“The Appaloosa” (1966)

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Co-stars: John Saxon, Anjanette Comer, Emilio Fernández

Character: Matt Fletcher

In his career, Brando starred in only three westerns. This was one of them. He plays a bison hunter and drifter who has returned home to his family in order to start a ranch with his small fortune and prized appaloosa stallion. Unfortunately for him, a cruel Mexican bandit and his girlfriend have targeted his horse, and steal it from him. Brando’s character spends the rest of the film attempting to retrieve the horse.

It’s a simple plot.

Upon reception, the film was critically panned, and a commercial failure. By this point, Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood had popularized the spaghetti western, and the indulgent camera angles and film work went unappreciated by both the general public and critics alike. They weren’t wrong about this- there are many shots where I found myself thinking “now what is the point of this?” Brando’s performance is also criticized for being underwhelming, as it was well documented that the star had lost interest in production halfway through. So why did he take the film? Alimony, bitches! Alimony to two ex-wives (Anna and Movita). One can venture a guess that child support was also a factor in taking on a role he didn’t care about in the least.

"Aww fuck not another lawsuit!"

However, despite all that, I found myself enjoying the movie. It was everything the past few Brando movies hadn’t been: short, concise, and to the point. The plot was very simple, and in that there were no pointless subplots weighing down an otherwise decent story. There was no overacting, and the cheese was (more or less) intentional and tongue in cheek. It is neither high drama nor slapstick comedy, settling for being generally amusing. When the plot threatened to drag, its short running time (just over an hour and a half) kept the film in check. Perhaps most notable of a Brando film in this period: it has no overarching lesson on morality.

One striking complaint from critics at this point was that Brando was cashing in on his star, showing no real artistry in the film. They’re probably right, it’s neither groundbreaking work nor would he have been a huge star if he had debuted with this. My one complaint watching this was Brando’s physicality- he looks pretty sloppy on camera, hiding under a poncho that cannot conceal his gut. I don’t hold it against him as a person- power to the cheeseburger loving brother! But it’s hard to imagine a 19th century cowboy type being this pudgy. It doesn’t suit the character, and it detracts from the film. You know, it’s kind of like when Russel Crowe was all fat and shit in Robin Hood. Just not right man, not right. Overall, I still found myself entertained and not hideously underwhelmed. I also can’t help but appreciate Marlon for personally nixing all “cowboys and Indians” fight scenes, even at the expense of the film’s action. Therefore, thumb up.

Quotes: “Well, I’ve done a lot of killin’. I’ve killed a lot of men and sinned a lot of women. But the men I killed needed killin’ and the women wanted sinnin’, and well, I never was one much to argue.”

“The next time you point a gun at me, you better pull that trigger, because I’m going to blow you into so many pieces your friends will get tired of looking for you.”

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