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Western films, from silent to today

The Secret of Captain O’Hara (1968)

The Secret of Captain O'Hara (1968) posterGerman Cobos is Capt. Richard O’Hara and his cavalry patrol rescues pretty Mary McQueen (Marta Padovan) from an attack on a wagon train.

Pretty soon, Mary will deepen the grudge between O’Hara and Maj. Harvey Brooks (Mariano Vidal Molina), a fellow officer at Fort San Antonio.

Seems the two attended West Point together. During the Civil War, they served together, with O’Hara earning the higher rank. At least until the Union defeat at the Battle of Rapidan.

Following an inquiry into that defeat, O’Hara was demoted. Brooks was the key witness against him.

Mary is bound for Fort San Antonio as Brooks’ fiance, but quickly grows a fondness for O’Hara, who is admired by his men and preaches caution and fairness in dealing with the Apache.

Of course, Brooks has the higher rank now. And tension between the men grow when Col. Patterson becomes ill and leaves Fort San Antonio under Brooks’ command.

Meanwhile, Apache Chief Running Deer has died, leaving his more hot-headed son Flaming Arrow as the tribe’s leader. And his sight is set on Fort San Antonio, especially after Brooks’ leaves it lightly defended while riding off with most of his troop in search for a decisive victory over the Apache.

Review:

Nothing that happens over the course of these 90 minutes will surprise fans of Westerns. Basically, all the cavalry vs. Indian cliches are here — right down to the crooked Indian trader / gunrunner (Frank Brana as Henry). Those cliches have just been transplanted to Europe.

Oh, Capt. O’Hara drinks a little too much. And he’s more pessimistic than John Wayne’s Capt. York from “Fort Apache.” But as soon as Sgt. Taylor starts singing his praises to Mary you just know he isn’t the “yellow belly” Brooks would like to have us believe.

That said, the film is directed with more elan than most B Westerns being made in Hollywood at the same time. And it includes a spirited and large-scale attack on Fort San Antonio with all fresh footage, something you’d never find in a mid-60s Western produced by — oh, say, A.C. Lyles.

The cast also includes Jose Canalejas as the faithful cavalry scout and Charo Tejeiro as Juana, a pretty Comanche woman who lives at the fort. She loves O’Hara, but realizes he doesn’t feel the same way.

Juana is also involved in a strange twist at the end of the film. You’re likely to be thinking, ‘she did that, and she’s allowed to ride off into the sunset?’ Interestingly, she doesn’t “do that” in the Spanish cut of the film.

Directed by:
Arturo Ruiz Castillo

Cast:
German Cobos … Capt. Richard O’Hara
Marta Padovan … Mary McQueen
Mariano Vidal Molina … Maj. Harvey Brooks
Frank Brana … Henry
Charo Tejero … Juana
Jose Canalejas … Wills
Tomas Blanco … Col. Robert Patterson
Rafael Albaicin … Flaming Arrow
Angel Ter … Sgt. Taylor
Jorge Vico … Lt. Miller
Montserrat Gerrer … Mrs. Patterson
Alfonso de la Vega … Sgt. Douglas

Runtime: 99 min. (87 min)

aka:
Il segreto di Ringo
El secreto del capitán O’Hara

Memorable lines:

Sgt. Douglas: “I don’t understand women. They can sacrifice almost anything for a man and then, afterward, make his life miserable.”
Mary McQueen: “Are you married, sergeant?”
Douglas: “Three times so far. So see, I speak from experience.”

Maj. Brooks to Mary: “O’Hara’s a traitor, a friend to the Indians. You know what the men call him? Captain Yellow Belly.”

Juana, as a cavalry patrol rides out: “Which one of the two are you worried about? The captain loves you too, very much.”
Mary McQueen: “How do you know?”
Juana: “Because there’s no truth more bitter than that which we don’t wish to know, no secret more easily found out than that which hurts us. I love Richard as well. Now leave me. Juana has spoken too much already.”

Mary McQueen: “I have a lot of faith in you.”
Captain Richard O’Hara: “Well, don’t say it too loudly. Everyone else will think you’re crazy.”

Trivia:

If you remember the opening credits by the end of the film, you’re likely to be confused because they show someone nailing up a wanted poster for someone named Ringo. Only there’s no Ringo in the film. And German Cobos’ character isn’t wanted; he’s already been demoted for his supposed misdeed during the Civil War.

That said, foreign posters for this film will make you wonder if an entire subplot wasn’t eliminated when the film was cut to 87 minutes. They depict town scenes and Mexican bandits you won’t find in the 87-minute version of the film. Or was that just deceptive marketing to capitalize on the Ringo craze? There’s also a top-billed Johnny Harrison in the Italian print. Huh?

Marta Padovan also played the female lead in the 1966 Spaghetti “Ruthless Colt of the Gringo” and went on to a long career on TV shows in Spain.

This marked the only lead role in a Western for German Cobos. But in 1973, he was top-billed in a film called “Sexy Cat” that also starred Mariano Vidal Molina — Brooks in this film — and Spaghetti veteran Dyanik Zurakowska. It’s about turning a comic book hero named Sexy Cat into a TV series. Then the cast and crew start turning up dead.

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