Pardon my paraphrasing of a Tarantino line from True Romance. Like Tarantino, I love Charles Bronson but I feel for him. He worked really hard as a television character actor starting in 1949. While he got great roles in the ensemble pieces, The Great Escape and The Magnificent Seven, he didn’t really become a star until the late 60s. Yet by the 80s, he had essentially become the first direct-to-video star with endless sequels to his hit, Death Wish.
If you see one of Bronson’s films on Netflix, definitely go for Once Upon a Time in the West. If you’ve seen that then watch Breakheart Pass the complete the trifecta with The White Buffalo. The White Buffalo, from his 70s period, is currently available on instant Netflix.
The White Buffalo (1977) – Rated PG
“Haunted by visions of a large, white buffalo, Wild Bill Hickok heads West, where he meets Crazy Horse, whose daughter was killed by the same animal.”
In 1975, a little film called Jaws changed the way America saw summer movies. It was the first of the summer blockbusters and was rated PG. Jaws paved the way for a slew of animal on the loose movies such as Piranha, Orca, Alligator, Grizzly, and plenty of others as well as three sequels to Jaws. All the studios scrambled to get a piece of the animal pie and scoured the book racks for tales of natural mayhem.
Richard Sale adapted the screenplay for The White Buffalo from his own novel (or perhaps vice versa as Sale was a prolific Hollywood writer). J. Lee Thompson was brought in to direct, having just come off directing St. Ives with Charles Bronson. The White Buffalo is short and to the point.
There are three stars in the film. Charles Bronson plays legendary gunfighter, Wild Bill Hickok – here undercover as James Otis. The underused Will Sampson plays Crazy Horse, strangely also undercover as Worm. The third leg of our triumvirate is The White Buffalo itself.
Backing up our main actors are a slew of welcome character actors. Jack Warden is Hickok’s sidekick and has almost as much screentime as Sampson. Kim Novak, Slim Pickens, Clint Walker, Stuart Whitman, and even John Carradine (as an undertaker, naturally) show up for small parts.
Everyone does their job but Thompson hides the titular buffalo as much as possible. Unfortunately he is no Spielberg so instead of raising tension, it becomes a question of why aren’t we seeing it. The answer becomes clear when we do see it because it isn’t very good and takes us out of the picture.
The White Buffalo is not very good but is worthwhile for Bronson, Sampson, and the cavalcade of guest stars as well as the very nice western scenery, particularly the snow.