- Directed by Edwin Sherin
- April 9, 1971 (U.S.)
A Mexican-American sheriff seeks just compensation for the Native-American widow of a wrongly killed black man.
Valdez Is Coming stars legendary actor Burt Lancaster as Mexican-American Sheriff Bob Valdez. At the start of the film you are left contemplating why the apparently meek Valdez was chosen by the locals to be their sheriff. You would think the people of the west would pick someone tougher in stance. By outward appearances he is a quiet man adverse to confrontation but as the film goes along bits and pieces are dropped in the narrative that let you know there is more than meets the eye so that when Valdez finally does go into action it is not an abrupt change but rather the payoff to a long tease. Before the end of the film we get a clear understanding of just why he probably earned the trust of those that put him in office.
Valdez is part of a group that has come to bring an African-American man to justice for the apparent murder of an individual. Powerful rancher Frank Tanner (Jon Cypher) has organized a posse headed by hired gun R.L. Davis (Richard Jordan) to capture or kill the man that Gay Erin (Susan “Webster” Clark) has accused of killing her husband. After the man is shot and his wife left a widow Valdez attempts to collect money for her and his efforts are rebuffed by all. Tanner is the worst of all as he leaves Valdez for dead.
Richard Jordan plays the trigger-happy Davis whose nature causes the gun fight that gets the wrongly accused man killed. His performance here is similar to that of his in Rooster Cogburn. It is over the top but works. Jordan was a good actor and could make wild eyed enjoyable when he wanted.
The redhead widow Gay Erin is almost a secondary character in this story even though she is the one that causes everything. If it was not for her the African-American man would not have been shot and his wife left a widow. Tanner seems to suspect the truth from his first moments on screen but goes along because the lie helps him get and keep his lover.
Things really kick up a notch when Valdez goes all out to collect the money for the widow and proves he is a one-man army. It has been a while since I have acquainted myself with any of Lancaster’s work, but I do not recall him as a screen tough guy or having an intimidating presence. His vibe was more Gregory Peck than John Wayne or Charles Bronson. Lancaster effectively moves Valdez from meek to intimidating without making the change seem improbable and pulls both off perfectly.
Tanner and Valdez dig harder and harder into their respective positions. Tanner is unwilling to pay the $100 that Valdez is seeking and Valdez becomes more and more focused on getting the money as he sees it as the only justice that can be enacted. Tanner is so focused on not paying the money that he is willing to expend the lives of others with Valdez more than willing to take those lives while on his mission.
Though I question the wisdom of casting a blue-eyed man as a Mexican, the film is pretty good once the collision course between the two main characters is set. It’s a story of one man’s arrogance and pride going up against another man’s sense of justice and determination.
The film doesn’t end with a big shoot out or a fight of any kind. The rancher eventually catches up with Valdez. By this point Valdez’s skill and apparent integrity has earned him the respect of the rancher’s men. Valdez understands this while Tanner does not. Gay Erin, having admitted to being the actual murderer, has decided not to go back to Tanner.
Valdez is surrounded and Tanner orders his men to shoot the sheriff. Davis declines as he has no gun. His ranch hand El Segundo (Barton Heyman) refuses as does Segundo’s men leaving Tanner to do it himself. Tanner is shown to be a coward because he will not shoot Valdez.
The film ends with Tanner saying, “I should have had you killed three days ago” with Valdez replying, “Or paid the $100.” It is a simple and effective wrap up to the story. Valdez’s will was stronger than that of Tanner’s and what normally would have ended in bloodshed was capped off with a simple exchange that hit hard.
Valdez Is Coming is based on an Elmore Leonard book of the same name. The Get Shorty guy started with Westerns but eventually moved to crime novels. This is a great story about revenge and determination involving two characters entrenched firmly in their positions. It is a battle of two powerful wills and ends with one will overcoming the other.
Valdez Is Coming is an interesting Western with a good story and a good cast. It is more tense than exciting, but you will be hooked from beginning to end. This is a watch it!