White Comanche (1968)

Long time readers will be familiar with the constant headaches and ulcers caused by MMT's Chief Research Intern Kelby and what a disruptive influence he can be around the company's headquarters here in Indiana. With all the debauchery, drunkenness, and criminal activity he's involved with (mostly on the clock, mind you), it's no surprise that I don't trust him any further than I can toss his furry, grungy, unwashed 14-pound ass.

But still, I've decided that 2012 will be a new year and I will try my best to accept Kelby for what he his and embrace the positives he can bring to the MMT (when he bothers to show up for work). To that end, I asked him to pick the next review for Pam and I to do, thinking that some extra responsibility might be just the thing he needs to feel validated and needed. After a few days he returned with a DVD of 1968's White Comanche, plopping it down on my desk in what looked like a beer-stained paper bag with a hand-scrawled picture of a hooker with Spock ears on it. I have a bad feeling about this.

Kelby promises me that this is a real movie, not porn, and, in fact, a rare hidden gem. He claims to have heard of it on some obscure Trekkie fan forum, a long-forgotten movie set during the old Original Series Star Trek universe, staring William Shatner as Captain Kirk in an adventure on an alien world. On the advice of my other Intern Jonesy (but against my better judgment), I'm going to take Kelby's word on this, despite it sounding pretty fishy to me. He better not be lying.

I'm watching you, Kelbs.

So, in this movie, Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise has beamed down to a planet that seems to be a carbon-copy of 1870s Arizona Territory. Eschewing this pale yellow command officer's uniform, he has donned local clothes (made in the ship's replicator, of course) as not to draw attention to himself (must protect the Prime Directive and all). He's taken the name "Johnny Moon" as his cover (get it, "moon"="outer space"="Federation Star Fleet officer"?) and is passing himself off as a wandering do-gooder cowboy of sorts.

Kirk looks good in hats.

The problem is that there has apparently been a nasty transporter accident and a genetically identical "twin" of Kirk was created in the process and both are now stranded on the planet. I say they are both stranded here because the Enterprise seems to be conspicuously absent from this movie. Perhaps it was pulled into an alternate dimension by the Snnfah3hkkayg aliens immediate after Kirk beamed down? Stranger things have happened to that ship. Kirk's transporter twin becomes his "twin brother" to keep from confusing the natives with all that sciencey devil talk. And yes, this has happened before in the Star Trek universe so I'm not making this up. (Thomas Riker being the most prominent example, but Kirk himself had a similar accident back on Stardate1672.1). Kirk's Evil Transporter Twin (I'd think maybe he's from the Mirror Universe if he had a goatee) has taken the name Notah and has cut all friendly ties with Kirk and has hooked up with the local Comanche-esque Indian-esque tribe. He's an "Indian" in name only, mostly because he paints lines under his eyes and goes around shirtless, other than that he looks more like a slightly doughy white guy from Iowa with father issues.

Bad Kirk/Notah (with his pregnant indigenous wife giving him
the stinkeye there in the background).

Kirk, being Kirk, is a pretty good guy at heart even though he's in a hostile situation with limited resources. He saves a man from some thugs, he seems to like children, and he cleans up nice (must have managed to keep ahold of his Federation-approved dilithium-powered sonic shaver). Though, also being Kirk, his initial reaction to any situation even slightly outside his envelope of control is wanton and brutal violence. The two thugs he just shot dead in cold blood will come back to haunt him later.

And kids like him, too.

This planet seems to be populated by angry
Italian bit-part actors with greaser haircuts.

While I'm still not 100% sure that White Comanche is a Star Trek movie, it's hard not to notice that Shatner's "Johnny" character is a carbon copy of his "Captain Kirk" character from the series. His line delivery, his inflection, his overly-dramatic far-away gaze, even the way he thrusts his shoulders back when spouting a monologue, it's all vintage Kirk. In Shatner's defense, he pretty much has been channeling Captain Kirk in whatever role he has had for the last 40 years, from T.J. Hooker to Boston Legal to those priceline.com commercials, so at least he's consistent. And not to start a fan-war, but Patrick Stewart seems to only be able to do "smarmy, Shakespearian douche", regardless of what movie he's in, so TNG fans need not pile on the Shat.

Kirk rides a better horse than Picard, proven fact.

Anyway, we have to have a tangible on-screen reason to hate Bad Kirk/Notah, we have to see him do something evil early on so our sympathies lie with the hero (film making 101). Thus, we see him and his suspiciously pale Injun cohorts raid a stagecoach and shoot the hapless drivers and guards dead. Notah then rapes a white woman, because nothing says "pure evil" like an ethnic type raping a fine, upstanding white woman. Now, William Shatner smacked around a lot of space princesses on Star Trek, that's true, but this scene is a bit over-the-top even for him. It seems like Shatner is actually trying to beat the living shit out of this poor actress, who, in turn, really seems to be actually fighting back for her very life. One wonders what was going on off-set with Shatner during this shoot.

I hope she signed her liability waiver.

The Indian raiders are all drunk. Shocker.

And yes, one can't watch this all this without saying, "Hey, what the hell, isn't this exactly what happened in the TOS episode The Enemy Within?". Yes, indeed. In that episode, Kirk is split in two by a transporter accident and his "evil" alter ego runs around laughing manically and raping white women before Kirk has to put him down. Perhaps White Comanche was meant to be an "expansion" of that episode's plotline, or maybe none of the writers on White Comanche had seen that episode? I'd say I am over thinking this connection, but a rewatch of The Enemy Within on youtube this morning confirms that Shatner is a really shitty actor. Or something like that.

Evil Kirk emotes! (In all seriousness, though, The Enemy Within
is a very good episode, very well written and acted, no joke.
Except for Shatner, he still sucks.)

Anyway, Kirk meets his "brother" at the Indian encampment and they exchange harsh words. The "Indians" are clearly Mexicans and the teepees canvas, but at least they have the headbands and face paint right. Little explanation is given why this alien race on this alien planet millions of lightyears away from Earth seems to be mimicking Old West cultures, right down to their fashions and trappings, but we can assume that there's a logical reason. There was always a (semi sorta) logical reason why the Enterprise came across so many alien worlds whose cultures were modeled on human societies (Romans, gangsters, Nazis, flappers, etc), even if I can't remember any of them right at the moment. And yes, from a cheapass filmmaker's perspective, renting period Old West costumes and props is a heck of a lot cheaper than designing space suits and ray guns.

Scary Injuns (or Hippies, can't tell them apart).

Kirk tells Notah to come to Rio Hondo in a few days to settle their problems once and for all. There is clearly not going to be any reconciliation between the two of them and Kirk is sure that he's going to have to kill his genetic twin eventually. Kirk rolls into the sleepy one-horse town of Rio Hondo, gun belt slung low on his hip like he's Han Solo, and everyone immediately thinks he's the "White Comanche" bandit. He gets into a wicked barfight with some random tough guy over this misidentification and they punch and maul each other for a full seven minutes (what, Kirk doesn't do his patented Flying Leg Kick?). This extended fist-fight scene must have been Shatner's idea as it seems like a macho ego trip from an actor who enjoyed the physical stuff (he had some serious studio power back in 1968 and he could/did rewrite a lot of scripts on his own).

Alien village architecture is so...not really alien.

Don't step on the Captain!

The white woman that Notah raped before shows up in town, having inexplicably been allowed to live by the Indians. Kelly is her name and she sees Kirk and thinks he's her attacker and starts shooting at him. Kirk, using what he learned in his Starfleet Academy class on violating the laws of physics, "dodges" the bullets and convinces Kelly that he's not Notah. In a talky scene in Kirk's bedroom later we learn his and Notah's backstory (all fake, obviously, but try explaining molecular quantum reassembly to a "primitive"). Oddly, Kirk allows Kelly to leave his room without mashing a kiss on her (he does love him some space princesses!), but you just know that they'll be knocking boots before long.

Kelly, looking a lot like that one cheerleader from Glee.

This is not the first time a beautiful woman who starts
out holding a gun on Captain Kirk ends up with his engine nacelle
in her Jeffries tube...

Kirk then spends a few days in town trying and failing to convince the townsfolk that he's not a half-breed Indian brigand, which should be easy as Kirk is clearly 100% white (not even a bit suntanned). Not sure what all of this is saying, but the "message" is slathered on pretty thick here. The Federation Starfleet, and the flagship Enterprise in particular, is definitely a multi-cultural/multi-species organization, so Kirk must be rankled by all this simple-minded White Power stuff. So many of the Star Trek episodes dealt with race relations and civil rights (late '60s, remember), so it's not a surprise to see this film tackle these same issues.

Yes, Kirk, you are handsome. Get over yourself.

Now, not all is well in this civilization, there are troubles and tribulations between the rich land owners and put-upon locals, and a range war is brewing. I can assume that this is why Kirk beamed down here to begin with, to help the locals deal with some problem that only a swashbuckling space hero could solve (albeit one posing as an intenerate palladin cowboy). Perhaps this planet is up for provisional status as secondary member of the Federation and Kirk is here to see if they're worthy? Or maybe he's just on shore leave and looking for some new alien babes to...you know, fire his photon torpedo at.

This planet's Harry Mudd...

This sheriff guy gets a lot of screen time here, I think he's someone famous.

As we reach the 30 minute mark in this movie, I am beginning to have some doubts about this one. I have had my issues with Kelby before, and I'll admit that more than once I've seriously considered firing him for his gross misconduct. But he seems so earnestly truthful when he tells me that White Comanche is a long-lost Star Trek movie. Am I too trusting of Kelby? He's burned me before, after all, maybe I've let my guard down too much this time. Pam, what do you think? Could this really just be a crappy, three-day-shoot, knock-off western staring a bored, mailing-it-in Bill Shatner on summer break from his TV show? Would Kelby lie to me?

Well, ok, maybe he would.

Well, Nate, I think Kelby would certainly lie to you about some things, such as what's really in that bottle of "juice" he's drinking at work and what happened to the MMT petty cash, but in this case I think he's telling the truth. I mean, everything about this movie screams "Star Trek episode." The sets are reused from Spectre of the Gun, and the location itself looks very much like that of Friday's Child. Is not William Shatner obviously playing Captain Kirk? (By the way, Patrick Stewart may always play a smarmy Shakespearean douche, but he's a smarmy Shakespearean douche with a really beautiful voice! I like Patrick Stewart.) Besides, notice how blank and out of it Kirk sometimes seems. Why, you might think he was trying to remember what he was supposed to be saying. This is, of course, a sure indication that he was involved in a transporter malfunction that left him not quite all there. What else could it possibly mean? And just look at the women's teased hair, white lipstick, and eyeliner drawn on with a Sharpie if you don't believe that this is a Star Trek episode.

Star Trek was quite the fashion trendsetter in its day.

My guess is that this is a case of colonists who crash-landed on the planet and lost most of their technology, and the best they could manage to put together was a 19th-century-level society. Once they regained contact with the rest of the Federation, they'd learned to like wearing layers of clothing in the summer and shoveling horse manure, so they rejected advanced technology. Yeah, that's probably it. Kirk probably beamed down to solve some really pressing problem like a virus that was threatening to kill off most of the planet's whales, which would lead to a crippling shortage of whale oil and whalebones for women's corsets. I really should be a TV scriptwriter. I think, though, that this episode was not only never aired, it wasn't completed before it was shelved. This explains why the Enterprise never shows up. It was supposed to, according to the script, but they never got around to filming those scenes. We also lost the footage of Kirk's tragic transporter accident.

It looked something like this (but minus the unicorn dog).

But back to the movie, about 30 minutes in. The next scene gives us more evidence that Kirk is an outcast here, when he goes to a store to buy cartridges and the storekeeper refuses to serve him, saying "We don't want your kind around here." Kirk helps himself anyway and storms off to the sheriff to complain, almost showing some emotion here. This planet obviously never had a civil rights movement, because the sheriff informs Kirk that there's nothing he can do, and warns him against getting into the habit of taking stuff and not paying for it.

What's he need two boxes of bullets for anyway? Going wascally wabbit hunting?

Evidently feeling the need for some fresh air, Kirk gets his horse from the livery stable and rides out of town (which was probably was pretty stinky -- no indoor plumbing and lots of horse manure), just in time to spot Kelly as she emerges from the hillside pool after her skinny-dip and wraps a towel around her. Don't ask me why she had to come all the way out here for a bath when she's staying in a decent hotel which would have had some bathing facilities, even in the 1870s. Also don't ask me how she took a bath without getting that blonde beehive with the long curls wet. And particularly don't ask me why she has no bruises, cuts, or scratches, even though Notah brutally assaulted her just the day before. As though we needed further proof that Kirk isn't quite himself, instead of grabbing Kelly and pulling her towel off, he talks to her briefly and confides in her that his brother is coming to Rio Hondo in a few days. She lets him know that she, too, often feels like an outsider. She doesn't say why, but since she works in a saloon, which usually translates as "prostitute," this is probably why.

You'd think a pale-skinned frontier girl in the desert Southwest might have a tan.

Kirk still hasn't banged this woman, I simply do not understand
the message this movie is trying to convey.

Now that each knows something personal about the other, Kirk rides off, but he's not as alone as he thinks. He's being trailed by another man who means no good, as we soon find out when he tries to shoot Kirk. Fortunately Kelly, who has managed to get dressed very quickly in what seems to be a modern riding habit, spots him and calls out to warn Kirk. We now have a shootout between the two, which looks just like the typical shootout between two men in a Western. About the only exception is that Kirk's revolver is not a Roy Rogers special, but he actually has to stop and reload. Kirk wins, of course, what else did you expect? His opponent goes to meet his Maker, and Kirk considerately drapes the body over his horse and takes it back to town.

At least he's not shooting from the hip, accurately and at
distances, that irks me to no end.

Unfortunately it turns out that it might have been wiser for Kirk to run away from the shootout. The dead man turns out to be the brother of General Garcia, the head of the local landowners who've been causing so much trouble. Kirk says he killed the man in self-defense, and Kelly backs him up, but the General is unsoftened. He thinks that Grimes, the owner of the saloon and "Harry Mudd" in the earlier screencap, hired Kirk to kill the General's brother, and paid Kelly to lie about it. Okay, now I'm puzzled. Why are the landowners fighting with the saloon owner, anyway? How do their interests conflict? But whatever the cause, Grimes doesn't seem to be worried.

Black hat=bad guy.

Huh, this planet uses US dollars? Weird.

Kirk has had a bad day, and it's going to get worse. That evening, as he's out walking, without warning some man pulls out a gun and shoots at Kirk. Kirk, displaying the stellar unarmed combat skills he learned at Starfleet Academy, kicks the man's hand, deflecting the bullet (don't try this at home, kids). The man ends up dead, and it turns out he was a bounty hunter who mistook Kirk for his brother Notah.

A lot of people/aliens/noncorporeal beings have tried to
kill Captain Kirk, all have failed (because he is awesome).

Next morning, a number of armed horsemen ride into town. The sheriff knows that this means trouble, and he straps on his gunbelt. Grimes gathers together some men in the saloon and posts them at the saloon windows. Meanwhile, Kirk lies in bed, smoking and looking at peace with the world. The sheriff goes out and tries to turn Garcia back, but it's no go. Garcia's answer is to draw his pistol and shoot the sheriff, who collapses in the middle of the street. Garcia's men and Grimes's men proceed to go at it.

Ok, so maybe black hats=sorta ambiguous badish guy. Kinda.

No, Shatner, you are not Clint Eastwood, ok? Just put down
the skinny cigar and put your reading glasses back on.

I'm not sure what's happening here, because Kirk, who just moments before was lounging on his bed, suddenly appears on horseback at the edge of the fray. Not only is he on horseback, but his horse seems to be pulling a travois. It can't be Notah, because Notah never wears a shirt, and this man has one on. Well, no matter what his motivation is, maybe just idle curiosity, he's here now. He jumps off his horse and takes cover. At first he just watches, but soon the cute little boy we saw earlier shows up. For some reason the kid decides this would be a good time to walk over and say hello, and he gets shot before he makes it to Kirk. Kirk lays the little tyke down, narrows his eyes, and gets down to business. He kills them all with no trouble, even though all he has is a revolver and they're armed with rifles. He doesn't even reload his pistol. However, he doesn't do it single-handed -- just then the sheriff shows up and shoots Garcia just before Garcia can shoot Kirk. The sheriff looked pretty bad before, but it must have just been a flesh wound, because he looks fine now except for a trickle of blood on his left sleeve.

"Damn Klingons, you've killed my son! Well, not for
another 25 years, but still, you bastards!"

Before the battle started, the sheriff had been sure he couldn't handle it alone, but it turns out that all he needed was Kirk. All of Garcia's men are either dead or have run away, and when they cautiously approach the saloon, there's no sign of life there either, except for Grimes, who staggers through the swinging doors and collapses. Okay, so the entire town is dead now. Kirk and Notah can fight it out in peace, if Notah ever gets around to showing up. At this point, I'll hand the review back over to Nate.

Kirk is (somewhat) conflicted by all this bloodshed (which had
nothing to do with him, really, he just stuck his foot/gun in the middle of it).

Thanks, Pam, I'll bring this one back from the Delta Quadrant from here. Let's return to Notah, who during the entire time the white people were murdering each other was sitting around chewing peyote and watching Dances With Wolves on Netflix. Notah has somehow convinced this rag-tag tribe of Comanches that he's their leader and they should be devoting all their time and energy to killing white people. This, despite the fact that Notah is, well, you know...white as white can be. As we watch Notah strut around shirtless and monologue about how the Great Spirits have given him the way and the truth, you can't help but flash back to the third season TOS episode The Paradise Syndrome, where Captain Kirk was temporarily a knock-off American Indian chief with delusions of grandeur and a hankering for squaws ("Kee-rok!!!"). Perhaps Notah/Bad Kirk is remembering his time on that planet (he does share the "real" Kirk's memories, after all) and is trying the same manipulative tricks on this planet's "Indian-ish" aliens.


Kirok (Shatner has a limited range of movement).

Not everyone in the tribe is colorblind, however, and one upstart young brave decides that dying for a white guy's homicidal crusade against other white guys isn't worth it and runs off. However, the brave doesn't count on Notah's fiercely loyal bride, the least pregnant looking nine months pregnant woman ever, who tracks him down and stabs him with a knife. Unfortunately, she takes a mortal wound in the process, joining a long run of females who have paid the ultimate price for letting Kirk (of any version) dock his Captain's launch in their shuttle bay.

Close-quarters knife fight with a man twice your size
when you're in active labor? Maybe not so smart.

Meanwhile, the real Captain Kirk finally (finally!) gets around to shagging the alien space babe Kelly. Frankly, I was beginning to wonder if he was going soft on us (pun intended...), as the Captain Kirk we all know and love would have had that woman's knickers off in a blink (Prime Directive be damned in the name of inter-species nookie). As to why Kelly would want to hook up with a man who is surely going to be dead soon is beyond me, perhaps she's fatalistically attracted to danger. Or maybe it's Shatner's toupee, it is indeed quite nice, very natural looking.

A little Romulan Ale would make this a perfect night for romance, don't you think?

Anyway, so we come to the film's climax now, as Notah's tribe marches on Rio Hondo to dispense some ass kicking on the pale eyes. Along the way, there's a bit of a schism over Notah's refusal to honor Comanche religious doctrine and Notah ends up going on alone. The town is suspiciously empty, everyone having left to bury the dead from yesterday's civil war, and he and Kirk have the dusty Main Street all to themselves for their final battle.

The elders have finally had enough of whitey bossing them around ('bout damn time).

Now, of course, Kirk is real good at the one-on-one stuff, see his smackdown of the Gorn in the Hollywood Hills, but since Notah is Kirk, you'd think they would know each other's moves and tendencies. Can you imagine if they both threw a Flying Leg Kick at each other at the exact same time, would the world split asunder from that double-dose of awesome? But because this film's budget couldn't afford the split-screen optical effects to have two Bill Shatners in the same frame, they have to do it another, cheaper way. Kirk and Notah eventually just both strip down to the waist and gallop at each other on horseback with guns drawn like some sort of Wild West jousting match. Bang, bang, Notah goes down and his Indian tribesmen burn his corpse and wander off to build casinos. Kirk presumably regains contact with the Enterprise and beams back aboard to trade witty, sexually-charged banter with Spock and all is well. Kelly later gives birth to Kirk's mutant spacebaby and files a complaint with the Federation Department of Alien Affairs for child support. The end.

Raise your hand if you want to murder your half-naked genetic transporter twin.

That looks like a nasty gunshot wound, where's McCoy when you need him?

So, in conclusion, White Comanche could have been a pretty average western, but instead it was a pretty lousy Star Trek movie. I just wish I knew for sure which one it was before I tr...hold on. Ah, yes. I've just been informed by our other intern Jonesy that Kelby is a lying sack of hairballs. Ok, so...joke's on me, apparently, not a Star Trek movie at all. Goddamn it, I hate that cat. Pam, what do you think we should do with Kelby? Is he worth the surely enormous amount of patience and understanding (not to mention a ready supply of bail money and herpagonosyphilitus medicine) that it will take to keep him as a member of the MMT team? Or should we just cut him loose and get a hamster instead?

No, Nate, I think you should go easy on Kelby. It was an honest mistake. I thought it really was an unaired episode of Star Trek, myself. I think a suitable punishment would be to make him watch every single episode of TOS so he'll learn what Star Trek episodes are really like.

I have a question for any horse experts out there. To me, it looked as though the horses Kirk and Garcia and some of the others were riding were a lot more high-stepping and spirited, as well as more slender, than the horses you usually see in Westerns. Is it possible that some uncommon breed of horse was used in this movie? If so, why?

The End.

Written in January 2012 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.

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