Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Johnny Firecloud (1975)

          Borrowing elements from Billy Jack (1971) and Death Wish (1974), this Native American-themed revenge flick is equal parts goofy and gory, but it’s also undeniably entertaining, in a trashy sort of way.
          The plot couldn’t be simpler. When he was younger, Native American Johnny Firecloud (Victor Mohica) used to cavort with a white woman, June (Christina Hart), whose father, Colby (Ralph Meeker), holds all the power in the small Southwestern town where they live. Now that he’s an angry adult who learned a few nasty tricks while serving in the military, Johnny spends all his time getting into hassles with the local sheriff, Jesse (David Canary), who does Colby’s bidding. But when Colby’s thugs accidentally kill Johnny’s grandfather, tribal chief White Eagle (Frank DeKova), all of Johnny’s rage explodes into a vigilante campaign. Johnny murders his victims in colorful ways, invoking clichés familiar from previous Hollywood depictions of Indians. He buries one fellow up to the neck in a desert and cuts off the fellow’s eyelids so he’ll go blind while he cooks in the sun. He ties another dude to a post and then ties a bag full of rattlesnakes around the dude’s head and torso. Naturally, one of the victims gets scalped.
          Johnny Firecloud is exactly the movie you’d expect, filled with overheated performances, slow-burn action scenes, and thunderous music cues underscoring money shots of carnage. There’s also a little sex thrown in for good measure, including—as per the norm for ’70s revenge pictures—a brutal rape scene. (Playing the rape victim is lovely Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather, best known as Marlon Brando’s controversial Oscar proxy.) Most of the elements in Johnny Firecloud are ordinary, but the sum effect is satisfying for fans of a certain type of sleazy cinema. The widescreen images are filled with robust colors, the pacing is strong, the storytelling is clear, and the violence is suitably excessive.
          While most of the acting is florid and/or robotic, with Hollywood veteran Meeker delivering a particularly tepid performance as a bad guy who stops just short of moustache-twirling, future soap-opera star Canary does respectable work in the picture’s most nuanced role. Playing the sheriff who wrestles with his conscience upon realizing the true scope of his employer’s evil, Canary registers a few decent moments of manly angst. Providing a counterpoint is frequently bare-chested leading man Mohica, who plays to the cheap seats whenever he gets the opportunity. Johnny Firecloud also features one of the oddest threats in ’70s cinema. At one point, a thug named Ned (Richard Kennedy) barks the following remark to Johnny: “One of these days, you and me are gonna tangle assholes!”

Johnny Firecloud: FUNKY

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