Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Two Chat(t)os

There's an opinion that's often expressed when comparing film actors which is that no one can really judge their performances against each other unless they play the same role. So unfortunately, if we wanted to fairly compare Henry Silva to Charles Bronson we couldn't, because they have never played the same role. Or have they?

In 1970's Five Savage Men, Henry Silva plays an Apache named Chatto who's out for revenge for the rape of his woman by a group of white men. In 1972's Chato's Land, Charles Bronson plays an Apache named Chato who's out for revenge for the rape of his woman by a group of white men. Looks like it's time for a throw-down!

Chato's Land                                                      Five Savage Men

Story concept - It's simple and straightforward, a posse comes for Chato after his altercation with the local sheriff. Chato lures them onto his home turf in the desert and then it's game on. A somewhat predictable, but still effective idea. 
Story concept - A woman is attacked and left for dead by outlaws, but is rescued by Chatto who nurses her back to health and trains her for revenge. A great concept that sounds like a really good Asian cinema film. There's room for both action and a love story. Win.
Cast - Bronson aside, the film sports several strong character actors, very much on their game, including Jack Palance, Simon Oakland, Richard Jordan, James Whitmore, Richard Basehart and Ralph Waite. The casting was critical as these characters have a lot more screen time than Bronson who is hiding out and fighting guerilla-style for most of the film. Win.
Cast - Besides Silva, the only cast members of note are Keenan Wynn, John Anderson and Michele Carey. Wynn is decent as a slimy bad guy, and Anderson is good as the head of the posse, but Carey is awful as the heroine. I can't believe this is the same woman that shot John Wayne out of his saddle, bitch-slapped James Caan and wanted to put a cap in Edward Asner's ass in El Dorado. In this movie, she looks like she's spending the summer at Camp Totonka doing arts and crafts, and her acting is atrocious.
Atmosphere - Solid, mostly due to the nice wide open and long range camera shots by director Michael Winner which show the desert setting to be an enemy to the posse and an ally to Chato. Good cinematography by Robert Paynter also helps attain a gritty look. The downside is an overcooked musical score by Jerry Fielding which seems way to epic for this small haunting story. Win.

Atmosphere - Very uneven due to a variety of factors. The biggest offender is the bad editing which uses a variety of cheap tricks in an attempt to make the film more suspenseful and lurid. The worst of which is the repeated use of the insert POV rape shots. All I could think about during these was that some of the guys needed to trim their nose hairs. The music is bottom of the barrel and features a ridiculously out-of-place pop song during a training montage.
Bronson/Chato - Despite his rather eastern European look, Charles Bronson really pulls off playing a Native American. He has the leathery and sinewy look of someone who has spent their life in the desert. His taciturn acting style really helps sell the role as well. Bronson is so believable and bad-ass in the film that even when he shows up in a loincloth, I didn't crack a smile. I don't think any other non-Native American actor could have pulled this role off so well. Win.
Silva/Chatto - Like Bronson, Silva also has a naturally still and quiet acting style which lent itself quite well to the Apache character he played. He resembles a southwest Native American much more than Bronson and was fairly believable in the role. Unlike Bronson, however, Silva was pretty much on his own as far as supporting talent and crew. Even his wardrobe and wig looked pretty weak, which meant he had to supply all the authenticity himself.

There is a very cool last shot in Five Savage Men that bumps it up a notch for me, but Chato's Land has a very 70's-style ending to it that was strong as well. I'd even go a step further with Chato's Land and say, although it's not a great film it's definitely in the top 5 of Michael Winner's efforts, well worth checking out even for non-Bronson fans. Five Savage Men can be enjoyed by Silva fans since he has a prominent part, but it's so uneven, and at times amateurish, I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.

Even though I love Silva more than Bronson, in this case, I have to say Chato's Land is a far superior picture in almost every respect to Five Savage Men. It's no fault of Silva's, he just was not surrounded with the caliber of professional talent Bronson had in his film. In the end, I guess you can't really judge actors against each other, even in the same roll, if they don't have the same team supporting them. 

Overall Scores

Chato's Land 7.5                        Five Savage Men 5.5


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