Oscar winner Burt Lancaster (Birdman of Alcatraz, From Here to Eternity) gives a powerhouse performance as an aging Mexican-American lawman who erupts into a one-man army in this bold saga of retribution and redemption. Valdez is Coming boldly recreates America's western frontier - a place where life was sometimes cheap... but honor was always priceless.
When it comes to keeping the peace, former frontier sheriff Bob Valdez has always been the voice of reason in a sea of chaos. But Frank Tanner (Jon Cypher) is a very different sort of man: greedy, impulsive and rotten to the core. So when Tanner provokes a shoot-out which results in the death of an innocent man, Valdez orders him to provide financial support for the widow. But when Tanner not only refuses but also laughs in his face, Valdez dusts off his old uniform, straps on his guns and vows to exact justice and vengeance at any cost.
"Tell them, Valdez is coming."
When you think of a performer with a large catalog of films under their belt, you naturally go into each of their films with a certain set of expectations. Tom Hanks is the eternal gentleman in every film. Charles Bronson always brought his rock-hard silent masculine persona to every movie. Burt Lancaster always brought an introspective physicality to each of his roles - even when he's playing a battle-hardened man hellbent on a mission of respect and honor. 1971's Valdez Is Coming features Lancaster in a role well suited for his temperament and is the closest thing he ever came to a blood and guts 70s revenge exploitation film.
Bob Valdez (Burt Lancaster) is an honest man, a man of honor and respect. He's also a peaceful man, someone who would rather talk out a problem than draw his gun. As a sheriff's deputy, he was part of a posse that caught and killed the wrong man. Now all he wants is to do right by the man's widow, an Apache woman, by pooling some money - just a few hundred dollars - so she can return to her people. But the man responsible for organizing the posse in the first place, Frank Tanner (Jon Cypher), doesn't see how the woman is any of his responsibility. After Bob is beaten and lashed to a makeshift cross and forced to walk back to town by Tanner and his men, Bob's life of peace is over. What Tanner didn't know was that Bob was a skilled man with a gun, and now this pissed off Mexican-American has an entire arsenal at his disposal and is ready and able to exact his own brand of vengeance.
Based on the Elmore Leonard novel, Valdez Is Coming is filled with the late novelist's trademark colorful characters, slick dialogue, and sharp pacing. Adapted by Roland Kibbee and David Rayfiel and directed by Edwin Sherin, this film is probably best explained as a cross between Bronson's Chato's Land and Newman's Hombre (also based on an Elmore Leonard novel). All three films feature a half-breed hardened and weary man capable of enacting terrific violence and pain on those who wrong him, but would much rather live a peaceful life. All of these men are pursued blindly by a man whose own unchecked ego and self-righteousness will get himself and his men into heaps of trouble over a petty squabble. Each of these films is very similar but very different in approach. Where Chato's Land aimed for a more rough and tough violent spectacle, Hombre took the more introspective road using violence as punctuation to thoughtful purposeful musings about morality.
If there is an earnest and valid criticism to be made against Valdez Is Coming it is that this film plays things a little too safe in the middle ground between the thoughtful Hombre and the gleefully violent Chato's Land. While Edwin Sherin did an amiable job steering the ship on this one, it's hard not to wonder how much better it would have been in the hands of someone like Delmer Daves, Sam Peckinpah, or had gone full-tilt exploitation violence with J. Lee Thompson behind the camera. It's hard to place where this film should fall and much of that has to do with Lancaster in the lead. Don't get me wrong, he's great and his Bob can be a vicious and hard man and it's great to see Burt getting a little dirty. But at the same time, it would have been better if he'd gone all the way and had truly been a force past the point of rational reckoning. Here he's still to a degree the courteous but capable Lancaster he always is. He's not fully playing against type in a way that he could have fully embraced and that leaves the final film feeling a little like a missed opportunity.
While imperfect, I've got to say that this movie is a hell of a lot of fun. If you're a fan of Elmore Leonard's books and short stories, you'll feel right at home with Valdez Is Coming. The front end may be a tad slow as it's all build up to establish the major players like Bob, Tanner, Tanner's wife played by Susan Clark, and Tanner's insane hired-gun Davis played terrifically by Richard Jordan. But once that A plot kicks in and Bob is wronged, it's a hell of a great moment when Lancaster opens a dusty old trunk chest to reveal his old army uniform and an arsenal of weaponry. Everything comes together when Lancaster fires on poor Hector Elizondo and makes the dying man his messenger that "Valdez is coming." From then on the film goes full blood-pumping action and adventure with that intricate mix of personality and gravitas that only Elmore Leonard could bring allowing Lancaster to play one of the grittiest characters of his career.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Valdez Is Coming blasts its way onto Blu-ray thanks to Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case and comes with a booklet containing cover artwork for other studio classics releases. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Valdez Is Coming makes its entry onto Blu-ray with a rough around the edges but still very, very good 1.85:1 1080p transfer. When it gets right down to the thing, this transfer looks to have been minted from a dated source. Grain is apparent and gives rise to terrific details in close-ups and there are some beautiful establishing shots. However, there are stretches of the film that appear on the softer side of things. Colors are strong through most of the film with healthy flesh tones, but for those cast members wearing brown makeup to make them appear more ethnic, they stand out like a sore thumb. Occasionally some of the colors can appear a bit faded, but nothing too serious. Bright red blood and other primaries like Bob's Blue uniform have terrific pop. Black levels are strong giving the image a terrific sense of depth, especially during outside sequences. The print source is in relatively good shape, with only mild speckling. There is a slight bit of edge enhancement, but nothing too terrible. All around for a film of this vintage, this isn't a half-bad transfer.
Valdez Is Coming arrives with a solid English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout - that is when a couple of white actors aren't chewing too much scenery with thick fake Mexican accents. Sound effects have a lovely snap to them and gunshots bring a great thunderous low tone to the mix. The Charles Gross score also works to round out the mix and keep things lively without ever feeling stuffed or too loaded. Atmospherics are a bit restrained during indoor scenes. Those few moments almost sound dubbed in, but outdoor scenes enjoy plenty of space and distance - especially when Bob's big buffalo rifle fires, the echo trail is pretty fantastic. Imaging is a bit front and center, but there are enough spacing and movement to make this a worthwhile stereo mix. Levels are spot on and don't need any adjusting.
Valdez Is Coming arrives with a middling assortment of bonus features. The only real extra here is an audio commentary featuring film historian Jim Hemphill - and it's a worthwhile listen - I just would have loved some interviews or something to make this set of features a bit more robust.
Audio Commentary featuring Film Historian Jim Hemphill
Original Theatrical Trailer (HD 2:52)
Barquero Trailer (HD 2:36)
The White Buffalo Trailer (HD 1:51)
The Scalphunters Trailer (SD 3:13)
Billy Two Hats Trailer (HD 3:59)
Monte Walsh Trailer (SD 3:20)
While I would have liked to have seen a harder edge to it, I can't deny that Valdez Is Coming was a solid western. Based on an Elmore Leonard story and featuring one of Burt Lancaster's grittiest performances, it's one hell of a revenge/adventure that delivers the goods. Kino Lorber Studio Classics has done a great job bringing this film to Blu-ray with a strong video transfer and a terrific audio mix. Bonus features are an audio commentary and a bunch of trailers, but that commentary is well worth the listen. If you like your westerns featuring heroes who don't mind getting a little blood and dirt on their hands, keep Valdez Is Coming on your radar. Recommended.