Western Wednesdays: ‘Captain Apache’

captain-apache-lee-van-cleefIn some alternate dimension, it’s Lee Van Cleef who rocketed to squinty-eyed fame after The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Clint Eastwood just kept doing spaghetti westerns in Europe, never to be seen in a serape again and starring in movies like Captain Apache.

I don’t know much about Van Cleef, and why he favored working in Italy and Spain. I’m guessing it was because Hollywood would only give him villainous roles, and he wanted to be the laconic badass who got the girl. Overseas, he was a star. But it also meant he had to make films like Captain Apache where all that presence is completely and utterly wasted. But hey, he did get to sing the theme song!  (See, he is Bizarro World Eastwood.)

The plot is incomprehensible. Van Cleef informs us over the theme tune (I’m not kidding) that they call him Captain Apache and that “they” try to trick him regularly.  He’s a franchise character without a franchise in that mythic way that only 1970s cinema could aspire to. For the record, “they” don’t actually call him Captain Apache, they call him “Red Ass.” I can’t imagine why they didn’t use that as the title.

Captain Apache is sent to investigate a murder, which has something to do with a man selling guns to Mexicans and Indians, and something called “April Morning.” From there on, you’re on your own. But there’s a witch, a peyote trip, creepy twins dressed as the Mad Hatter, and women who will go to bed with anyone.

There’s also a moment where Apache’s Native American kin won’t speak to him in his Union uniform, so he strips to his loincloth, complaining that he has to do so every darn time he talks to an Indian. It’s all set to a swinging 1970s score which really makes it seem far more like a retro police procedural.

It’s like a 1800s’ version of Coogan’s Bluff. Or Coogan’s Bluff is a 1970s version of Captain Apache.  I can’t be sure. Remember, there’s a peyote sequence and I’m all confused.

Did I mention the theme song yet?

If you haven’t figured it out already, Captain Apache is a bad movie. Laughably bad.  (After three solid Westerns in a row, you have to strike out eventually!) If you’re planning a grindhouse night, you ought to put this on the list. I can’t speak for whatever they’ve transferred to DVD, but the Netflix version is such a grainy, scratchy print that it you’ll be in Tarantino’s version of heaven.

But you know what? Forget what I said about Eastwood and Van Cleef being reversed in Bizarro World. In Bizarro World, their careers are exactly the same except that audiences prefer Apache to Blondie. Instead of “You see, in this world there’s two kinds of people, my friend — those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig.”, cool manliness is measured by this one single quote:

“No, thank you. I don’t eat cookies.”

(Captain Apache is on Netflix Instant, as are all the Western Wednesdays so far. You might want to skip one or two of them.)

  • Chris Ullrich
    January 20, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    Love it. Must watch it now.

  • Drake Mallard
    January 20, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Best.Tagline.Ever!
    That theme song is gold as well.It’s a shame Van Cleef didn’t have a big resurgence after Escape From New York,or The Master tv series.

    It seems none of my former recommendations are on Netflix Instant.The bastards.Oh well, I hope you get around to them sometime anyway.

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