By ROGER GREENSPUN
Published: June 20, 1970
"El Condor," which opened yesterday at the Forum Theater, is a movie that almost nobody involved seems to have taken seriously — neither the writers, nor the director, nor the actors—with the possible exception of the explosives expert. For unlike everything else in the film, the explosions, which are fairly numerous, are surprising, precise and occasionally spectacular.
Once, during an artillery barrage leveled at the momentarily defenseless leads (Jim Brown and Lee Van Cleef), the detonating shells literally take over the screen and seem to provide their own dumb reason for being.
Brown and Van Cleef play a pair of adventurers who, with a band of renegade Apaches, besiege a fabled fortress called El Condor, in which the treasury of Maximilian's Mexico is supposed to hoard its vast reserves of gold.
In time, they learn that all that glitters is not, etc.; but on the way they suffer a few indignities, outwit a few fools, fall in and out of troubles—almost enough to make a movie. Eventually Van Cleef ends up dead and Brown ends up with Mariana Hill, simmering ex-mistress of Patrick O'Neal, iron-willed commandant of El Condor, who also ends up dead.
From time to time in "El Condor" there is introduced a certain amount of female nudity, which probably indicates a trend and certainly makes the film different from the general run of Westerns you may have enjoyed as a child.
The nudity is more than sufficiently integrated into the plot—as at the sexual-military climax, when Miss Hill, who has gone crazy for Jim Brown, though she has scarcely spoken to him, strips for her love.
To distract the guards of the fortress, she throws open her balcony door before undressing for the night—and while part of the cast of hundreds gapes in admiration, the other part of the cast (the Brown-Van Cleef-Apache part) come from behind and strangle them and slit their throats and otherwise silently slaughter them.
The pointed juxtaposition of sex and slaughter that particularizes this otherwise mostly mindless movie, introduces a measure of perverse brutality that is more vicious in fact than may appear from a simple description. I think it is the mindlessness more than the violence that makes for my discomfort, for "El Condor" lacks either the prurience or prudery to support its more sensational gestures.
When you create a vacuum, in art as in nature, something ambles in to fill the empty spaces, and in the void that is "El Condor" that something is a death that chills desire.
EL CONDOR, directed by John Guiliermin; screenplay by Larry Cohen and Steven Carabatsos, based on a story by Mr. Carabatsos; director of photography Henri Persin; music by Maurice Jarre; produced by Andre de Toth; released by National General Pictures. At the Forum Theater, Broadway at 47th Street. Running time: 102 minutes. (The Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code and Rating Adminstration classifies this film: "R—restricted, persons under 17 require accompanying parent or adult guardian.")
Luke . . . . . Jim Brown
Jaroo . . . . . Lee Van Cleef
Chavez . . . . . Patrick O'Neal
Claudine . . . . . Mariana Hill
Santana . . . . . Iron Eyes Cody
Dolores . . . . . Imogen Hassall
Old Convict . . . . . Elisha Cook Jr.