To say this adventure about notorious Mexican outlaw Pancho Villa gets off to a strange start is an understatement: The first scene features an imprisoned Villa getting his head shaved by gringo jailors, after which Villa savors his newly bald pate. The problem? In real life, Villa had a healthy head of hair, so, apparently, the sole purpose of filming this scene was justifying the casting of Greek-descended New Yorker Telly Savalas in the lead role. It’s no surprise Savalas was unwilling to wear a wig for his performance, since he also chose to deliver lines with his customary dese-dem-dose inflection, to preen in dandyish clothes, and to periodically giggle with the same playful malice he once brought to his role as a Bond villain. Yet the strangeness of Pancho Villa doesn’t end with Savalas’ wildly inappropriate interpretation of the title character. Later, one of Villa’s gringo adversaries, a deranged U.S. soldier played by Chuck Connors, drives his men crazy with orders to shoot and kill a fly that’s buzzing around a mess hall—while comedic music straight out of a Mack Sennett one-reeler grinds on the soundtrack. Pancho Villa is peculiar from top to bottom, waffling back and forth between high-action scenes and idiotic comedy bits. The storyline has something to do with Villa committing crimes to raise money for his revolutionary endeavors, but Villa disappears for long stretches of the movie. During these bland sequences the movie focuses on Villa’s gringo lieutenant, Scotty, who is played by amiable giant Clint Walker, the six-foot-six TV and movie actor best known for the ’50s series Cheyenne. While some of the movie’s antics are funny, like the weird vignette in which Villa believes he’s having a heart attack until he realizes a small lizard has crept into his undershirt, the movie spends so much time meandering through inconsequential silliness that it’s impossible to detect any sense of drama or momentum.
Pancho Villa: LAME