A Movie A Day #334: Charley One-Eye (1973, directed by Don Chaffey)


Welcome to the old west, where life is brutal and unpredictable.  Ben (Richard Roundtree) joined the Union Army so he could kill white men.  When his commanding officer caught Ben in bed with his wife, Ben was forced to commit murder and go on the run.  When Ben stumbles across an unnamed Indian (Roy Thinnes) with a bad leg, Ben forces the Indian to accompany him.  Despite Ben being loud, cruel, and mentally unstable, an unlikely friendship develops between Ben and the Indian, cemented by their mutual hatred of the white man.  When they find a deserted church, Ben and the Indian settle in and start to raise chickens.  The Indian’s favorite chicken is a one-eyed bird that he has named Charley.  Meanwhile, the Bounty Hunter (Nigel Davenport), a British racist, retraces their every step.

Richard Roundtree made Charley One-Eye after shooting to fame as John Shaft.  This film was his attempt to show that he was capable of playing more than just the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the ladies.  Ben is a world away from Shaft.  There’s nothing smooth or charming about Ben, who never stop laughing or talking about how much he wants to kill a white man.  (Though the character introduces himself as being named “Ben,” the end credits simply read, “The Black Man … Richard Roundtree.”) The Indian is also half-crazy and given to fits of laughter.  The Bounty Hunter never laughs.  Whenever these three aren’t talking, the sound of buzzing flies is heard.  Death and decay are all around.

Don Chaffey was a British director who best known for films like Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C.  Charley One-Eye was a strange departure for him and he would never make another film like it.  It has elements of the Blaxploitation genre and Spaghetti western fans will recognize Aldo Sambrell in the tiny role of a Mexican bandit.  But it is really neither blaxploitation nor a western.  It’s a slowly paced, sometimes boring character study of two outsiders.  Both Roundtree and Thinnes give good performances, though their characters are sometimes hard-to-take.  The only thing that makes Ben and the Indian tolerable is that their enemies, like the Bounty Hunter, are a hundred times worse.  There is a weird religious subtext running through the entire movie and the ending will leave you wondering whether the director of Jason and the Argonauts was actually calling for armed revolution.  Charley One-Eye is uneven and it goes on for at least thirty minutes too long but it is still an intriguingly strange movie.

One final note: Charley One-Eye was produced by none other than David Frost, the British media personality whose post-presidency interview with Richard Nixon was recreated in Frost/Nixon.

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