BAD MAN’S RIVER and CAPTAIN APACHE — Lee Van Cleef Leads This Pair Of 1971 Eurowesterns

Kino Lorber Studio Classics released both Bad Man’s River and Captain Apache on October 6.

Bad Man’s River and Captain Apache are a pair of 1971 Eurowesterns (essentially spaghetti westerns, but with the distinction of being more Spanish productions than Italian) originally released by Scotia International Films, and both starring genre favorite Lee Van Cleef. Both films, which are rated PG, have a relatively light and comedic tone, in keeping with the post-Trinity trends of the waning genre of the time.


The first thing you’re likely to notice about Bad Man’s River upon glancing at its poster or cover art is the incredible cast led by Lee Van Cleef, Gina Lollobrigida, and James Mason (and still more European stars, if you are familiar with them). Unfortunately, the film is rather middling despite the heavy star-power.

After pulling off a successful bank heist, demolitions expert Roy King (Van Cleef) encounters ravishing beauty Alicia (Lollobrigida), a fellow passenger on his train. Confident and flush with cash, he successfully woos her and they are married in very short order. So short, in fact, that before the train even reaches its destination, his new bride has stolen his ill-gotten wealth by having him committed to an insane asylum. Bad Man’s River begins with this breathless whirlwind of escalating activity and within the first dozen or so minutes establishes this bafflingly-paced preface. And if you think John Woo abuses freeze-frames, I guarantee — you ain’t seen nothing.

Some months later, King has made his escape and re-encounters his “wife” who, though still married to King, has remarried to erudite gentleman Francisco Paco Montero (James Mason). What follows is a comedy of errors and distrust. Montero is at the center of a scheme to purloin a million dollars, and everyone wants a piece.

This story takes place against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution, creating many opportunities for shootouts and shifting alliances along the way. Alicia is motivated by wealth and power, and rather hilariously attaches herself to whichever husband has (temporarily) gained the upper hand, and one point the love triangle even becomes a love quadrilateral when a powerful General enters the picture. Depending on your view, she’s either the strong, smart heroine in a world of squabbling men, or a sneaky and unfaithful opportunist — but either way, she’s certainly the craftiest of the bunch.

Bad Man’s River has a cute story and some cool action beats (including an inspired scene in which a gatling gun mows down an entire building), but it’s also incredibly cheesy and often annoyingly edited with the aforementioned freeze frames and some out-of-place music including the atrocious theme song. Lee Van Cleef starred in a number of great westerns, but this is not one of them.


Disliking Bad Man’s River was a bummer, but thankfully Captain Apache is a stylish and often surprising delight.

The film opens with what could best be described as a music video set to scenes from the film. I couldn’t believe my ears when the film’s incredibly catchy theme song was sung (well, spoken in macho rhyming lines, anyway) by none other than Mr. Van Cleef himself — and it’s legitimately awesome. I was immediately hooked by the groovy opening and was ready to take in everything that followed.

Van Cleef, of course, plays the title character “Captain Apache”, so-called because he’s a Native American who joined the Union Army and became a formidable military officer. The idea of Van Cleef (who is of mixed European descent) playing an American Indian might cause one to bristle, but he does a great job with it and performs the role both admirably and reverently. With his gaunt, rugged features, dark complexion, and — get this — a rare clean shaven appearance, he even looks the part.

The film’s instigating event seems pulled right from Citizen Kane. A murdered Indian Commissioner’s cryptic dying words are “April morning”, and Captain Apache is assigned to investigate. Every lead he follows turns into a dead end (sometimes literally), and he’s not the only one interested in the meaning of “April morning”. Other interested parties include a robber baron and his dimwit henchmen, a racist hellfire preacher, and a pair of flamboyant gunmen dressed like Willy Wonka.

Mysteries can get pretty heady but Captain Apache never loses itself in a labyrinth of piecing clues together. This is, after all, the sort of lighthearted film where the hero can deck four attackers at once with the brim of his hat, or rudely wolf down his food while pretending to pay attention to the beautiful woman who invited him to dinner.

And sing his own theme song.

The Package

Catalogue title powerhouse Kino Lorber Studio Classics released Bad Man’s River and Captain Apache on October 6. Because of their similarities I’m reviewing both Blu-rays together, but they are in fact two separate releases.

The discs are very similar in quality and presentation. Both have nice picture quality with a pleasing amount of grain, but also have the same issue of some mild horizontal wobble. When it happens it looks something like if the camera were bumped, only much more subtle — shifting by just a few pixels. This is my first time viewing either film so I don’t know if this peculiarity exists in other versions or was introduced in these particular scans. It’s not the sort of thing most people would notice, but as it happens, I did notice it, so I’m mentioning it here.

And in case there were any question, the discs feature English language presentations — no Spanish or Italian tracks, nor any subtitles.

Special Features and Extras

Both discs feature the exact same bonus content: a pair of trailers for two more Lee Van Cleef westerns also available from KL: Sabata and Barquero (review).


Sabata (1:37)
Barquero (2:36)

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:
Bad Man’s River — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]
Captain Apache — [Blu-ray] | [DVD] | [Instant]

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