Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Charley One-Eye (1973)

          Presumably conceived as a provocative statement about race, this peculiar Western depicts the adventures of a black soldier who’s gone AWOL from the Union Army and the mysterious Indian whom the soldier encounters in the desert. Initially, the soldier makes a hostage of the Indian by threatening him at knifepoint, forcing the Indian into servitude and mercilessly taunting the man. After bonding over their mutual hatred of white people, the soldier and the Indian decide to commit robberies together. All the while, a bounty hunter chases the soldier, so the specter of death is omnipresent. In its broad strokes, this storyline should be serviceable despite its contrived nature. But Charley One-Eye is riddled with peculiarities, like the fact that none of the characters has a name. (The soldier is billed as “The Black Man,” the Indian is billed as “The Indian,” etc.)
          Actually, a slight correction to the preceding remark is necessary, because the film does indeed feature a character named Charley One-Eye. He’s a chicken. And, quite frankly, he’s the most sympathetic character in the whole movie.
          The first hour of Charley One-Eye is a slog, because the soldier (Richard Roundtree) is a sadistic prick given to fits of idiotic laughter, and the Indian (Roy Thinnes) is part pathetic cripple and part wise mystic. Neither character is believable or fun to watch, so the myriad scenes of them shuffling through the desert while being cruel to each other are boring. Eventually, the bounty hunter (Nigel Davenport) arrives, leading to scenes of torture and other violence.
          None of this resonates much beyond visceral impact, though flash cuts to the past indicate that the soldier slept with a white officer’s wife and subsequently killed the officer. The picture fails to provide corresponding illumination for the Indian, except to illustrate that he’s kind to fowl, particularly the aforementioned Charley One-Eye. The story climaxes with a failed attempt at poetic irony, exemplifying that the divide between the content and intentions of Charley One-Eye is so wide as to render the film almost impenetrable. As a result, the film is little more than pretentious pulp, despite Roundtree’s spirited efforts to enliven a poorly conceived role. Chicago native Thinnes, absurdly miscast as a Native American, mostly stares out from beneath long hair and a wide-brimmed hat while hissing his curt lines in a raspy whisper.

Charley One-Eye: FUNKY


Unknown said...

The only thing I definitely know Thinnes from is Invaders and had no idea that he was English. It's ridiculous - he looks awful even on the poster.

On the other hand, the lack of actual names shouldn't matter: see also Two-Lane Blacktop and The Driver.

By Peter Hanson said...

Turns out you didn't know Thinnes was English because he is not. That's a mistake I caught after publishing and quickly corrected. Still doesn't change how poor his casting is, though... And, man, is this movie not in the same league as either The Driver or Two-Lane Blacktop, two films that, with varying degrees of artistic success, earned their enigmatic aspects.

Cindylover1969 said...

David Frost usually went by his real name (David Paradine) when producing, no?

Unknown said...

Ha! For once I'm quick off the mark and it goes wrong anyway!

Re the names: I'll take your word for it (I have no intention of watching this film. I might very well give Shock Waves a spin, though) and didn't mean the comparison as any kind of criticism. It just struck me as odd that you brought up the namelessness (is that a word? It is now) of the characters without referencing those two films.

Love the blog, by the way.

Guy Callaway said...

Watched this less than a week ago, for the first time. Still can't make my mind up about it. I found the first half interesting, but the sequences with the bounty hunter were dire. I reckon my version is cut, as there's no flashbacks explaining why Rountree's on the run.
On the plus side, I liked Charley and the locations were stunning.