“Somebody told the black man he wasn’t a slave anymore. Somebody told the red man this land was his. Somebody lied. Somebody is going to pay.”
Director: Don Chaffey
Cast: Richard Roundtree, Roy Thinnes, Nigel Davenport
Synopsis: A black, Union Army deserter and his crippled American Indian hostage form a strained partnership in the interests of surviving the advancing threats of a racist bounty hunter and neighboring bandits.
Charley One-Eye is something of a curiosity. A British-American co-production, it was financed by TV personality David Frost’s David Paradine company and directed by British director Don Chaffey in Andalucia, although it’s a Western set in the States. This curious mish-mash of influences and contributions is reflected in the movie itself which has a strange sense of not really knowing what sort of tone it’s aiming for. It has a trash sensibility in its scens of lurid, bloody violence and yet is loaded with the symbolism and religious allegory of some pretentious art movie.
Richard Roundtree (City Heat, Maniac Cop) is The Black Man, a deserter from the US Cavalry who killed his way out of an awkward situation in which he was caught in the sack with an officer’s wife. Wild dogs fighting over the carcass of a rabbit give us an idea of the future that awaits the deserter as he escapes into the desert (there’s a lot of apparent cruelty to animals in this picture, so if that sort of thing winds you up, I’d steer clear), and it’s not long before he comes across a sleeping red indian (Roy Thinnes – The Hindenburg – whose casting in the role, given the movie’s message regarding the exploitation of blacks and native Americans, is highly ironic) with a club foot whom he forces to journey with him.
These two odd travel companions eventually arrive at a deserted Mexican church where they decide to make camp. There are a number of chickens roaming the church grounds, one of whom has one eye and gives the movie its title. By now, the relationship between the two men has passed beyond its initial adversarial stage into one of tentative friendship, but that friendship is tested with the arrival of a bounty hunter (Nigel Davenport – Peeping Tom) who plans to turn the black man in for the $500 reward on his head.
Although its set on the open plains, Charley One-Eye has the feel of a stage play about it due to the fact that, apart from a relatively brief intrusion by the bounty hunter and a few other assorted characters, it’s pretty much a two-header between Roundtree and Thinnes. Although Roundtree has the bulk of the lines and the showier role, it’s Thinnes, as the monosyllabic Indian who gives the most effective performance, giving his character a dignity and grace that belies his grubby appearance. Writer Keith Leonard, whose only screen credit this was, lays on the symbolism a little too thick at times, and Charley One-Eye lacks the potency for which it appeared to be striving, but it’s nonetheless a rewarding watch.
(Reviewed 18th April 2014)