn’t made his financial killing yet. 2) He liked acting, and all the perks that went with it, enough to keep appearing in films, good or bad or, in this case, impossible to know… There are probably a few more options. Or maybe even a combination of these with others known only to the privileged few. Anyway he’s here, adding a brushstroke of veneer to the hopeless shenanigans.

Composer Dolores Claman’s theme for “Hockey Night in Canada”, IMDB informs us, is Canada’s most recognizable music second only to the Canadian National Anthem. Her score for CAPT APACHE, and its two stirring songs, warbled by Van Cleef, are not going to unseat her Canadian composition as the ditties she’ll be remembered by.

In addition to Van Cleef’s musical numbers – which, by the way, are at least as good as Robert Mitchum’s songbird stab with ‘The Ballad of Thunder Road,’ he is forced to drink a vial of hallucinatory juice for no particular reason – maybe it’s distilled peyote, maybe Ayahuasca, though he never gets around to throwing up on himself. He does go on a staggering, lens-distorted trip, which is fun for a moment’s further diversion, but comes to naught, like all the other scenes in the first two acts.

Incidentally, Van Cleef in the past has always looked the villain, or the good/bad guy. Here he’s covered with make-up to suggest that he’s an indigenous American, with the end result that he looks quite elegant and angular. It’s a different Van Cleef than I’ve ever seen. He holds the frame’s gaze in every scene, and not that he doesn’t do that in his other oeuvres, but here it’s more than just his cinematic magnetism: his gaunt beauty is almost androgynous.

Though I didn’t like the film (really…? We couldn’t tell…), I bet a lot of you are going to go out and buy it just because it sounds so completely out of left field. Well, if you go in knowing that that’s what you’re going to get, you just might have a lot of fun with it.

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