Red Sun sounds like a great idea, an old-fashioned Western triangle between
a good guy, a bad guy, and an unpredictable rogue with a touch of nobility.
The recipe is spiced with some foreign flavors since the three leads are tough
guys from three different continents. The bad guy is Alain Delon, who has an
amazingly good grasp of the nuances of American speech and mannerisms. The
good guy is Toshiro Mifune. The wisecracking loose cannon is Charles Bronson.
Bronson and Delon start the film by leading an outlaw gang intent on
relieving a mail train of some gold. To make matters more complicated, perhaps
too complicated, the train is guarded by the U.S. Army, and is attacked by
Comanches during the robbery, so people are blowing each other apart in all
directions. When the dust has cleared, Bronson just wants to get the money and
get on the road, but Delon ends up killing several people needlessly,
including an emissary of the Japanese delegation to Washington, which had a
private car on the train. Delon also takes a shine to a gold-embossed samurai
sword intended as a gift to the President, and steals it from the Japanese
ambassador, even though the booty from the hold-up is enough for him to live
on forever. Needless to say, the kingpin samurai (Mifune) swears revenge
against Delon. Delon double-crosses Bronson at the end of the robbery and
leaves him for dead, but our man refuses to die, so revenge-bent Mifune makes
Bronson lead him to the official outlaw lair. The film also features that
rootin'-tootin' Western buckaroo Ursula Andress as a scheming prostitute who
provides the connection between Delon and Bronson.
I know it sounds like a great premise for a Western, and it should have
been, since it was directed by the man who did three of the first four James
Bond movies. It has plenty of action and cross-cultural wisecracks, and the
gorgeous Ursula Andress naked, so it should have functioned as the perfect
setting for a "mismatched buddy" picture, which is one of Hollywood's most
It just doesn't work out that well in execution. After the train robbery,
which is a good sequence, the rest of the film plods, and basically consists
of a series of unlikely plot twists in which the hooker and the Comanches
inevitably pick the right moment to do what is necessary to advance the plot.
Every time the white people are about to settle their scores, the Comanches
(obviously some Mediterranean guys in wigs) appear out of nowhere to change
the equation, and then to circle around everyone in the official mad whooping
frenzy of all Hollywood Indians, riding in the open, acting dutifully as
target practice for the others, who then resume their intrigues when all the
Comanches have been dispatched to the Happy Hunting Ground. There is no
character development for any of the Comanches, nor are they even recognizable
as separate individuals. They are all simply anonymous, convenient devices and
their attacks just slow down the development of the central conflict.
Sometimes their appearance is so obviously a forced plot device that its just
downright silly. Two examples:
* When Bronson is in an inescapable scrape, captured by the baddies and
about to be plugged full of hot lead by one of Delon's henchmen, an
unexpected (and unheard) Comanche attack gives Bronson an unlikely reprieve
just as the henchman's hammer is cocked. This is the only time in the film
when the Comanches appeared without their customary war whoops. I
suppose that could be explained by a stealth tactic, but what can't be
explained is that they were not sneaking up on foot. There were dozens of
them and they were all riding hard, yet none of the West-toughened white men
(nor we in the audience) heard the thundering hooves! Fortunately for the white men, the
Comanches followed up their tricky surprise attack with the obligatory
tactic of circling around in the open while whooping and waiting to get
picked off by white men shooting from behind proper cover. No wonder they
lost the West. I wonder why they didn't use their red war paint to create
bull's-eyes on their chests.
* Bronson holds Andress, Delon's woman, as a hostage to trade for the gold
and sword. When Andress escapes, it appears that all is lost for Bronson
because he has lost all his negotiating leverage, but the Comanches
conveniently capture Andress before she can reach the outlaws' hideout, thus
allowing Bronson to rescue her and bring her back under his control.
As you can see, the Comanches functioned as a lazy screenwriter's deus
ex machina, completely irrelevant to the main plot conflict, but somehow
showing up conveniently every time the script painted something or somebody into a corner.
Other elements of the script are just as weak. Ursula Andress's predictable
betrayals get old after the first one (fool me once ...), and the film goes
almost dead right after the exciting opening sequence, slowing to a crawl when
Mifune and Bronson spend way too much time just strolling through the
uninhabited open expanses of the West on foot until they finally encounter
some other humans. The film's main assets were obviously the three iconic
tough guys, and the screenwriters needed to bring them together sooner and
The best thing in the film is Mifune, whose precise use of his sword makes
for some excellent fight sequences. There's one terrific early scene in which
Bronson, then still a reluctant ally, tries to break free from Mifune's grasp.
The unarmed Bronson shoves the samurai down an embankment in order to buy
enough time to fashion a club from a tree branch. When Mifune reappears at the
top of the hill,
a newly prepared Bronson takes three mighty swings at him with the makeshift weapon, and each
time Mifune parries the attack with a precise swing of his sword which leaves
Bronson with a smaller club. After the third thrust and parry, the American is
left with nothing in his hand but a tiny stump. That was a great scene because
of its imagination and humor, and because of Mifune's expert swordsmanship,
but most of the film just consists of lazy and stock Western movie formulas.