Director: José Briz Méndez (as Gilbert Lee Kay)
Warner Archive Collection

It’s “Shatner VS Shatner” as the beloved actor takes a hiatus from his signature role as Captain Kirk in the landmark “Star Trek” series with a paid vacation to Spain to portray the challenging dual-role of mixed-race twin brothers in the Old West.

Notah (William Shatner, KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS), the heartless, anti “white man” leader of a tribe of Comanche Indians, ambushes a stagecoach killing everyone onboard except pretty saloon girl Kelly (Rossana Yanni, FRANKENSTEIN’S BLOODY TERROR) whom he viciously rapes. Notah’s half-breed brother Johnny Moon (also Shatner) confronts his brother (who nearly kills him) at his encampment, saves an innocent fellow from the hangman’s noose (killing two trigger-happy baddies in the process) and rides into the town of Rio Honcho where there’s tension between two factions. Most of the town believes that Johnny is actually his crazy brother, with Sheriff Logan (Joseph Cotten, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES) knowing better (as two people cannot be in the same place at the same time) and Kelly also believes he is the scoundrel who raped her until she looks into his eyes. A number of citizens of Rio Honcho succumb to feuding gunfire, and most of the town gains Johnny’s trust, including the sheriff and Kelly, who falls in love with him. But he’s going to have to outdo his brother in a climatic horseback duel which will claim the life of one of them (where Shatner’s Notah keeps raising his hand in an oath as if he was gearing up for the Promise Margarine commercials he’d be appearing in a few years later).

It was common for rugged American TV stars to go to Italy to do spaghetti westerns, including Burt Reynolds and more famously, Clint Eastwood, so here we have another (who is actually Canadian) going to Spain for a similar yet cheaper-made affair. And yes this is one of those films where Shatner looks like Captain Kirk beamed down to a western-style planet while at war with his doppelganger (something like the first season “The Enemy Within” episode of “Star Trek”). Naturally, he looks comfortable as a horse-riding, expert gunslinger constantly running into trouble and winning over his tallleading lady, but his opposite “White Comanche” persona (sporting face paint and a headband) is a hoot! As Notah, Shatner is always shirtless and his hair is conveniently short and blonde to match his twin (so that the two characters can be mixed up and misidentified within the plot). He also does a hilarious Indian call and deliciously overacts as the character, giving a very Kirk-esque speech on top a mountain before his loyal followers. Shot in early 1967 (after the first season of “Star Trek” stopped filming) and released theatrically the following year, WHITE COMANCHE is a film Shatner was proud enough to suggest to NBC that they buy it up and air it on the network, which of course didn’t happen.

Shatner, his legacy, and his self-aware campiness (especially when he’s doing something in the “this I got to see” vein of playing good/evil twins in his prime-time TV heyday) is the reason we’re still talking about this film, and although the production values are not nearly as good as some of its Italian counterparts, it’s still a decent-looking western with enough going on to recommend it. There’s a good amount of action and plenty of violence (namely gunshots to the head furnished with what looks like smears of red house paint), an inappropriately old-fashioned score that’s way too jazzy for a western, such goofs as an actor playing an Indian having his black wig fly off when he’s shot and falling onto a tent, and a respectable turn by top-billed Cotten as the smart and accommodating lawman. One thing for sure, WHITE COMANCHE plays like a “who’s who” of Spanish horror and exploitation actors (and with a wolf continuously howling off-screen here, you would expect Paul Naschy’s “El Hombre Lobo” to pop out at any time). There’s of course the lovely Yanni (who looks to be about an inch or two shorter than her leading man) who would soon appear opposite Naschy in such classics as COUNT DRACULA’S GREAT LOVE and HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE, as well as making appearances in several Jess Franco films. Argentinean-born Perla Cristal (THE AWFUL DR. ORLOF, FURY OF THE WOLFMAN) plays White Fawn, a tough squaw who throws a knife in the back of a deserter to the tribe, and Mariano Vidal Molina (from Naschy flicks such as CURSE OF THE DEVIL and DEVIL’S POSSESSED) who is cast as General Garcia. Most of the supporting players from HORROR EXPRESS appear here, including Barta Barri (WEREWOLF SHADOW), Vicente Roca (THE BLOODY JUDGE) and Victor Israel (THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED) as a well-dressed bounty hunter who happens to be a very lousy shot. Gene Reyes, who you’ll remember as the ridiculous-looking mummy in the multi monster romp ASSIGNMENT TERROR, here playing another Indian Comanche.

For years, WHITE COMANCHE has been in the public domain, so there have been numerous VHS and DVD releases over the years from companies such as Synergy Entertainment, Alpha Video and Platinum Disc. Released theatrically in the U.S. by International Producers Corporation, the film has somehow fallen into the RKO library and therefore distributed on home video by Warner Bros. Knowing its PD notoriety, it’s surprising that the company would even release it, even if it’s a made-on-demand disc as part of their Warner Archive Collection, and this of course is the best it’s ever looked. The film is presented in a 1.66:1 widescreen anamorphic presentation, and has nice colors and very good detail for a standard def presentation. There is some debris and occasional lines on the source element, but it’s mostly a clean and pleasing image. The post-synced mono dialogue (only the real voices of Shatner and Cotten can be heard) is serviceable, with only occasional scratchiness. No extras or subtitle options are included on the disc. (George R. Reis)