Wednesday, September 22, 2010

RIO CONCHOS: Book to Movie

Sometime back, Dale Goble ran this dual review in the Western apa OWLHOOT, and I thought it deserved a wider audience. Coincidentally, around that same time OWLHOOT alumnus Steve Lewis reviewed the film over at Mystery*File. Both guys did a great job. After you read Dale's review here on the Almanack, I suggest you click HERE to see how Steve handled the subject.

by Clair Huffaker, 1958
a review by Dale Goble

I've always felt that Clair Huffaker was a cut above most western writers. So eventually I wondered why I had never read anything other than THE COWBOY AND THE COSSACK. So I hunted up another.

Our story begins in post-Civil War Texas with our hero, Riot Holiday, and another fellow with a not-exactly-felonious reason to avoid the law, being attacked by a marauding band of Comanche. These were the days of evil Indians, when they were always marauding. The Comanche chief is named Blood Shirt--so we know how we stand right out of the chute. Huffaker let's us know right away that Riot Holiday isn't one of them John Wayne cowboys; Riot happily abandons his saddle pal to the Comanche while he escapes. Said saddle pal had done the same to him just a few minutes before, so Riot can be practical-ruthless without being villainous-cruel. Riot escapes, but is critically wounded. He is found and rescued by the McCallister boys, a family of settlers who nurse him back to health.

Here Huffaker uses a familiar literary device, but one I wouldn't automatically associate with westerns; our hero has six months to live. Seems like when young Thaddeus (Tad) McCallister pulled the Comanche arrow out of Riot's shoulder, the metal arrowhead was left in the wound, just fractions of an inch from Riot's heart. This was before centimeters. The Doc tells Riot that if he takes it easy he might live six months before the arrowhead works its way to his heart and kills him.

Riot decides to eschew the cautious living part and to go out with a riot--sorry--of hootin', hollerin' and high livin'. Except Blood Shirt and his marauding Comanche warriors attack the McCallister place and, well, Riot and young Tad McCallister are kinda forced into a situation where they feel the need to track down Blood Shirt and take him to task.  Their odyssey leads to Comancheros, stolen guns, chases, gun battles and whiskey. There's a subplot about Tad--the proverbial innocent farm boy--learning the ways of the world.

I found it interesting that Huffaker lets Riot waver from the vengeance trail once or twice, unlike most of the vendetta stories I've read. But I guess I expected that from Huffaker.  This is a traditional western with a twist or two in the tale, and I quite enjoyed it.

review by Dale Goble

Early in July I read GUNS OF RIO CONCHOS by Clair Huffaker. When the Fox Movie Channel screened RIO CONHOS in early August, I wondered if they were connected. I was in the Navy in '64, so I hadn't seen the movie. They were, indeed, the same story. Mostly. The film was based on Clair Huffaker's book, and he coauthored the screenplay with Joseph Landon. I saw this in the credits--I avoided looking at sources that might reveal anything about the movie.

The movie starred Richard Boone, Stuart Whitman, Anthony Franciosa, and Jim Brown. I have not been a fan of two of the three actors, and Jim Brown is in a separate category. I watched.  Riot Holiday and Tad McCallister have been transmogrified into Richard Boone's character, renamed Jim Lassiter, and aged about thirty years. So, forget the first third of the book--all that's important is that we know Lassiter hates Comanche . . . uh, make that Apache. He hates Injuns, kills them whenever he can.

Comanche chief Bloodshirt has become Apache chief Bloodshirt, played by the ubiquitous Rodolfo Acosta, who wears a blue shirt in the film. The young, innocent, idealistic, Tad McCallister is morphed into cavalry Captain Haven, woodenly portrayed by Stuart Whitman. The cavalry unit is never mentioned, but Jim Brown plays Sergeant Franklyn, so it must have been the Ninth or Tenth. We're in Texas, so I guess that makes sense.

Brown plays the Sergeant as a competent non-com without any blaxploitation elements. I was pleased. (His character wasn't in the book. Neither was Capt. Haven's. Nor was the Anthony Franciosa character, the sterotypical irascible Mexican bandit stereotype. His character might have been added to show the less reverent side of Riot Holiday in Huffaker's book, I think. Rodriguez/Franciosa does a lot of the things the Riot Holiday character did in the book's non-vengeance sections.

The story then proceeds with the quest for the guns and the desperate need to keep them out of the hands of the marauding Comanche--oops--bloodthirsty Apache. The film adds an Indian maiden to the mix, I can only guess that she was sleeping with the producer, she doesn't do much acting. Or, to be less judgmental, there has always been that particularly idiotic Hollyweird notion that you can't make a movie without dames, even WWII submarine movies have dames in them, POW camp movies got dames, and so forth and so on, sheesh.

The film turns the Comancheros into Civil War Secesh holdouts down in Mexico, and Edmond O'Brien does a little southern Colonel bit. (Boone's character is an ex-confederate officer, and by fortunate happenstance, knows the Colonel. Wow, who'd have guessed?) In case I'm sounding a little harsh, let me just say that Hollyweird turned a better-than-average book into an ordinary film. It wasn't bad, but it could have been better.

Clair Huffaker bibliography
Badge For a Gunfighter
CH's Profiles of the Old West
The Cowboy and the Cossack
Flaming Lance
Guns from Thunder Mountain
Guns of Rio Conchos
One Time, I Saw Morning Come
Posse From Hell
Rider from Thunder Mountain
Seven Ways from Sundown
The War Wagon

Clair Huffaker filmography

The Valdez Horses (1973) (screenplay)
The Deserter (1971) (screenplay) (story)
... aka The Devil's Backbone (USA)
Flap (1970) (novel "Nobody Loves a Drunken Indian") (screenplay)
100 Rifles (1969) (screenplay)
Hellfighters (1968) (writer)
The War Wagon (1967) (novel "Badman") (screenplay)
Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966) (screenplay)
"The Virginian" (2 episodes, 1964-1966)
- Ride a Cock-Horse to Laramie Cross (1966) TV episode (writer)
- The Hero (1964) TV episode (writer)
"Daniel Boone" (2 episodes, 1965)
- The Trek (1965) TV episode (writer)
- A Place of 1000 Spirits (1965) TV episode (story)
"12 O'Clock High" (1 episode, 1964)
- Decision (1964) TV episode (teleplay and story)
Rio Conchos (1964) (novel) (screenplay)
"Destry" (3 episodes, 1964)
- The Infernal Triangle (1964) TV episode (written by)
- Deputy for a Day (1964) TV episode (written by)
- Big Deal at Little River (1964) TV episode (written by)
The Second Time Around (1961) (screenplay) (as Cecil Dan Hansen)
"Outlaws" (3 episodes, 1961)
- The Brathwaite Brothers (1961) TV episode (writer)
- My Friend, the Horse Thief (1961) TV episode (writer)
- Chalk's Lot (1961) TV episode (writer)
The Comancheros (1961) (screenplay)
Posse from Hell (1961) (novel) (screenplay)
Flaming Star (1960) (novel "Flaming Lance") (screenplay)
Seven Ways from Sundown (1960) (novel) (screenplay)
"Lawman" (18 episodes, 1958-1960)
- Man on a Mountain (1960) TV episode (writer)
- Girl from Grantsville (1960) TV episode (writer)
- The Ugly Man (1960) TV episode (writer)
- To Capture the West (1960) TV episode (writer)
- The Stranger (1960) TV episode (writer)
(13 more)
"Bonanza" (1 episode, 1960)
- The Avenger (1960) TV episode (writer)
"The Rifleman" (1 episode, 1959)
- The Coward (1959) TV episode (story) (teleplay)
"Rawhide" (1 episode, 1959)
- Incident at Spanish Rock (1959) TV episode (story)
"Riverboat" (1 episode, 1959)
- Strange Request (1959) TV episode (writer)

Thanks, Gobe, for letting me share this!


Charles Gramlich said...

another interesting one that I've missed.

Drake said...

If you look at the Wayne film Comancheros and Rio Conchos you see they basically have the same plot and i wonder if the Wayne film is closer to the book?
I think Rio Conchos was a semi-remake of Comancheros and both films had Stuart Whitman.

Richard R. said...

I saw this sometime or other, probably on a TCM western weekend, but recall nothing of it, even with the description.

Only a hard core western fan would know which Calvery outfit would have had a black Sgt in it.

David Cranmer said...

Interesting. New to me as well.

Cap'n Bob said...

"Calvery"? Slink away in shame, amigo. I know you meant to type "cavalry" as you are a noted speller, a literate gentleman, and a scholar of distinction.

There were two black cavalry outfits after the Civil War, the 9th and 10th. Also two colored infantry units, the 25th and 26th (IIRC).

Todd Mason said...

One thing which catches my eye in a quick scan of this (I shall return to it for a more detailed reading soon) is that Huffaker, whom I take to have been a woman, adapted another woman's novel, Lee Hoffman's Spur-winner THE VALDEZ HORSES, for the screen...I'm always ready for some further equal opportunity in what is too often misconstrued as a Man's Game...particulary when it involves Lee Hoffman's work, which I'm always happy to read (the film of VALDEZ isn't first rate, from what I remember of it, but I'm not sure that's Huffaker's fault at all).

Todd Mason said...

Ah...closer inspection shows that Clair, not Claire, follows the French rules of gendering names.