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Chino
(a.k.a. The Valdez Horses)
(1973)
 

Director: John Sturges                 
Cast:
Charles Bronson, Vincent Van Patten, Jill Ireland


This little-known Charles Bronson movie is about nothing in particular. Yet I liked it a lot. Even to me, this is strange; usually when I watch a movie, I want a minimum amount of story, spread evenly throughout the movie. Instead of that, Chino more or less resembles a collection of vignettes, with little to no connection between each other. So what was about this movie that I liked? I'm not entirely sure, but I have some ideas. First, in the lead role there is Charles Bronson, an actor whose mere presence I find quite interesting to observe. Second, it's a "spaghetti western", and I'm a real fan of such movies. But neither of these two things are what you would expect. Bronson plays a quite different character than he usually plays, and this European western, produced by Dino De Laurentiis, is in a different style, with a mix of American and European contributions to the cinematic western. (Examples include the movie being shot in Europe, yet boasting an American-sounding musical score.) This probably comes with Laurentiis getting American director Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral) to helm the movie. I found the end result pleasing, but admittedly unusual - so I wasn't surprised to discover that no major American distributor would pick it up, with only a tiny and now defunct distributor giving it a small release Stateside three years later.

Despite this fate for Chino, Bronson should be proud of his performance here. I actually think it's one of his best performances ever. His character Chino, unlike many of his later characters, has a lot of dialogue, which Bronson delivers convincingly. Bronson looks very relaxed and comfortable, and even has some scenes when he smiles or laughs out loud. His character also not just has a personality, but one that doesn't always have him make the right decision. He's realistic, yet he's not predictable. When you think he's warmed up to the boy he takes in, the movie hints that he's not quite ready for a friendship when he battles an attacker in a bar and throws him out in the street - right into the boy. (Interestingly, this sequence also shows that Chino himself shares some of the blame as to why he's shunned by the townspeople, for he pretty much started the fight.) He is a person that makes you watch him closely, for you're curious and not sure what he's thinking or what he'll do next.

Bronson's character, Chino, is a horse breeder somewhere in the American southwest. He considers himself a loner, so when young runaway Jimmy (Van Patten) rides to his isolated home and asks for work, Chino is reluctant at first. So is Jimmy himself, when he realizes that Chino is a half-breed. But Chino lets him stay on, and over the next few weeks their relationship grows warmer. However, not everything is comfortable for Chino; many of the people in the nearest town don't take kindly to half breeds like him, so every time Chino comes to town, there's a fight between him and some racists. As well, Chino's neighbor is trying to drive him away - not just in an attempt to claim Chino's horses, but uncomfortable that his sister (played by Ireland) is strongly attracted to Chino. Chino assures Jimmy, "I've left a lot of places in my time - but only when I wanted to," but seems to realize that sometime in the future, he might have to take a stand or be forced to leave.

I know that the above description does sound like it could be stretched out for an entire movie. In fact, I'm sure it could have. Chino, however, doesn't seem to devote more than half of its running time to the above plot details. The rest of the time is devoted to mostly irrelevant vignettes. There's a running story about the horses Chino and Jimmy take care of. There's comedy, as when the woman comes over and surprises Chino taking a bath, giving Bronson an opportunity to have a very near nude scene. And there's a lengthy segment when Chino and Jimmy leave the area for a few days to spend time with a friendly Indian tribe. This sequence is one of the rare times that Native Americans have been given a chance to relax and show some humor about themselves.

The few reviews I've found for this movie range from mild bewilderment to ho-hum indifference. One user comment at the Internet Movie Data Base just more or less simply said it was "terrible". I think the critics weren't expecting a western of this tone, and were taken aback. And I'm sure they were probably frustrated by the movie's unwillingness to find and stick to one specific story. But I didn't mind the meandering story - since I have an interest in the offbeat, I felt quite comfortable with seeing another movie that didn't want to follow the rules. In fact, I found all the irrelevant stories quite interesting. Seeing the lives of the natives, learning how to break in a horse, all that stuff I found compelling and even a little educational. Sure it didn't do anything to contribute to a major story line, but I found it entertaining all the same.

I also enjoyed the characters of Jimmy and Chino, and their evolving relationship. Jimmy sees Chino as a kind of father, and even Chino eventually sees Jimmy as a kind of son. This realization doesn't happen overnight; instead, it evolves at a gradual yet believable pace. A lot of times, we can tell what they are feeling or thinking by their actions, instead of their words. Chino is another of those kind of movies that realizes that silence can sometimes tell a lot more than spoken words.

Like other European movies Bronson has starred in, including Lola, Someone Behind The Door, and Red Sun (another entertaining Bronson western), Chino has fallen out of copyright on this side of the Atlantic, and now appears on a lot of shabby public domain video labels. However, I was lucky to see a video issued on Warner Brothers Video in 1984. For an early video release, the quality of the transfer is surprisingly good, aided by the use of a print that almost looks brand new. The more open-minded people reading this and being interested in seeing Chino would be better off searching for a copy of this video edition, rather than immediately settling for an inferior print on EP speed. Undoubtedly it will be a difficult search, but after seeing the movie they'll probably agree it was worth it.

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See also: Cheyenne Warrior, Bad Company, The Stalking Moon

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