After the amazing success of Jaws, any creature was fair game to hit the screens munching on unsuspecting humans. What a wonderful world.
That world would include the oddball 1977 flick The White Buffalo starring Charles Bronson as “Wild Bill” Hickok haunted by…you guessed it-a giant white buffalo.
After seeing this poster and the trailers on TV, I knew I had to beg my Dad to take me to see it, and he did just that. Directed by J. Lee Thompson and also starring Clint Walker, Slim Pickens, Stuart Whitman, Jack Warden, Will Sampson and even Kim Novak this was a strange one for sure.
Dino De Laurentiis produced this movie and he also was responsible for Orca that year and 1976’s remake of King Kong.
The idea here was that Will Bill Hickok was haunted by visions of this giant white buffalo that he knew was not just myth. Also after the elusive beast was Crazy Horse (not Neil Young’s backing band by the way), played here very well by Will Sampson (also in Orca that year).
The year is 1874, and Will Bill is basically having a Moby Dick-styled meltdown with these visions that are haunting him as his life begins to fade. He goes under an alias back to an area of the country by train where he has made numerous enemies, but he is searching for clues on this creature. There are some awful scenes in a saloon, and of course some gunfights, as well as a pointless romantic interest in Kim Novak’s character, but it’s all abut them thar big-ass buffalo which Novak still proudly had at that point!
“I’m much obliged to let you feel my loins Wild Bill!”
So, Wild Bill and his trusty (sort-of) sidekick Charlie Zane (played by Warden) traverse to the Black Hills for a creature that may or may not exist.
“I tell ya, Buffalo ain’t been the same at quarterback since Jim Kelly retired, ya know what I’m sayin’?”
The pair will encounter an American Indian who is well-known as Crazy Horse and they form an alliance though it is fraught with tension as Charlie is an old racist sonnabitch and don’t like their new pal too much.
“Neil Young can be very difficult to work with, but the results are worth it. And please don’t litter”.
Crazy Horse is pissed because the white buffalo has steamrolled through his encampment and killed his daughter. He seeketh revenge. For some bizarre reason, until Crazy Horse slays the beast he is to be referred to as Worm. Um, OK then.
Anyway, when the buffalo starts appearing, he seems to be in full attack mode, but also seems to look like a pissed-off lamb hopping and skipping along.
Some of the scenes in the film are awkward as hell, especially when Wild Bill and Crazy Horse use sign language to communicate all the while speaking English out loud at one another!
Bronson also spouts off a bunch of pretentious lines of New Age nonsense that he doesn’t seem very convinced by (and neither would I). But ya know what? He’s Charles fucking Bronson, and who cares? His screen presence still works here and he does fairly well of playing a legendary, violent outlaw coming to the end of his life with failing vision and other signs of age.
“Am I shooting my career in the ass?”
The buffalo scenes are a mix of ineptitude that shows a creature making moves that are obvious it is on tracks and moving in only one direction-straight. At other times, the close-ups of the beast (especially the eyes and snout) work rather well as does the menacing score by John Barry of James Bond fame.
The film never reaches that “scary” level, but the build-up to the final battle is pretty good. The climax however leaves one unfulfilled, as it feels things got a bit rushed and/or trimmed due to budget constraints. I always dug the buffalo charging like a steam-train (was that the intent?). Barreling through the snow with steam coming from the snout was pretty kick-ass too.
“Rip. Snarl. Snort.”
The White Buffalo misses whatever mark it was going for, but it is a highly unique cinematic experience that is part Western, part Horror, part Fantasy, part Adventure, part Drama equaling all weird. Due to the oddity of it and the strange mix of styles, it is a worthy film only because it has no idea what the hell it wants to be!
Of course, Crazy Horse and Wild Bill prevail, and we really don’t know what the fuck we’ve just watched. I do know if I had Kim Novak waiting for me, my spurs would be jangling with her and not chasing some giant monster in the snow.
“I am no longer a worm! By the way, you’re really furry and warm-sorry about the arrows.”
“Ted Nugent and his song blow and he can kiss my very white ass!”
The movie bombed with critics and at the box office and ended a long-running relationship between Bronson and United Artists Pictures. Oh well.
Ya know, I have an affection for this one, and despite the numerous flaws I like it. So there. Also, it’s finally on a proper DVD and the transfer is very nice, so saddle up and buy it.
1. The White Buffalo had the ignominy of opening just 2 weeks before a little film called Star Wars in May 1977.
2. Carlo Rambaldi designed the creature and would later design a critter named E.T.
3. The film was shot at both a soundstage (and looks it unfortunately at times) and on location in California, New Mexico and Colorado. The locale in California was called Bronson Canyon. Really.
The White Buffalo (1977):
2 out of 4 for awfulness
Q: Should you see The White Buffalo?
A: Yes. It’s weird, intriguing, poorly edited and bizarre all at once. Sounds like a good time to me-and it was!