Two weeks ago it seemed unlikely that a dumber monster movie than "The Car" would turn up soon. Suddenly there's "The White Buffalo," a flanking maneuver in Dino De Laurentiis' three - stage master plan to outdraw "Jaws."
The first stage, the remake of "King Kong," ran out of gas $150 million shy of the "Jaws" record. "The White Buffalo," at several theaters, is destined for almost instant obscurity in domestic release, a consummation that can't come a minute too soon for director J. Lee Thompson, star Charles Bronson and everyone else in an exposed position on this fiasco. De Laurentiis may consider it an accomplishment if the third stage, a maritime chase thriller about a killer whale called "Orca" (oddly enough the name of the boat owned by Robert Shaw in "Jaws"), is even released.
The De Laurentiis master plan looks more than ever like an unconscious professional death wish. The feckless pursuit of "Jaws" may turned him into a permanent joke, a movie - mogul caricature of Captain Ahah.
"The White Buffalo" opens with ominous musical undercurrents un the string section and murky vistas of an obviously fake snow - covered mountain setting. The premise, it appears, is "Jaws" a few thousand feet above sea level. One is immediately alerted to expect a production that will be distinguished by slavishly derivative notions, cheapskate illusions and unsightly photography. The frightful sound recording which reduces much of the dialogue to mush, doesn't become aggravating for a scene or two.
When the camera ceases skulking near - sightedly among the papiermache boulders and settles upon the monstrous apparition itself, an albino Woods Buffalo, the movie is over before its scarcely begun. It must have been sheer wishful thinking that sustained De Laurentiis & Company in the belief that this sad, shaggy little miniature could alarm anyone. The producer under a white sheet chanting "boogie - boogie - boogie" would have been more effective.
The actors, no doubt unaware of how preporterous they would look in combat with such an unimposing beast, have been lured into pretending that something or other is at stake in pursuing and killing it. As Wild Bill Hickok traveling under an alias, Bronson seeks to purge himself of nightmares in which he confronts a charging white buffalo. As chief Crazy Horse traveling under an alias, Will Sampson seeks revenge on a white buffalo that stomped half his village to death, his own child conspicuously included.
After establishing a nodding, distant, unintentionally Junny acquaintance by sing language, which they simultaneously translate into English, these legends join forces for the climactic showdown.
Perhaps their quest had a mythic significance in Richard Sale's original novel that has somehow eluded his screenplay in which it's impossible to believe that the movie heros are doing anything more than beating on a dead prop.
Hickok's nightmares are said to have been partly induced by a venereal infection that also affected his eyesight, a point obscurred in the movie, where Bronson wears dark goggles and alludes to sexual impotence but one tends to interpret the former an a stylish affection and the latter as a feeble pitch for sympathy. Who can keep a straight face when Bronson is required to resist Kim Novak's advances by confessing mournfully. "Sometime back your scarlet sisters dosed me proper; I'm not about to ride a high horse again"?
Occasionally the garbled sound will clear up long enough to permit one to get an earful of similar smalltalk. The dialogue reflects an attempt to be pithy and idiomatic that has gone riduculously astray. It's just as well that most of the lines comes out something like this: "I heerd you had warmle - wimmle margle - burble."