Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: Clair Huffaker, Massimo De Rita, Dino Maiuri, Rafael J. Salvia, based on novel by Lee Hoffman
Starring: Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland, Marcel Bozzuffi, Vincent Van Patten, Fausto Tozzi
Country: USA, Italy, Spain, France
Running time: 96 mins
BBFC Classification: 15
A much more sedate western compared to his powerhouse oaters Once Upon a Time in the West and The Magnificent Seven, and not as tough as his underappreciated 70s cowboy efforts Chato’s Land (a great film!) and The White Buffalo, The Valdez Horses is nevertheless a great Bronson western. He plays a Chino, a half-breed horse rancher living a solitary existence raising and training horses until his solitude is interrupted with the arrival of a young runaway (Van Patten) looking for bed and board. The arrival of the teenager thus sets off a chain of events that sees Chino crossing paths with a greedy landowner and his attractive sister (Ireland), leading Chino to reconsider his lonely existence and ultimately stand up and fight for his land and surrogate family.
Don’t expect lots of shoot-outs or long sequences of staring as antagonists get to ready to duel, as The Valdez Horses is a much more slow-burn, low-key affair and all the better for it. A story of a lone man reassessing his machismo and solitude as feelings of both paternal and romantic are stirred in him with the arrival of Van Patten’s youngster and Ireland’s love interest. Being Bronson’s real-life wife, Jill Ireland was often featured in his films and their romance included here is rather predictable (albeit, Ireland is great), with the bond he forms with Van Patten much more rewarding. Rather than cliched antagonism, their budding relationship is affectionately played, mutual respect refreshingly replacing the expected blow-hardness of the Bronson character. Van Patten is great as the youngster and even elicits some chuckles during a sojourn to an Indian camp where he attempts to understand their culture.
Coupled with some magnificent photography courtesy of Armando Nannuzzi (Maximum Overdrive), The Valdez Horses is a welcome change of pace western, focused on character and a sense of melancholy, rather than tough-guy posturing and overused cowboy tropes. Don’t worry, Bronson is still tough, gets into several fistfights and there is a cool shoot-out come the finale all nicely staged thanks to the assured direction. A quick read online and watching the extras included on the Indicator Blu-Ray suggest the film was somewhat of a troubled production with disagreements on set and purported several directors and screen-writers all taking a crack at proceedings but the final product displays little evidence of this.
The pacing and lack of urgency may not be for everyone (and there are few outdated aspects which may cause some to cringe!) but if you are looking for an off-the-beaten-track western then The Valdez Horses fits the bill. It also proves (again!) that there are lots of other great films (and westerns!) that came out of the 1970s other than just the critical acclaimed heavy hitters that get all the constant coverage.
Also known as Chino and Valdez the Halfbreed.
The Valdez Horses will be making its Blu Ray premiere in the UK 25 January 2021 from Indicator
- High-Definition remaster
- Original mono audio
- Two presentations of the film: with the original The Valdez Horses title sequence, and the alternative Italian title, Valdez, il mezzosangue
- Audio commentary with film historian Paul Talbot, author of Bronson’s Loose! The Making of the Death Wish Films and Bronson’s Loose Again! (2021)
- New interview with make-up artist Giannetto De Rossi (2021) – Great little interview with the colourful De Rossi, who dishes up some great stories and anecdotes about the making of the film and his dealings with the ever reclusive/shy Bronson. Interesting stuff, though he does not seem to be a fan of director Sturges and the way he worked!
- New interview with uncredited screenwriter Stephen Geller (2021) – Another great interview with uncredited writer Geller, an eccentric character, who shares even more fascinating (not to mention crazy sounding!) stories about the making of the film and the various escapades of the producers and director Sturges. Great stuff and while both interviews are around 20 minutes long, it feels like Geller and De Rossi shared much, much more!
- Alternative titles and credits
- Original theatrical trailer
- TV Spot
- Image gallery: promotional and publicity materials
- New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Roberto Curti, an archival on-set report with contributions from Charles Branson, Jill Ireland, and John Sturges; interview extracts from Bronson and Ireland, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and film credits
- UK Premiere on Blu-ray
- Limited edition of 3,000 copies