Chato's Land

Chato's Land is a 1972 western Technicolor film directed by Michael Winner, starring Charles Bronson and Jack Palance.

Chato's Land
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Winner
Produced byMichael Winner
Screenplay byGerry Wilson
StarringCharles Bronson
Jack Palance
Music byJerry Fielding
CinematographyRobert Paynter
Edited byMichael Winner
Scimitar Films
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • May 25, 1972 (1972-05-25) (United States)
Running time
100 minutes
CountryUnited States

In Apache country, the half-native Chato shoots the local sheriff in self-defence, and finds himself hunted by a posse of ex-Confederates, who rape his wife and leave her hogtied in the open as a bait to trap him. Ignoring the bait, Chato uses his superior fieldcraft skills to lure each of the posse to their death.

The film can be classified in the revisionist Western genre, which was at its height at the time, with a dramatising of racism and oblique referencing of the Vietnam war. The original screenplay was written by Gerry Wilson.


The film opens as the half-Apache Chato orders a drink at a bar. The bartender ignores him and serves the local sheriff who has arrived after Chato. The sheriff calls Chato a "redskin" and tells him the bar is for whites only. He moves behind Chato while hurling a stream of abuse at him. The sheriff's taunts escalate, and he draws his gun while saying that he is going to kill Chato. Chato whirls around and shoots the sheriff in the gut, killing him, in self-defense. He rides out of town on his Appaloosa.

Former Confederate officer, Captain Quincey Whitmore, dons his Confederate Army uniform, and gathers a posse, mainly composed of other former Confederate soldiers and Southern/Confederate sympathizers. As Captain Whitmore and his posse ride across the country, it grows in number at each stop. It includes local ranchers and townspeople, along with a Mexican Mestizo ranch hand employed by one of these recruited ranchers, who is used as a scout and tracker.

Chato calmly watches the posse's progress, staying one step ahead of them. From a hilltop, he fires on them, drawing them into an ill-advised ascent. As the posse struggles to climb the hill, Chato descends the other side and scatters their horses. He seems generally sanguine about their pursuit. At one point, he kills a rattlesnake, chops off its rattle, and wraps the rattle in the snake's skin. He puts the bundle in his coat pocket without explanation.

As the posse continues to be outwitted by Chato, their divisions become more pronounced. When they come across a set of empty wickiups the posse gleefully burn them, led by the Hooker brothers.

In a valley, Chato spies a woman filling a water jug. As they smile at each other, it becomes clear that she is his wife. He greets his son and gives him the rattlesnake toy (which we realize that Chato must have fashioned earlier, from the rattlesnake that he had killed) from his pocket. They enter Chato's hogan, happy to be reunited. Chato resumes his normal life, busying himself with breaking horses during the day.

The posse eventually discovers his home, and the Hooker brothers brutally gang rape Chato's wife, and then hogtie her naked outside the hogan as bait, in order to lead Chato in a trap. Perceiving the threat of ambush, Chato and his full Apache kinsman devise a plan, and Chato's kinsman creates a diversion that allows Chato to rescue his wife. During the confusion, Chato's kinsman is shot and wounded. The sadistic members of the posse hang him upside down and set him on fire while he is still alive. Disgusted by such barbarity, Whitmore shoots the burning man through the head, putting him out of his misery.

As he prepares to avenge his dead friend and his violated wife, Chato abandons the dress of his European side, and dons the native moccasins and loin cloth of the Apache side of his heritage. He lures the posse members into individual traps, killing them one at a time, starting with the youngest Hooker brother, who has developed an obsessive fixation on kidnapping the woman that he had raped for himself, and goes ahead, alone, to take Chato's wife away from him, presumably after having killed Chato. After they find the younger brother staked out and dead, the posse grows more fractious, and the insidious evil of the remaining Hooker brothers, and the pressure of realizing that the posse is no longer the hunter, but, rather, the prey, rips away their unit cohesion, until they begin to turn on each other, and the sadistic Hooker brothers murder Whitmore and the peaceful holdouts, who have tried to turn back. Chato picks off the remaining members of the posse, right down to the last man, whom Chato allows to flee, in terror, alone and horseless, without supplies, deeper into Apache territory, as Chato impassively sits his horse and watches.



The film was shot in Almeria, Spain.[1]


Critical response

When released Vincent Canby panned the film calling it a "...long, idiotic revenge Western...It was directed by Michael Winner in some lovely landscapes near Almeria, Spain. Just about everybody gets shot or knifed, and one man dies after Chato lassos him with a live rattlesnake."[2]

TV Guide, echoing Canby, wrote, "A great cast is primarily wasted in this gory, below-average, and overlong film. The script could have been written for a silent film to fit with Bronson's traditional man-of-few-words image (in fact, more grunts and squint than words)...As usual Bronson must rely upon the conviction that there are viewers who find silence eloquent."[3]

A more recent Film4 review was more positive observing that Chato's Land "...though no masterpiece, is an effective and frequently disturbing piece of filmmaking. A tough, cynical western with well-paced direction and a fine performance from Charles Bronson and the cast of vagabonds out to get him. A quality film from Michael Winner."[4]

1970s political overtones

Film critic Graeme Clark discussed an often discussed contemporary political theme of the film when it was released in the early 1970s, writing, "There are those who view this film as an allegory of the United States' presence in Vietnam, which was contemporary to this storyline, but perhaps that is giving the filmmakers too much credit. Granted, there is the theme of the white men intruding on a land where they are frequently under fire, and ending up humiliated as a result, but when this was made it was not entirely clear that America would be on the losing side as the conflict may have been winding down, but was by no means over."[5]

Film4, is more assertive in their review, "The cruelty of the posse is well conveyed by an able (and supremely ugly) group of actors headed up by Jack Palance and Simon Oakland. Some of their acts, such as the brutal rape of Chato's wife and the burning of an Indian village, have an unpleasant edge which Winner does not shy away from. Parallels with the contemporary situation in Vietnam can't have been lost on the original audience.[6]

Media Releases

It was released on Region One DVD in 2001[7] and on Region Two in 2004.[8]


A CD of the film's soundtrack was released on January 15, 2008 by Intrada Records (Intrada Special Collection Vol. 58).[9]

Track listing

See also


  1. A Guessing Game With Frank Sinatra. Los Angeles Times 14 June 1971: e20.
  2. Canby, Vincent. The New York Times, film review, June 8, 1972. Last accessed: May 3, 2011.
  3. TV Guide, film review. Last accessed: May 3, 2011.
  4. Film4 web site. Last accessed: May 3, 2011.
  5. Graeme Clark. The Spinning Image, film review. Last accessed: May 3, 2011.
  6. Film4 web site. Last accessed: May 3, 2011.
  7. Chato's Land at
  8. Chato's Land at
  9. SoundtrackNet web site. Last accessed: February 17, 2011.
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