Valdez Is Coming (1971) Blu-ray Review: They Just Messed with the Wrong Mexican

Despite casting Burt Lancaster as a Latino, this early revisionist western from Kino Lorber still deserves a look.
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Originally envisioned as a project for director Sydney Pollack and the starpower of Marlon Brando and Burt Lancaster, novelist Elmore Leonard's Valdez Is Coming was once set to contend against the Spaghetti Western craze dominating screens throughout the latter half of the '60s. That didn't happen, of course. In fact, Valdez wouldn't come until 1971 ‒ when the European variation of the genre was quickly being paved over by the American revisionist western ‒ with an entirely different cast and crew attached to the project.

With Pollack out, Broadway/TV director Edwin Sherin took over directing. It would be the first of two theatrical movies he would helm (the other being the rarely-seen My Old Man's Place), both of which were released the same year. The most notable change, however, probably took place on the other side of the camera. Sure, Marlon Brando was ‒ at best ‒ a questionable actor to play a Mexican, even if he had already done so nearly twenty years before in Viva Zapata!. But of course, that was then. It was the 1970s now; Hollywood was beginning to erase its oft-offensive casting choices for its ethnic characters.

And to prove just how serious they were about it, the eponymous part of Valdez ‒ a humble Mexican town constable pushed too far by the cruel actions and antics of an old racist white bastard, originally slated to have been played by Burt Lancaster ‒ went to… er, Burt Lancaster.

Granted, providing one can look past the fact that they didn't even give the aging blue-eyed action hero a set of brown contact lenses, the end result isn't half bad. In fact, I dare say I enjoyed most of what Valdez Is Coming had to offer, even if the film has earned a less-than-stellar reputation over the years.

Filmed in the same Spanish locales as many a Spaghetti western, Valdez opens with Bob Valdez (seriously) arriving at a remote home, which everyone in the community has descended upon to see a shootout to the death. According to local bigwig rancher (and racist) Frank Tanner (Jon Cypher), the "suspect" inside is a runaway slave. Valdez soon learns otherwise, but is nevertheless forced to kill the free man in question thanks to the trigger-happy antics of Tanner's gunman (one of the many subtly superb roles the late Richard Jordan left behind; the actor also played alongside Lancaster in Lawman that same year).

Understandably upset, Valdez makes a solemn plea to Tanner for a $100 to give to the mistaken, murdered man's Indian widow. Alas, Tanner and his cronies opt to humiliate the poor Mexican constable instead, literally crucifying him to a makeshift cross before forcing him to walk back home through the unforgiving terrain, knowing full well the old man could die in the process. What Tanner doesn't know, however, is that Valdez had served as a sharpshooter and Indian hunter for the US Cavalry. Surviving the ordeal, our anti-hero dons his old uniform and breaks out his weaponry (including a Sharps rifle for long-range action), kidnapping Tanner's tormented lady (Susan Clark) as he sets about his revenge.

Co-starring Frank Silvera and Hector Elizondo, Sherin's dramatic adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel shies away from the more "exploitable" elements of the tale, opting to focus more on his characters. And while it is appropriate for a revisionist western, United Artists' laughable marketing campaign for Valdez Is Coming attempted to paint a different picture, which one will immediately notice in the included theatrical trailer of this Kino Lorber Studio Classics release. Previews for additional period westerns also compliment this Kino presentation, while the most notable extra is an informative audio commentary with filmmaker/critic/historian Jim Hemphill.

Kino's MPEG-4 AVC encoded 1.85:1 transfer of this largely forgotten gem presents an above average image (there are minor traces of age to be found, none of which should break the attention of any truly invested viewers), with a solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack accompanying. All in all, it's a solid home video release for a film which ‒ despite its bad casting and accents ‒ is still worth a look-see.


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