A runaway teenager and a mixed-race horse breeder strike an unlikely friendship in the context of common hardships.A runaway teenager and a mixed-race horse breeder strike an unlikely friendship in the context of common hardships.A runaway teenager and a mixed-race horse breeder strike an unlikely friendship in the context of common hardships.
Chino Valdez (Bronson), half Indian, half Mexican, lives in solitude on his ranch and beavers away breeding and breaking horses. When one night a 15 year old stray youngster appears at his door looking for bed, board and maybe work, it signals a chain of events that will ultimately define the both of them.
It happens once in a while, a Western fan will observe the mixed notices for a particular genre piece and kind of dismiss it as being far from essential viewing, even if it happens to star an actor you greatly enjoy. "The Valdez Horses" is a beautiful Western, a thoughtful and reflective genre piece that seems to have been damned by those who got a completely different Bronson movie to the one they were hoping for. Regardless of the question of just how much directing John Sturges actually did on the picture (it's rumoured Italian Duilio Coletti did most of the work), the end result is a mature and engaging piece of entertainment.
It's a film that belongs in the company of "Monte Walsh", "Will Penny" and "Lonely Are the Brave", films that feature a macho male protagonist at odds with what is happening around him. In Chino Valdez's case, he's a loner, he likes a drink and he's constantly having to defend himself against the racists down in the town. He's at his happiest when it's just him and his horses, man and beast clearly understand each other. But when young Jamie Wagner (Patten) arrives in Chino's life, the equilibrium is upset, but in a good way, two lost souls finding a family foothold that both thought beyond them.
Yet there is of course a villain of the piece, Maral (Bozzuffi), an all domineering land baron who has absolutely no time of day for the halfbreed horse tamer. Things are further complicated when Maral's half sister comes to town, Catherine (Ireland) is prim and proper British, and immediately there's an attraction between her and Chino, there is just no way Maral is going to sit back and let a relationship develop there. A shame because Chino and Catherine benefit each other greatly, but the vile stink of hatred hovers over them like a black cloud waiting to unload its miserable cargo.
Some old reviews for the film claim its a series of un-cohesive scenes strung together! That really isn't the case at all, the trajectory very much builds towards the next stage of Chino and Jamie's life. Chino introduces Jamie to an Indian tribe, spending time with them and their way of life, even as he ruefully remarks to his young charge that they are a dying breed, there's a proud sheen to Chino that's most telling. Chino also takes him out for Xmas celebrations in town with the Mexicans, the young man clearly has never been so happy as he gets shown by Chino that not all the West is rife with bile. While elsewhere, all the scenes with the horses, the breaking in, the riding, the stare downs, are superbly filmed and emphasise the narrative's point of Jamie's further education.
There's some violence, it would after all be a shame to waste Bronson in that way, but this is no "Chato's Land" and newcomers to the film should be forewarned that it isn't a shoot em' up/fist fights rampage movie. In fact the ending is most unconventional and sure to leave some very frustrated. I know that I was initially, but a couple of hours later as I sat down with a glass of wine I pondered on how daring and poignant it was, a real bitter-sweet finale that deftly has you re-evaluating the whole point of the movie. Lovely scenery (Almeria, Spain) helps put the cherry on the cake, and with Bronson on fine form and his chemistry with Ireland and Patten set in stone, this is a far better picture than you may have heard it is. 8/10
- Feb 19, 2014