Director: Don Chaffey
Richard Roundtree, Roy Thinnes, Nigel Davenport

Pretty much all of us have secret fantasies as to what kind of lives we would really like to live, at least temporarily before getting homesick for our present lives. I have told readers of The Unknown Movies one of my fantasies several times over the years. And that fantasy of mine would be to be a cowboy in the American west in the late 1800s. Riding a horse in the countryside under the open sky, and exploring and finding new territory are just some of things I would like to do while wearing a ten gallon hat. But as I hinted at the beginning of this paragraph, this is a fantasy that I would only like to experience in small doses. I fully acknowledge that the American west during the latter part of the nineteenth century had a number of problems. For example, I learned in the western comedy A Million Ways To Die In The West that people in the west of this period would say the "f" world over and over and over. Seriously though, there were some problems that I definitely would not want to face. For starters, there was a great deal of diseases prevalent in the west, from cholera to smallpox. And that problem was made worse by the fact that doctors were often few and far between. Another potential problem was that seemingly everyone not only packed a gun, but were allowed to do so. I would dread the possibility of bumping into some sort of hot headed individual who was packing heat. And there was also the problem of limited transportation, transportation that wasn't as fast and reliable as what we have today. And there was no electricity, no telephones, no Internet... what a hellish world that seems to be by today's standards.

I feel that I need to point out that my viewpoint of the often hellish Wild West comes from someone who is male, Caucasian, and middle-aged. While there would be a bunch of potential problems for someone like me then, I can see that it would be worse for some other kinds of people. For example, in my reviews of Bad Company, The Culpepper Cattle Co., and The Spikes Gang, I illustrated with each of those movies how hard it was for a Caucasian youth to be in the Wild West. And in my review of Bad Company, I also mentioned that Caucasian women didn't have much choice for work in the Wild West - about the only choices they had were to be either a school teacher or a prostitute. But if you know your history of the Wild West, you will know that certain groups of people had a great deal more trouble than Caucasians. One such group of people who had great difficulty were Chinese settlers. Though they made some big achievements like helping to build railroads, more often than not they were looked down upon and abused. There were two other ethnic groups that also suffered greatly in this place and age. It goes without saying that Native Americans had a great deal of hardships once the white man invaded their territories. (See my review of I Will Fight No More Forever for one such story.) And there were also African Americans, who first suffered through hundreds of years of slavery, and continued to suffer even after slavery was abolished. Despite this, many fought on well; I once read that a third of cowboys in the Wild West were African American.

I have to admit that I have an interest in how Native Americans and African Americans are depicted in movies concerning the Wild West. Certainly some movies have been made that depict both (like Duel At Diablo), but there haven't been all that many. The most plausible explanation I Charley-One-Eyecan think for this is that filmmakers are embarrassed by the racism and abuse that existed all those years ago and feel that a big depiction of this would turn off audiences. Often you only come across such rarities by accident, and that is how I got my hands on Charley-One-Eye. I hadn't even heard of the movie before I first learned from it from a review I read in the magazine Shock Cinema several years ago. I subsequently learned that it has never been given an official home video release. But then by accident one day, I stumbled upon a bootleg copy of the movie in a used DVD store, and I promptly bought it. I could not resist giving it a whirl despite of the condition of the movie, which I'll explain shortly. The setting of the movie is the American west in the late 1800s. Richard Roundtree (Crack House) plays an unnamed African American AWOL soldier who is on the run after killing his white commander after being discovered sleeping with this officer's wife. During his journey into the desert, he comes across an unnamed Native American (played by Roy Thinnes of The Invaders) who has a disability (a club foot.) Roundtree's character forces the Native American to travel with him, and because of this, their relationship at first is a heated one. But after some time has passed, and maybe with the realization that they need each other, their relationship has somewhat warmed up when they stumble upon an abandoned church in the desert. They decide to settle at the church, at least for the time being. But they don't know that an unnamed bounty hunter (Nigel Davenport, No Blade Of Grass) is close by, hunting for Roundtree's character.

Before I get into analyzing Charley-One-Eye, I feel I should first mention the condition of the particular version I saw of the movie. It should come as no surprise that the bootleg DVD of the movie used a pretty crummy-looking print. As well, my research of the movie revealed that it originally ran one hundred and seven minutes in length. The print I saw ran eighty-four minutes in length; I thought it might be an edited for television print, but there was some nudity and graphic violence present. So maybe this review cannot be completely fair, but when you deal with very rare movies, you often have to take what you can get. Anyway, with what I have just revealed, your first question is probably, "Does the movie make sense with more than twenty minutes taken out?" Well, the answer is yes... for the most part. The core story of the relationship between the African American and the Native American is understandable, but there are some minor plot points that are either vague or not explained at all. For example, it's never revealed why Roy Thinnes' character is out in the desert alone away from his tribe. (One source I read said his character's disability made his tribe shun him, but I was unable to confirm this is revealed in any version of the movie.) As the movie progresses, we occasionally cut to Nigel Davenport's bounty hunter character tracking Richard Roundtree's character, and there is one quick shot of Davenport in someone's camp, firing his shotgun at the sleeping person. Who was that person? Why did Davenport shoot him? It's never explained. And in the movie's climax, a number of people suddenly appear out of nowhere. Where did they come from, and why do they do what they do? Again, it's not made clear.

Of course, I can't be sure if those head-scratching moments I just mentioned were they way they were because of footage being missing or were like that in the full length version. But as it turns out, the removal of footage may have helped the movie in one aspect. The reviews of the full length version I was able to uncover during my pre-viewing research blasted the movie for being too long and too slow. While I did find this edited version to have some scenes of significant length that seemed slow and pointless (like when Thinnes and Roundtree chase Thinnes' pet chicken around the church for minutes on end), I admit that I didn't get extremely impatient with the movie at any moment. But that's not to say that I found the movie to be terribly entertaining or interesting. The script by Keith Leonard (who never wrote another script) forces the viewers to put up with two unlikable characters throughout. Roundtree's character is the worst. He is not the least bit sympathetic, not just for the fact he slept with his officer's wife and quickly killed him when discovered. When he discovers Thinnes' character, he immediately pulls out his knife and bullies Thinnes around. He doesn't bother to learn the Native American's name, constantly calling him "Geronimo" and other disrespectful terms. And he doesn't seem to be all that desperate in his words and his actions; some panic might have made him more human. Thinnes' character isn't as obnoxious as Roundtree's, but all the same it's hard to warm up to him. He doesn't speak very much, so it's frequently hard to get a sense as to what he's thinking or feeling. And when he does show caring and compassion, it's almost always towards his pet chicken (the "Charley-One-Eye" of the title) instead of towards Roundtree or anyone else.

To make matters worse, director Don Chaffey (Jason And The Argonauts) has Roundtree grossly overact in his role (lots of loud chortles and yelling), and Thinnes greatly underacts in his role. Such polar opposites doom the movie from generating chemistry or at least grudging respect between the two characters these actors play. However, I will admit that Chaffey does do well with Davenport's bounty hunter character. Though not a large role, Davenport all the same comes across as creepy and intimidating, which generates some genuine tension. Actually, I suspect that was due more to Davenport's determination instead of Chaffey's efforts, because Chaffey doesn't do very well with other aspects of his direction. While there are some striking shots here and there, the movie for the most part looks dull despite being shot in the spaghetti western territory of Almeria, Spain. Chaffey also didn't seem to give much of a hoot about the musical score by John Cameron (Whiffs); some of it sounds nice, but it goes all over the map from spaghetti style to progressive rock. But probably the worse thing of all about Chaffey's direction is that he doesn't seem to manage to give the movie much of, if any, a point. Possibly the intention was to give the message that it's possible for polar opposites to find common ground under the right circumstances, but the way the movie ends (which I won't reveal) completely destroys whatever intentions there may have been towards that angle. Charley-One-Eye is pretty much a complete misfire, but deep down in its core there is an idea for an effective (and good) offbeat western. This is the kind of movie that should be remade, not movies that worked perfectly fine the first time around. And with the movie being so obscure and forgotten, it should be pretty easy and cheap for any movie producer to pick up the remake rights.

(Posted August 12, 2020)

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See also: Bad Company, Cheyenne Warrior, The Fighting Fists Of Shanghai Joe