DATELINE: Have Horse, Will Travel.
Orson, Horse Optional.
When we saw the listing, it was beyond credulity! Can it be that Orson Welles made a Western? Even worse than that, the film is listed as a “tortilla-Western,” made in 1969.
The film is called Tepepa. It would appear that the film never made it to the United States for release—probably to Orson’s great relief.
Well, if there was a chance to see Orson on a horse, we needed to view it and give a report to faithful fans. No, he did not direct this Spanish-Italian production. It was made when he took all kinds of roles for the money to bankroll his own films. This was done for a few dollars more without Sergio Leone.
You cannot expect much—or have we grown too cynical? The film is a dubbed mess, some of it in English, some in Spanish, and some in Italian. Dubbing was optional.
Welles does not appear on a horse. The tortilla setting is Mexico, beautifully filmed in clean, clear settings. And, the Western is actually set in 1920. This gave Welles the chance to ride around in an antique red automobile, obviously a man of the future.
He plays some kind of prison commandant, or colonel of the villainous order. He is the foil to Tomas Milian who plays some kind of revolutionary folk-hero in the Che Guevara mode.
The movie’s director reported that Welles was most disagreeable on the set—and particularly nasty to his costar. Yet, they had merely a few scenes together. Mostly, Welles appeared opposite blond John Steiner who played a British doctor who also wants to kill the revolutionary hero who raped his girlfriend.
One of the main characters is a Mexican boy who serves as a ping-pong ball between the other actors. As for Welles, you’d expect he’d phone in his scenes and act with nonchalance. Though he mumbles some lines in disdain, he actually gives a nuanced performance, as if he can’t help himself. He clearly enjoys playing the baddie and savors each moment. He chomps on a stogie and is half-apologetic for his evil.
No, this isn’t Citizen Kane,and it’s not even For a Fistful of Dollars, but it is an hysterical historical gem with Orson Welles. We hooted openly.