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Chuka (1967)

Rod Taylor plays Chuka, a strong, silent, drifting gunslinger in a Western that was one of the last of its genre. Taylor (Rodlor Inc.) also was a co-producer.

Rod described his goals in making "Chuka":

I've always wanted to do a Western I believed in. And so I jumped at the chance to not only star in it but to protect myself by producing it as well. ...

Another good thing about "Chuka" is that I get to play a part that's the complete antithesis of the leading man types I've been doing. It turns me into a character star and it ought to open up an entirely new range of parts for me to play.

-- "Chuka" pressbook, 1967

Taylor invested an incredible amount of effort in his Western -- filming "Hotel" by day and working on the script for "Chuka" at night. It took him 22 months to put the picture together. A 1967 magazine article described his labor:

Producer Taylor for weeks was confined to a suite of offices at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, with his assistant-producer and secretaries, assembling cast, arguing with agents, manipulating budget and handling the thousand and one details that must be attended to before a set is built or a foot of film exposed.

Evenings and weekends he spent writing and rewriting the script of the novel by Richard Jessup, a western story variation of the "Beau Geste" theme. ... Now producer Taylor has moved from his second-story offices at the studio to the sound stage. ... An ambition that he had nurtured for years had come about. He was producing and starring in his own creation.

-- People (Australia), Jan. 25, 1967

The creation was not the success that Taylor deserved, however. Movie critic Leonard Maltin sums up common commentary about "Chuka":

Good cast is wasted in routine Western about a grizzled gunfighter who tries to promote peace between Indians and some undisciplined soldiers guarding a nearby fort.

That good cast includes Sir John Mills as the unbending commander, Ernest Borgnine as a tough sergeant, James Whitmore as a gruff scout and Luciana Paluzzi as Chuka's long-lost love.

Chuka arrives at a besieged prairie fort and tries to persuade the commander and his troops to overcome their hatred of the Indians and their own squabbling in order to stave off an attack by the starving tribes. Chuka is, in Taylor's words, "a disreputable hero" but a man who proves his heroism repeatedly.

TV Guide calls the movie "a well-paced Western that suffers from the cliches of the genre," and many viewers complain of the too-clean set. But one nevertheless concluded that fans of old Westerns will "get a bang out of this flick."

However, Life magazine reviewer Richard Schickel gave it a glowing summation in the Sept. 29, 1967, issue:

A special word must be said for Rod Taylor, Chuka's co-producer as well as its star. Over a decade, since his first, brief appearance in Giant, he has slowly developed into one of our most dependable and dependably appealing leading men. He does not excite overheated publicity; he is a personality who is simply *there*, working carefully at his craft, content to serve his films rather than himself.

Chuka is one of those films which depend for their appeal not on originality but on an ability to restate the familiar without condescension and without leaning upon the undoubted cliches they contain. This movie does not realize the romantic, almost lyrical possibilities which John Ford captured in his splendid cycle of cavalry westerns two decades ago, and budgetary considerations have apparently forced its makers to skimp somewhat on the large-scale action sequences. Chuka is, nevertheless, a western that satisfies one's never totally satisfied need to hear an oft-told tale well told just one more time.

Roger Ebert also had praise, most of it directed at Rod:

Rod Taylor's "Chuka" is an intelligently acted and directed Western that has been burdened, for some reason, with a plot so melodramatic that the effect is lost.

The loss is a considerable one, because Taylor has given a great deal to his portrayal of Chuka, a professional gunfighter, and other roles in the film are filled with similar care.

Even as a non-fan of Westerns, I found this to be a highly watchable movie. The macho posturing -- and then bonding -- between Rod and Ernest Borgnine is fun to watch. And, unrepentant romantic that I am, I was moved by the emotion in the scene when Chuka's love finally comes to him.



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IMDb // Wikipedia

Pressbook items (PDF)

People magazine article (Australia), Jan. 25, 1967 (PDF)

Roger Ebert review

Life magazine review



In the November 1965 edition of his fan newsletter, "Rod-lore," Rod wrote about his upcoming project and his original casting ideas:

As far as the next project, it looks like I will ... be working right at home here with a great new Western we are preparing called "Chuka" ... It really is turning out to be a great movie script and as the casting looks now, we will probably have Ingrid Bergman, Akim Tamiroff, Rory Calhoun, Trevor Howard and a little surprise package called Sugar Ray Robinson, who will be making his movie debut and I hope on the sidelines he will keep me in good physical shape!



Chuka fight scene on YouTube