The presence of iconic leading man Burt Lancaster is the only thing that separates this revenge-themed Western from dozens of similar movies, and even though Lancaster is miscast as a Mexican-American lawman, the actor’s signature intensity adds gravitas to the thin storyline. Based on one of Elmore Leonard’s many pulpy Western tales, Valdez Is Coming depicts a bloody campaign by a Mexican sheriff named Valdez (Lancaster) to get justice from a wealthy rancher, Tanner (Jon Cypher), who killed a man for trumped-up reasons and left the victim’s widow penniless. Tanner is romantically involved with Gay (Susan Clark), the widow of another murdered man, so Valdez kidnaps Gay in order to gain leverage over his enemy.
Not only is this set-up unnecessarily convoluted, it’s also ineffective: The movie is supposed to be fueled by Valdez’ obsessive desire for justice, but the lawman’s connection to the injured parties is so tangential that it doesn’t make sense for him to antagonize the powerful and ruthless Tanner. The story gains credibility when Tanner instructs his underlings to abuse Valdez and the lawman’s friends, thereby deepening the hero’s motivation, but because the picture proceeds from a weak premise, everything that follows feels contrived.
That said, Valdez Is Coming has enough blood, sweat, and tears to satiate the appetites of undemanding fans of ’70s Westerns. So even though the story isn’t especially interesting or persuasive, there are lots of close-ups of sneering villains, wide shots of perspiring men trudging through brutal deserts, and briskly edited scenes of Lancaster picking off Tanner’s men at a great distance with his reliable Sharps Carbine. The actors supporting Lancaster generally contribute undistinguished work, but Richard Jordan makes the most of his multidimensional role as a would-be gunslinger who waffles between overbearing arrogance and pathetic weakness.
Valdez Is Coming: FUNKY