At the closing of 1874 a haunted, dying Wild Bill Hickok teams up with a grieving Crazy Horse to hunt a murderous albino buffalo.At the closing of 1874 a haunted, dying Wild Bill Hickok teams up with a grieving Crazy Horse to hunt a murderous albino buffalo.At the closing of 1874 a haunted, dying Wild Bill Hickok teams up with a grieving Crazy Horse to hunt a murderous albino buffalo.
WHITE BUFFALO was released in the late 1970s, in between KING KONG and ORCA, which were all produced by Dino de Laurentiis. WHITE BUFFALO was seen then as part of this unofficial "Big Animal on the Rampage" trilogy de Laurentiis produced. This is unfortunate because amongst the three movies, WB is the best and, clearly, the most misunderstood movie of the bunch, and one of the most misunderstood movies ever made. Timing is everything and in WHITE BUFFALO's case, everything went against it.
After the spat of spaghetti westerns made during the 1960s and early 1970s, audiences grew tired of them. They wanted something else. By the early 1970s to mid 70s, the number of westerns was dwindling fast and western stars like Charles Bronson needed to make a transition away from the tired genre. In 1974, Bronson starred in DEATH WISH, which became a huge hit all over the world. Bronson was suddenly seen as a contemporary action hero (Clint Eastwood also made the same transition from western star to action hero with the Dirty Harry series around the same time).
By the time WHITE BUFFALO was released, Charles Bronson had made a couple of modern-day action movies and his new audience (that made DEATH WISH such a smash) expected to see the Charles Bronson they knew and liked in contemporary action roles and were disappointed with what WHITE BUFFALO had to offer in terms of action, violence and sex.
But then the people who still remembered Charles Bronson as a western movie star were also disappointed with WHITE BUFFALO because the role Charles Bronson played, the legendary Wild Bill Hickok, was so different from the type of roles he did in his previous westerns that they didn't warm up to this strange shoot 'em up.
And then there are the horror/sci-fi fans, who went to see KING KONG or JAWS, and expected to see another type of "Big Animal on the Rampage" film, and were clearly disappointed with WB because it is NOT a JAWS-like movie (even if there are some scary JAWS-like moments in WB). This is due mainly to the terrible advertising from the studio, which had NO idea how to sell this odd western, and decided to sell WB as a "Big Animal on the Rampage" film because of the theme present in the title and story.
So, when one looks at all of this in hindsight, one can clearly see that WHITE BUFFALO simply had NO chance of succeeding, with critics or at the B.O., regardless of how good or bad the movie was in itself. There were too many misleading and conflicting factors outside of the film itself for anyone to have a clear and objective view of it. This is why it's always good to look at a movie decades after it was made when all the hype and/or expectations are by now forgotten or gone and one can (hope to) view a movie for what it was, not necessarily for what people, critics or even movie studios and stars expected it to be. So when I watched WHITE BUFFALO recently (I had already seen it back in the 80s and always remembered it), I was pleasantly surprised by it. It is much better than what anyone thinks of it.
I'm the first to say that Dino de Laurentiis is a hack. And that director J. Lee Thompson is not a very good director. And that Charles Bronson is not the best actor in the world. But even with all these seemingly negative elements, WHITE BUFFALO is pretty good. It's obvious that Bronson and Thompson saw an opportunity to create something that was close to their hearts and basically created an "artsy" kind of western, most likely without Dino being aware of this. Yes, there are several problems with WHITE BUFFALO but the good qualities of the movie overshadow the bad ones. And watching the movie today, one can clearly see that the film is supposed to be seen, first and foremost, as a MYTHICAL ALLEGORY (It's no wonder United Artists had no idea how to sell this movie. How do you promote an allegorical film?) The white buffalo; the meeting of Wild Bill Hickok and Crazy Horse, etc. The dream-like atmosphere is what makes WHITE BUFFALO so memorable. The conflicting narratives, between the standard western and the one with allegorical elements, give the latter even more power because as we watch the movie, one sorta forgets that the film has a white buffalo in it and when it finally arrives, the whole thing seems even more unreal. Imagine a western directed by David Lynch.
Aside from the couple of shots where you can clearly see the track on which the mechanical buffalo is mounted on, the buffalo itself is okay. There isn't any scene in WB that last long enough with a clear view of the mechanical animal to have a really good idea how it looks like. The scenery is beautiful and the music by John Barry is excellent. And there is a strange, foreboding claustrophobic mood that permeates the whole film. And Jack Warden gives an excellent performance as Bill's partner. His performance anchors the dream-like film. WHITE BUFFALO is NOT the disaster that everyone claims it to be. And it definitely has a cult following.
- Feb 14, 2003