DVD: El Condor (1970)

January 8, 2018 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  Warner Archives

Region: 0 (NTSC)

Released:  June 22, 2009

Genre:  Western / Action

Synopsis: A chain gang escapee and a not-so-bright prospector use Apache mercenaries to rob a fort of its treasure in gold bullion.

Special Features:  (none)




After Play Dirty (1969), a film that would be his last as director, Andre De Toth produced another exercise in nihilism, this time a buddy western featuring action, a few broad laughs, and risqué R-rated material, capped with a finale that leaves about half of the leading characters alive.

Directed by John Guillermin (fresh off the WWII epic The Bridge at Remagen) and featuring a script by TV scribe Steven Carabatsos (Peyton Place, Star Trek) and the prolific Larry Cohen (Return of the Seven, The Invaders), this dry tale was yet another variation on disparate characters in search of a golden treasure – a plot extended to operatic lengths by Sergio Leone in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), and J. Lee Thompson’s Mackenna’s Gold (1969) which had enough secondary characters for two separate films, if not a 3 hour epic. (Mackenna has a peculiar backstory and erratic home video release history, and I’m saving my indulgent thoughts until one day the film emerges on Blu-ray – preferably via Twilight Time with an isolated score and vivid commentary track. Hint-hint.)

Although Condor runs nearly two hours, there’s a fair degree of redundancy in the screenplay that has the two leading scoundrels – chain gang escapee Luke (Jim Brown) and loser / prospector Jaroo (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’s Lee Van Cleef) – trekking back & forth between their encampment and the fortress that holds the massive stash of gold supposedly belonging to Austria’s ‘Mexican’ Emperor Maximilian).




The pair’s initial attempt to test the reflexive power of the fort’s General Chavez (Patrick O’Neal, dabbled in Mexican face paint #12) and his full garrison has them first arrested together, then returning with their own band of Apache mercenaries, and later Jaroo going solo before there’s one more push into the fortress, but in spite of the repetitive elements, each penetration slowly pulls away the mystique of the gold which is revealed to be just a giant tease: a mass of gold-plated lead which Chavez uses to motivate the Mexican army against Austrian invaders.




By keeping the lie intact from his men, the future of Mexico has a fighting chance, but Chavez is also a sadist, which makes him less honorable, assigning desert torture to Jaroo and Luke after their first meeting, and at the end, engaging in a duel with Luke that matches the cruelty Chavez metes out on a bull in his first scene.

O’Neal doesn’t have much to work with, but the actor’s knack for radiating villainous glee transcends his minor dialogue exchanges. Chavez is a grinning snake who likes his isolated fiefdom and knows his public acts of discipline not only keep the men in line, but elevate him to a wannabe emperor, complete with hot mistress Claudine (Marianna Hill) – the only woman in the fortress (and for miles around).

Being a male buddy action film, women are mere décor, designed to be unraveled in part and later whole, and Claudine is presented as a savvy sexual creature who survives by submitting to whomever is the most powerful; when she senses early on that Luke will be a very real successor to her current protector, she creates a pivotal (and ludicrous) distraction so the two men and their mercenaries can infiltrate the fortress.

The film’s R-rating stems from some violence – stabbings and shootings – but mostly outright nudity: Hill goes full-frontal birthday suit. Similarly, in an earlier scene the slaughter orchestrated by Jaroo and Luke of Mexican soldiers in a town is timed just as the women have completely disrobed and are about to get it on with their suitors.

Guillermin stages Claudine’s nude scene with a weird energy: after hurrying to her room, she tears off her clothes and proceeds to display herself by French balcony doors that face the entire courtyard, causing the men upon men drop everything and salivate to her amber silhouette. The director also uses the canted angles and wide lens for Chavez and Claudine’s lovemaking that’s very similar to the stylized bedding scene in The Blue Max (1966) – another period action-drama that involves the manipulation of soldiers for the good of the country, and a nihilistic twist for the anti-hero.

Whether it was by producer De Toth’s design or director Guillermin, Condor is as montage-heavy as Play Dirty, with action scenes constructed with the same care, scope, and riveting impact. Whether it’s horse riding across rough terrain or blowing the shit out set pieces (the demise of a wagon and a water tower are quite spectacular), Condor’s action is first-rate, as photographed by Henri Persin (Viva Max) and edited by Walter Hannemann  (Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Krakatoa: East of Java) and William H. Ziegler (My Fair Lady, McQ).

Maurice Jarre’s score is quite good, offering balance between the film’s humour and violence with a fine main theme and strong, colourful variations. The composer’s idiosyncratic harmonics suit his South American style-theme, moving effortlessly from sweeping romanticism to kinetic action.

Perhaps the film’s most questionable characterization belong to the Apache mercenaries, portrayed as dumb drunkards whom Jaroo calls ‘his Apaches,’ easily kept in check with some booze and a few horses. Jaroo knows he’s dead meat if they see the fort’s gold, but only their leader Santana (faux native American Iron Eyes Cody / aka Oscar DeCorti) seems capable of sensing a cheat; the rest of the men are easily swayed fools.

The film’s lead casting is indeed quite clever: Jim Brown had already appeared in the classic Rio Conchos (1964) and nihilistic WWII actioner The Dirty Dozen (1967), but his role in 100 Rifles (1969) was a more successful blend of action and goofball humour among selfish, scheming scoundrels. Van Cleef is quite wonderful as the desperate, not always on-the-ball prospector, playing a much broader character than his emotionally stifled, silhouetted antiheroes in gems like Day of Anger (1967).

Patrick O’Neal was quite skillful in shaping a villain’s depth of depravity with a grin, sharp eyes, or the way he smokes a cigar. He was marvelous as the highly creative serial killer in Chamber of Horrors (1966), and had a supporting role in Cohen’s short-lived cult series Coronet Blue (1966). Marianna Hill’s occasional flights from episodic TV (Star Trek) included the cult film Medium Cool (1969), the utterly weird The Baby (1973), and Clint Eastwood’s nihilistic anti-western High Plains Drifter (1973).

Guillermin’s maneuvering through action films and his knack for strong visuals (Skyjacked, Shaft in Africa) ultimately led to his biggest blockbuster, The Towering Inferno (1974), and his biggest dud, King Kong (1976), after which his career was never as interesting, considering he’d worked his way up making some classics in Britain, including The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960), I Was Monty’s Double (1958).



© 2018 Mark R. Hasan



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