Cast & Crew
In 1843 Texas Ranger Jake Cutter arrests gambler Paul Regret in Galveston and heads for Louisiana. There Paul is wanted for killing a man in a pistol duel. En route, Paul catches Jake off guard, clouts him with a shovel, and makes his escape. Jake returns to Ranger headquarters and is ordered to impersonate a gun smuggler in order to ferret out the secret stronghold of the Comancheros, a band of white renegades selling liquor and guns to the marauding Comanches. While stopping off at a small town, Jake again runs into Paul and again takes him into custody. After helping some ranchers ward off an Indian attack, the two men reach the Comancheros' hideout, where Paul encounters Pilar, an adventuress he knew and loved in Galveston. Aware that Jake is a Ranger, Pilar decides to join him and Paul in their fight against her father, Graile, the Comanchero leader. Early one morning, they sneak out of the stronghold and set fire to the gun powder magazines. Before they can reach safety, however, they are attacked by bloodthirsty Comanches, but the Rangers ride to the rescue and repulse the attack. After saying goodbye to Pilar and Paul, Jake rides off into the sunset.
Guinn "big Boy" Williams
George J. Lewis
Jack R. Berne
William H. Clothier
Warren B. Delaplain
James Edward Grant
Louis R. Loeffler
Walter M. Scott
Jack Martin Smith
The project began as a 1953 novel by Paul Wellman. George Stevens bought the rights, intending to produce and direct a film version until he was offered the chance by Twentieth Century-Fox to make The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). As part of that deal, he sold the rights to The Comancheros to the studio. Fox producer David Weisbart proceeded to set it up as a reunion vehicle for Vera Cruz (1954) co-stars Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster, but Weisbart then departed the studio. Soon Cooper and Lancaster were off the picture as well, replaced by John Wayne and Charlton Heston. But after starring in Ben-Hur (1959), Heston wasn't interested in teaming with another star, and he, too, departed this project, replaced by Tom Tryon.
Wayne's enormous stardom--and his new three-picture deal with Fox--gave him the leverage to now steer things. He got Fox to hand the producing reins to his old friend and industry veteran George Sherman, and the directing reins to fellow veteran Michael Curtiz, who was becoming frail and needed the work. Curtiz had directed Wayne in Trouble Along the Way (1953) and even in a bit part in Noah's Ark (1928). Wayne also got his favorite screenwriter, James Edward Grant, onboard to do a rewrite.
When Curtiz received the screenplay, he was on location in Italy shooting Francis of Assisi (1961). He showed the script to actor Stuart Whitman, essentially promising him the role that had already been cast with Tom Tryon. Back in Hollywood, Whitman approached Wayne and convinced him to press Fox to re-cast the role one final time. 1961 would wind up a busy year for Whitman: he acted in four films released that year, one of which, The Mark, would land him a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as a child molester.
In June 1961, The Comancheros finally started shooting in Moab, Utah. The story follows a Texas Ranger (Wayne) who is bringing a gambler (Whitman) to prison, before they find themselves joining forces against outlaws led by Nehemiah Persoff. Whitman and Tom Mankiewicz, a future screenwriter here working as a third assistant director, later reported that Curtiz's health declined noticeably during filming; he usually fell asleep after lunch each day, and he made questionable decisions on the set. Whitman told Wayne biographer Scott Eyman, "Duke could see what was happening, took the reins and took over." When Curtiz injured himself in a fall and was hospitalized, Wayne--who had experience in directing The Alamo (1960)--took over completely. Stunt man Dean Smith said Wayne directed the entire final battle sequence, and Whitman estimated that Wayne directed about half the finished product. Curtiz, meanwhile, learned that he had cancer; he had been diagnosed years earlier but his family and doctor had not informed him. He died in April 1962.
The Comancheros opened on November 1, 1961, and was a sizable hit, earning solid reviews. Look for longtime character actor Guinn "Big Boy" Williams in his final role as Ed McBain. Known mostly for westerns, Williams had his first credit in 1919 and worked with Wayne on several films in the 1920s and '30s: another example of Wayne giving some work to an old friend.
By Jeremy Arnold
AFI Catalogue of Feature Films
Scott Eyman, John Wayne: The Life and Legend
Alan K. Rode, Michael Curtiz
Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)
Elmer Bernstein, who was not related to Leonard Bernstein, was born on August 4, 1922, in New York City. He displayed a talent in music at a very young age, and was given a scholarship to study piano at Juilliard when he was only 12. He entered New York University in 1939, where he majored in music education. After graduating in 1942, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he remained throughout World War II, mostly working on scores for propaganda films. It was around this time he became interested in film scoring when he went to see William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941), a film whose score was composed by Bernard Herrmann, a man Bernstein idolized as the ideal film composer.
Bernstein, who originally intended to be a concert pianist and gave several performances in New York after being discharged from military service, decided to relocate to Hollywood in 1950. He did his first score for the football film Saturday's Hero (1950), and then proved his worth with his trenchant, moody music for the Joan Crawford vehicle Sudden Fear (1952). Rumors of his "communist" leanings came to surface at this time, and, feeling the effects of the blacklist, he found himself scoring such cheesy fare as Robot Monster; Cat Women of the Moon (both 1953); and Miss Robin Caruso (1954).
Despite his politics, Otto Preminger hired him to do the music for The Man With the Golden Arm, (1955) in which Frank Sinatra played a heroin-addicted jazz musician. Fittingly, Bernstein used some memorable jazz motifs for the film and his fine scoring put him back on the map. It prompted the attention of Cecil B. De Mille, who had Bernstein replace the ailing Victor Young on The Ten Commandments (1956). His thundering, heavily orchestrated score perfectly suite the bombastic epic, and he promptly earned his first Oscar® nod for music.
After The Ten Commandments (1956), Bernstein continued to distinguish himself in a row of fine films: The Rainmaker (1956), Sweet Smell of Success (1957), Some Came Running (1958), The Magnificent Seven (a most memorable galloping march, 1960); To Kill a Mockingbird (unique in its use of single piano notes and haunting use of a flute, 1962); Hud (1963); earned a deserved Academy Award for the delightful, "flapper" music for the Julie Andrews period comedy Thoroughly Modern Mille (1967), and True Grit (1969).
His career faltered by the '80s though, as he did some routine Bill Murray comedies: Meatballs (1980) and Stripes (1981). But then director John Landis had Bernstein write the sumptuous score for his comedy Trading Places (1983), and Bernstein soon found himself back in the game. He then graced the silver screen for a few more years composing some terrific pieces for such popular commercial hits as My Left Foot (1989), A River Runs Through It (1992) and The Age of Innocence (1993). Far From Heaven, his final feature film score, received an Oscar® nomination for Best Score in 2002. He is survived by his wife, Eve; sons Peter and Gregory; daughters Emilie and Elizabeth; and five grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Elmer Bernstein (1922-2004)
I got one rule: never go to bed without makin' a profit.- Tully Crow
Monsieur, you may not live long enough to hang.- Ranger Capt. Jake Cutter
Mind a suggestion friend? Trouble with you is you don't enjoy the game for its own rewards: stimulation, relaxation, pleasant association, and interesting conversation.- Paul Regret
Shut your mouth.- Tully Crow
Now that I can look back on it, I can see how bad it was. That's how I came to give myself up.- Ed McBain (gunrunner)
Yep, after breaking one ranger's jaw and slicing up two others with a Bowie knife.- Ranger CO Maj. Henry
Oh, I feel bad about that. I wasn't using my head.- Ed McBain (gunrunner)
You used everything else! Feet, fist and teeth!- Ranger CO Maj. Henry
Yes, sir. But them rangers won me over. If I had just known men like that, I might never have fell in with bad companions.- Ed McBain (gunrunner)
I wonder if they know how much trouble they're in.- Paul Regret
I'll bet he was a man to stand aside from when he was young and limber.- Ranger Capt. Jake Cutter
During much of the shooting, director Michael Curtiz was seriously ill (he died of cancer shortly after the film's release). On the days when Curtiz was too ill to work, star 'John Wayne' took over direction of the film, and when it was completed he told the studio that he did not want credit as co-director and insisted that Curtiz' name alone appear as director.
When John Wayne signs the hotel register as "McBain", one of the names in the register is William H. Clothier, the film's director of photography.
Writer Tom Mankiewicz was a young production assistant on the film. One day, he was wearing a presidential campaign button for John F. Kennedy when star John Wayne asked him to remove it, saying they did not need any "communists" on the show. Mankiewicz removed it and kept his job.
Location scenes filmed in Moab, Utah.
Released in United States Fall November 1961
Michael Curtiz's last film.
Released in United States Fall November 1961