Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Valdez is Coming (1971)

Spaghetti western style marketing

Shot in Spain, this Elmore Leonard story makes for an absorbing tale of pursuit and justice. The Valdez of the title (Burt Lancaster) is a Mexican-American and former cavalryman, who is now a star-wearing constable of a western border town. In a bungled attempt to secure the surrender of a suspect wanted for murder, he shoots and kills an innocent man.

Valdez wants to compensate the man’s widow and attempts to collect $100 from the man, Frank Tanner, who wrongly accused the victim. Tanner refuses and humiliates Valdez, then has him tied to a cross when he persists. Arming himself, Valdez surprises Tanner in his bed and asks again for the $100. Failing in this attempt, he takes the man’s girlfriend (Susan Clark) as a hostage, and thus begins a long chase.  

Man after man sent after Valdez comes a cropper. By the time we get to the last reel and the final standoff between Valdez and Tanner, eleven men have bitten the dust. We see several picked off by buffalo gun in this clip (click).

Published 1970
The twists and turns and surprises in the plot, all the way to the last line of the movie, are pure Elmore Leonard. The film deftly avoids nearly every western cliché. There are fine, believable performances all around. After the first few minutes, even Lancaster is plausible as a soft-spoken Mexican-American.

The film has a steady level of excitement but is thankfully also interested in character. It’s not just marksmanship with firearms that keeps Valdez going. There’s also a hidden depth of intelligence as he continues to outsmart his pursuers. It’s a battle of wits right to the end.

I really enjoyed this movie. In many ways it beats Hombre (1967), another Elmore Leonard story that picks up some of the same racial issues. (I didn't mention that the man shot at the beginning of the movie is black and his wife is Indian.)

The film was directed by Edwin Sherin, who went on to a lot of TV work, including 200 director and producer credits for Law & Order. Barton Heyman deserves mention as El Segundo, Tanner’s chief henchman. The film is rated PG-13 for violence, brief nudity, and some language. [Lancaster wears a Stetson or a cavalry cap in the movie, not the photoshopped one on the the DVD cover.]

Valdez is Coming is currently available at netflix and amazon. Tuesday’s Overlooked Films is a much-appreciated enterprise of Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.

Coming up: Mary Austin, Isidro (1905)


  1. I was thinking about this film just this week. In a discussion on remakes, a film reviewer mentioned that someone is considering a remake of The Wild Bunch (horrible, horribal idea) which got me thinking about westerns I like and this one popped into mind. It has been years since I saw Valdez is coming but I remember enjoying Burt Lancaster's performance and I remember the buffalo gun. Valdez goes into my Netflix queue today.

  2. I just picked up this novel at a bookstore here in Maine a couple of days ago! I've wanted to read it for ages. I'm holding off watching the movie until I read it first, but I love Burt Lancaster so I think this movie will be right up my alley.

  3. If I was gonna rave about a film, this would be it!
    The whole idea of underestimating an old and slow, it appears small town Lawman! Hell, a good solid film, totally enjoyable! Even at the end, you still want more!!

  4. Cullen--did you see the omnibus of Leonard's western fiction? You need that.

    Inevitably, this reminds me that I still need to see THE VALDEZ HORSES, though I doubt that film will live up to Lee Hoffman's novel...

    Thanks, Ron! I wonder how many other American as well as Italian westerns were shot in the Spanish desert...

  5. Haven't read the book or seen the movie, but I read a collection of Leonard's short Western stories this summer, and noticed that one of them seemed to be the original basis for Valdez Is Coming. "Only Good Ones" contains the original incident of the shooting of the innocent man, and all the character names are the same. It seemed like it could easily have been turned into the first chapter of the novel. Oddly enough, though, the final paragraph ties it to another short story, "Saint With a Six-Gun," in which a character named Valdez is the villain.

  6. I am a huge Burt Lancaster fan but not sure I have seen this one.

  7. This one happens to be a favorite(as well as Hombre). I have a Kindle of Leonard's western fiction. Is that the one you referred to Cullen?

  8. Excuse me, that Todd referred to Cullen? Sorry abouty that.

  9. I saw this was on the other night and wanted to catch it but something came up and I couldn't. I've heard lots of good stuff about it.

  10. This is one of my favourite western films of all time. Have read the book too....years ago.

  11. I'm pleased so many people know this film. It deserves a big audience.

    Mack, I'd like to see Benicio Del Toro in a remake of Valdez.

    Cullen, I haven't read the book and hope to get to. The paperback cover is so unusual for a western--it depicts the hero's lowest moment in the story.

    Cheyenne, the character's background as a sharpshooting cavalryman comes as a welcome surprise in the film; shows you should never assume anything about a man's age or appearance.

    Todd, the filmmakers really got Spain to look like the American southwest; often you can tell the difference bigtime.

    Elisabeth, I've got a collection of Leonard's short fiction and will look to see if I have the story. It would be interesting to compare.

    Patti, if you like Burt Lancaster, you will love this one.

    Randy, it's great that Leonard is being rediscovered as a western writer. JUSTIFIED is such a great blend of the two genres he's been a master of.

    Charles, the western channel has been running it; you might get another chance.

    Steve M, I haven't read the book and look forward to it.

  12. Havent' read the book, but I'm sure I saw the movie back in my drinking days and thought it was a good one.

  13. Valdez, is a wonderful action packed 70's Western, that should be a favorite of any fan of westerns. Very well-acted and a wonderful music track. Burt Lancaster, as always effortlessly plays a very interesting character.

  14. Absolutely love the book. Have just put the movie in my queue. Thanks.

  15. Oscar, no comment . . .

    Dawn, you're 100% right, and I forgot to mention the music track; it is excellent, as you say.

    Mark, movies never live up to books, but I don't think you'll be disappointed by this one.