• Chato’s Land

    Released by: Twilight Time Releasing
    Released on: April 19th, 2016.
    Director: Michael Winner
    Cast: James Whitmore, Charles Bronson, Simon Oakland, Jack Palance, Ralph Waite, Richard Jordan
    Year: 1972
    Purchase From Screen Archives

    The Movie:

    The first of six movies that director Michael Winner would make with Charles Bronson (Death Wish being their most successful), Chato’s Land begins with a scene where an Apache named Pardon Chato is minding his own business in a tavern. He’s hassled by a racist man and winds up killing him in self-defense, unaware that the man was a U.S. Marshall.

    When a Confederate Captain named Quincey Whitmore (Jack Palance) learns of this, he puts together a posse made up of Joshua Everette (James Whitmore), Jubal Hooker (Simon Oakland) and his brothers Elisa (Ralph Waite) and Earl (Richard Jordan), Martin Hall (Victor French) and a few others including a Mexican scout (Raul Castro). The arm themselves and head out into the desert, Whitmore firm in his belief that they’ll have a hanging by nightfall. Once they’re out in the sticks, however, they soon learn the hard way that Chato knows this terrain far more intimately than they do. Tensions within the group begin to mount in a big way, but once certain members of the gang abduct and rape Chato’s woman (Sonia Rangan), the kid gloves come off and he exacts his violent revenge.

    Although it is essentially a chase film with some obvious revenge movie elements thrown in set against the backdrop of the classic American West, Chato’s Land also works as an allegory to what American troops went through in the Vietnam War. Here we have a group of men completely out of their element and while they have more advanced weapons at their disposal than their enemy, said enemy has the home turf advantage. It’s interesting to think about the movie that way, particularly when the men in the posse torch a small Apache village (in a seen the predates Cannibal Holocaust but conjures up a similar feeling of queasiness) that makes you think of something like the My Lai Massacre where American soldiers did just that – torched a Vietnamese village. The movie also serves as a fairly scathing critique on racism no just in the period and location in which it is set, but American society as a whole. Michael Winner may have occasionally wallowed in exploitation, but this time around he directed a film with a very strong social conscience.

    The cast are in fine form here. It’s amusing to see Victor French, best known for his role as kindly Isiah Edwards in Little House On The Prairie, cast as one of the bastard posse members. Richard Jordon, Ralph Waite and Simon Oakland are great as the treacherous Hooker Brothers and James Whitmore well cast here too. Jack Palance is great as Quincy Whitmore, a man with his own code of honor and a bit more level headed than most of the men he’s surrounded himself with. Palance, occasionally prone to chewing scenery, delivers an admirably restrained effort here and the movie is all the better for it. Of course, in the middle of all of this is a fifty year old Charles Bronson. A man who could cut an imposing frame even in an advanced age as he is here, Bronson as Chato is lean, mean and cunning. Bronson does almost all of his acting here without dialogue. He’s got a few lines, sure, but more often than not he does what he does using body language and facial expressions. He does it so well, you almost don’t notice that the role is nearly silent, his weathered face able to convey more with just a glance than any script could hope to achieve.

    There are times where the pacing is a little sluggish but even in those moments the movie is strong enough in the cinematography department that we don’t mind. Shot in Spain and in Mexico this is a very good looking film, you’ll have no trouble buying this as the American West, while the score from the legendary Jerry Fielding helps to accentuate the drama, the tension and the action inherent in the story.

    It should be noted that although this Blu-ray release features a PG rating on the back of the cover art, this is in fact the uncut ‘international’ version of the movie. That means that certain scenes are stronger than they were on the previous Region 1 DVD release – the rape scene features some obvious nudity, the Indian that is hung over the fire is shot, the horse stripping is intact, the rock to the face scene is also intact.


    Chato’s Land debuts on Blu-ray framed at 1.85.1, which would seem to be the film’s proper aspect ratio. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer looks better in some shots than in others. Mild print damage shows up throughout, little white specks and what not, and grain is heavy but there aren’t any major scratches. Colors look pretty good, the hot desert landscape coming across as appropriately arid, while skin tones also look fine. Detail varies bit from shot to shot, with some parts of the film looking nice and crisp and other parts looking soft and a bit hazy. The high bit rate on the 50GB disc keeps compression artifacts out of the way and there are no issues with any obvious edge enhancement or noise reduction.

    The English language DTS-HD Mono track, which comes with optional English subtitles, is also fine. The levels are nicely balanced, the dialogue is clean, clear and natural sounding and the score has good range and depth to it. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion.

    In addition to Fielding’s score available as an isolated track in DTS-HD format and the film’s original theatrical trailer, the disc also includes a twenty-minute video interview with screenwriter Gerald Wilson who shares some stories about writing this picture and his thoughts on the story, the way that the movie turned out and his experiences working on this picture. He also talks about how and why the setting of the film is so important and, yes, he touches on the parallels between this story and the horrors of the real life Vietnam War.

    Inside the clear Blu-ray keepcase we get a color insert booklet containing liner notes from Julie Kirgo and some nice archival images including a reproduction of the iconic original poster art used to promote the movie. Kirgo makes some interesting observations about the Vietnam allegory, shares her thoughts on Bronson and Palance’s work in the film and offers up some input on the locations and supporting cast as well. Worth a read as always. The aforementioned rape scene was shot in both a nude and clothed version – the alternate clothed takes, present on the MGM Region 1 DVD release, are not included here so completists may want to hold onto that older disc for that reason.

    The Final Word:

    Chato’s Land is a hard hitting western revenge film that takes advantage of some great location photography to tell a tense and violent story. Highlighted by some great work from both Jack Palance and Charles Bronson, it’s a really well made film that’s absolutely worth checking out. Twilight Time’s Blu-ray isn’t demo material but it offers a nice improvement over the DVD release and presents the film with a few supplements and in its completely uncut form.

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

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      This is an excellent film. Great review, Ian. Nice to know the disc contains the 'stronger' cut of the film.