• White Buffalo, The



    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: April 28th, 2015.
    Director: J. Lee Thompson
    Cast: Charles Bronson, Jack Warden, Kim Novak, Clint Walker
    Year: 1977
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    The Movie:

    It doesn't get much weirder than 1977's Charles Bronson vehicle THE WHITE BUFFALO. Part of the "rampaging animal trilogy" that producer Dino De Laurentis launched in the me decade to cash in on the runaway success of JAWS (the other two were his KING KONG reboot and ORCA), this film actually charts a distinctly unique course far removed from typical action fare.

    Bronson plays Wild Bill Hickok. We first see him on a train traveling under an assumed name to avoid interest from the friends of the many men he's killed. Wild Bill is in his twilight years and now a haunted and hunted man. It isn't just the gun slinging violence of his younger years. While he's ostensibly headed to the Black Hills to try his hand at the burgeoning gold rush, he is also becoming obsessed with a vision that keeps appearing in his dreams: a massive white buffalo that is trying to kill him. Increasingly these visions make him believe that he must find this beast and kill it. Or he will die.

    The course of Bill's journey sends him through strange charnel filled towns with streets that resemble scenes from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and will eventually bring him into contact with an old friend named Charlie (Jack Warden) who Bill partners up with to go on his gold digging adventure. Charlie has seen the buffalo so Bill now knows his dream is probably a prophecy. But before Hickok has his inevitable showdown, he'll encounter some foes and have a couple of epic shootouts and eventually run into THE WHITE BUFFALO's mystic soul - Will Sampson's Chief Crazy Horse. The Indian warrior has his own vendetta against the white marauding buffalo. His daughter killed in an attack by the beast on an Indian village, Crazy Horse believes that if he doesn't kill the monster he will "lose his name forever".

    De Laurentis may have thought he was getting a kick ass action flick with hard men duking it out with a titanic and toothy creature. Instead, director J. Lee Thompson and his favorite star delivered a mix of peyote tripping mysticism and intense attack sequences. The buffalo actually looks pretty good on the few occasions you see him. Bursting out of rock formations, snorting in grand style and goring people brutally he's impressive (just don't look for the visible track this mechanical creation is riding on). But what makes THE WHITE BUFFALO so damn engrossing is the pockets around those action sequences. This movie is deeply invested in creating characters and it employs fascinatingly correct period language for the actors. Bronson talks of men with "hard tongue" and in a hilarious moment protests being called a killer by saying that he is a "man of comity". He becomes friends with Crazy Horse and the two men have deep discussions about manifest destiny and the relations between the white man and the American Indian. Bronson plays taciturn but intelligent and Sampson - always a marvelous actor - invests his Indian character with dignity and sensitivity. Jack Warden is outstanding as Bill's bigoted partner. He's funny and crude but useful in a fight.

    It's also worth noting that the film has some terrific bit parts - Stuart Whitman as a nasty traveller on a stagecoach, western icon Clint Walker as a cruel bounty hunter, Ed Lauter as a soldier out for revenge and John Carradine as a garrulous undertaker. The shootouts are epic and the vistas breathtaking. The final quarter of THE WHITE BUFFALO takes place in the mountains and the scenery is stunning.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Kino's 1.78:1 framed AVC encoded 1080p transfer is a decent mid level affair. This movie was shot pretty soft overall so don't expect a lot of "pop" in the image. Colors look accurate but slightly faded and black levels occasionally get a tad milky. Detail in close ups is good though - especially facial. No DNR is visible and though this is far from reference quality it is organic and unmolested and a large bump up from the standard definition DVD.

    The audio track is a period range limited but serviceable DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio that is well balanced. Everything is audible and the punchier sequences like the buffalo attacks actually sound pretty strong. There are also English subtitles provided. Extras? You just get the theatrical trailer.

    Parting Shot:

    I love this film and consider it - along with FROM NOON UNTIL THREE - one of Bronson's finest offbeat efforts. Part mystical odyssey, part Moby Dick homage, and salted with quirky dialog and interesting themes, THE WHITE BUFFALO consistently confounds expectations. It takes stock western characters - gunslingers and Indian warriors and makes them into full blooded people full of questions and doubts. Combine that with some great cinematography and sure footed direction and a strong musical score by John Barry and you have a gripping experience. Kino's presentation is up to snuff if lacking in extras. Highly recommended.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!