The White Buffalo (1977)

PG | 97 mins | Western | 5 October 1977

Director:

J. Lee Thompson

Writer:

Richard B. Sale

Producer:

Pancho Kohner

Cinematographer:

Paul Lohmann

Production Designer:

Tambi Larsen

Production Company:

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation
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HISTORY

After the opening scenes of The White Buffalo , in which “Bill Hickock” awakes from a nightmare, the film contains a voice-over narration by train conductor “Amos Bixby,” who explains Bill’s true identity, his nightmare and his reasons for heading West. Neither Bixby, nor his narration, reappear in the film.
       The end credits for the film scroll over photographs of the characters “J.B. Hickock” and “Crazy Horse” as they are portrayed by actors Charles Bronson and Will Sampson. Under each picture are the birth and “murder” dates for their real life counterparts.        For biographical information about Hickok, consult the AFI Catalog entry for Wild Bill Hickok Rides (1942).
       A 10 Nov 1975 Publishers Weekly news item reported Dino De Laurentiis acquired the rights for Richard Sale’s novel The White Buffalo for $200,000, and announced that Sale would write the screenplay. According to a news items in Box on 15 Sept 1975 and DV on 6 Oct 1975, Stanley Jaffe was set to produce the film. However, his name does not appear in the film’s credits.
       Various contemporary sources, including HR on 14 Apr 1976 and DV on 22 Apr 1976, reported that production began in the mountains around Canon City, CO, the week of 12 Apr 1976. Portions of the film were also shot around Red Canyon Park near Cripple Creek, in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, and in the San Isabel National Forest. DV noted the difficulties of shooting in the 14,000-foot mountainous region. Many locations were only accessible by ... More Less

After the opening scenes of The White Buffalo , in which “Bill Hickock” awakes from a nightmare, the film contains a voice-over narration by train conductor “Amos Bixby,” who explains Bill’s true identity, his nightmare and his reasons for heading West. Neither Bixby, nor his narration, reappear in the film.
       The end credits for the film scroll over photographs of the characters “J.B. Hickock” and “Crazy Horse” as they are portrayed by actors Charles Bronson and Will Sampson. Under each picture are the birth and “murder” dates for their real life counterparts.        For biographical information about Hickok, consult the AFI Catalog entry for Wild Bill Hickok Rides (1942).
       A 10 Nov 1975 Publishers Weekly news item reported Dino De Laurentiis acquired the rights for Richard Sale’s novel The White Buffalo for $200,000, and announced that Sale would write the screenplay. According to a news items in Box on 15 Sept 1975 and DV on 6 Oct 1975, Stanley Jaffe was set to produce the film. However, his name does not appear in the film’s credits.
       Various contemporary sources, including HR on 14 Apr 1976 and DV on 22 Apr 1976, reported that production began in the mountains around Canon City, CO, the week of 12 Apr 1976. Portions of the film were also shot around Red Canyon Park near Cripple Creek, in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, and in the San Isabel National Forest. DV noted the difficulties of shooting in the 14,000-foot mountainous region. Many locations were only accessible by snowmobile and the cast and crew wore oxygen masks. Studio production notes from AMPAS library files mention Chama, NM, as the location of the Cheyenne train station.
       On 4 Jun 1976, DV reported that the production had moved from Colorado to Los Angeles, CA, and announced the film had been acquired by United Artists Corp. for distribution. According to the 8 Oct 1975 HR , producer Dino De Laurentiis had previously negotiated a distribution deal with EMI Film Distribution Ltd. A 14 Apr 1976 DV news item reported that the film had been attached to Paramount Pictures, but that relationship also ended before the film’s release.
       As discussed in a 17 Nov 1976 HR news item, the mechanical white buffalo was fabricated by Carlo Rambaldi. Located on stage fifteen of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio lot, the buffalo was covered in yak fur and operated on a track and crane. Rambaldi stated that the buffalo was based on similar technical principles as the mechanical gorilla he built for King Kong (1976, see entry) but its capacity to gallop was a unique innovation.
       According to the 21 Sep 1977 Var review, United Artists withheld the film from reviewers and eventually released it only sporadically in “test engagements.”



The summary and note for this entry were completed with participation from the AFI Academic Network. Summary and note were written by participant Raymond Ghaul.
More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
15 Sep 1975.
---
Box Office
12 Apr 1976.
---
Box Office
20 Jun 1977.
---
Daily Variety
6 Oct 1975.
---
Daily Variety
14 Apr 1976.
---
Daily Variety
22 Apr 1976.
---
Daily Variety
4 Jun 1976.
---
Daily Variety
14 Sep 1977.
---
Hollywood Reporter
8 Oct 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Apr 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 1976.
---
Hollywood Reporter
12 Oct 1977
p. 3, 8.
Publishers Weekly
10 Nov 1975.
---
Variety
19 Nov 1975.
---
Variety
28 Apr 1976.
---
Variety
21 Sep 1977
p. 18.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Prod mgr
Asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st asst cam
2d asst cam
Key grip
Still man
Processing by
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Assoc film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Const coord
Prop master
Asst prop master
Greensman
COSTUMES
Set cost
MUSIC
Mus comp and cond
Mus ed
SOUND
Boom man
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Sd eff ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Prod spec eff
Title des
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Spec consultant buffalo seqs
Spec consultant buffalo seqs
Animal fur
Asst to the prod
Prod auditor
Scr supv
Prod coord
Secy to the prod
Post prod asst
Transportation coord
Craft service
Process coord
Unit pub
STAND INS
Stunt coord
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The White Buffalo by Richard Sale (New York, 1975).
DETAILS
Release Date:
5 October 1977
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 5 October 1977
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Lenses/Prints
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision; Prints by Deluxe
Duration(in mins):
97
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24774
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In September of 1874, a train heads west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Bill Hickok awakens from a nightmare about a white buffalo charging through a wall of ice and fires his guns with both hands into the empty bunk above him. The famous gunfighter is returning West in disguise, with dark glasses and a new name, James Otis. The following day, Bill confesses his recurring nightmare to the conductor, Amos Bixby, but the old man reassures him the last white buffalo was recently killed. However, when Bixby learns Bill is on his way to the Black Hills, he warns of impending danger. Meanwhile, in the mountains, old-timer Charlie Zane rides his horse through the cliffs when a mysterious roar incites a rockslide. Some time later, a white buffalo charges a Native American village, killing many warriors and a little girl. When war chief Crazy Horse weeps at the news of his daughter’s death, his father dishonors him for crying by changing his name to Worm. He tells Worm the girl will be eternally tortured in the afterlife unless Worm kills the white buffalo and wraps her in its skin. Meanwhile, Bill’s train pulls into Cheyenne and he observes an extensive heap of buffalo bones. Bill is met by Sheriff Pete Holt who tells him returning to town is suicidal, even with his name change and dark glasses. The Sioux haven’t forgotten Bill’s murder of Whistler the Peacemaker, and Captain Tom Custer wants Bill dead. At the local saloon, Custer is informed of Bill’s arrival and sets a trap, expecting the gunfighter to arrive soon because he is an old ... +


In September of 1874, a train heads west to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Bill Hickok awakens from a nightmare about a white buffalo charging through a wall of ice and fires his guns with both hands into the empty bunk above him. The famous gunfighter is returning West in disguise, with dark glasses and a new name, James Otis. The following day, Bill confesses his recurring nightmare to the conductor, Amos Bixby, but the old man reassures him the last white buffalo was recently killed. However, when Bixby learns Bill is on his way to the Black Hills, he warns of impending danger. Meanwhile, in the mountains, old-timer Charlie Zane rides his horse through the cliffs when a mysterious roar incites a rockslide. Some time later, a white buffalo charges a Native American village, killing many warriors and a little girl. When war chief Crazy Horse weeps at the news of his daughter’s death, his father dishonors him for crying by changing his name to Worm. He tells Worm the girl will be eternally tortured in the afterlife unless Worm kills the white buffalo and wraps her in its skin. Meanwhile, Bill’s train pulls into Cheyenne and he observes an extensive heap of buffalo bones. Bill is met by Sheriff Pete Holt who tells him returning to town is suicidal, even with his name change and dark glasses. The Sioux haven’t forgotten Bill’s murder of Whistler the Peacemaker, and Captain Tom Custer wants Bill dead. At the local saloon, Custer is informed of Bill’s arrival and sets a trap, expecting the gunfighter to arrive soon because he is an old friend of its owner, Paddy. Custer claims that Bill “back shot” two of his best soldiers, but Paddy insists Bill would never shoot someone in the back and, instead, Custer’s men tried to “back shoot” Bill. When Bill arrives, Custer’s men fire, but Paddy slides guns down the bar to Bill and he shoots them dead. Bill tells Paddy he’s looking for Poker Jenny and the barkeep informs him she left Cheyenne to open her own place. While riding a stagecoach to Jenny’s town in a thunderstorm, Bill is nearly robbed by fellow passenger, Winifred Coxy, but he draws his gun and throws the attacker into the mud. When Coxy yells for the stagecoach to stop, he attracts the attention of Worm, who shoots him dead. Later, the stagecoach comes under fire from Worm when it stops for two murdered gold miners and their horses. Coxy’s drunken lady friend is killed. When the coach pulls into town, Bill learns that a white buffalo was recently spotted in the Black Hills. Poker Jenny recognizes Bill through his disguise and welcomes him with a passionate kiss. She makes him lunch and takes him to bed but as she undresses, Bill refuses her, claiming to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Although Jenny is undeterred, she leaves Bill to nap and promises to seduce him again. Bill awakens from another nightmare about the white buffalo and fires his gun into a mirror reflecting the bust of a buffalo hanging in Jenny’s room. Concerned about Bill’s condition, Jenny explains that the white buffalo head is a replica. Bill decides that he must kill the beast to save himself, but Jenny tries to convince him otherwise. At the town saloon, Bill finds another old friend, Charlie Zane, who presumes Bill is after the white buffalo. Although Bill denies the claim, he is mesmerized by Charlie’s account of seeing the creature. Just then, outlaw Whistling Jack Kileen and his gang show up at the saloon, accusing the bartender of selling gin to Indians and provoking them to kill half his men. After appeasing the aggressors with free alcohol, the bartender threatens to inform Kileen of Bill’s identity unless the gunfighter agrees to protect his establishment. Kileen’s son was one of the men in Custer’s troop who was killed by Bill in the Cheyenne shootout. When Bill refuses, a waiter whispers to Kileen and the outlaw sends his henchmen to surround Bill and Charlie. However, Bill has a faster draw and shoots the men before they can fire. As Bill and Charlie leave, Kileen vows to track them down. The next morning, Bill and Charlie head for the Black Hills. They are spotted by Worm, but he makes his presence known with a battle call instead of shooting them and rides away. Soon after, Bill and Charlie hear gunshots. They discover Worm surrounded by a band of menacing Crow Indians. Bill decides to help Worm and the men soon overcome the attackers. Although Worm is thankful, he refuses to join forces with Bill. Charlie wants to shoot Worm, but Bill won’t allow it because he believes the Indian will lead them to the white buffalo. Later, Bill spots the creature with a spyglass and watches it enter a cave. When Bill announces they will camp in the cave, Charlie is fearful the buffalo will attack them, but Bill says his nightmare foretold otherwise. Bill enters the cave by torchlight with a drawn pistol but finds the buffalo has left through a rear opening. That morning, Bill and Charlie are awakened by a roar and find the buffalo has killed one of their horses. Bill follows its tracks down the snow-covered mountainside and into the sights of Kileen, who fires at him. Pinned behind a boulder with Kileen and his henchmen out of range, Bill is trapped, but the howl of a wolf reverberates through the mountains and Bill uses the distraction to shoot one of his attackers. From his perch, Charlie finishes the man off before he can return fire. Disguised as a wolf, Worm surprises Kileen and his remaining henchman, killing them with bow and arrow. Worm tells Bill that the mountains belong to his people and the Whites have no place there. However, he accepts Bill’s invitation to join them in their shelter. Charlie believes Bill has tricked Worm, but Bill commands Charlie to respect their new companion. Before entering the cave, Worm demands to know if Bill killed Whistler the Peacemaker. Bill changes the subject and Worm presents Bill with Kileen’s long-range rifle. When Bill refuses it, Worm befriends Charlie by giving it to him in exchange for a knife. Later, the men block the cave’s back opening, preparing to trap the buffalo and a roar from above provokes an avalanche. Worm shouts at the buffalo, warning he will soon avenge his daughter’s death. When Worm insists on claiming the buffalo as his own, Charlie becomes enraged, but Bill says the creature will belong to the hunter who kills him. That night, Bill senses the buffalo is near and creeps through the cave with his rifle. As he walks toward the blocked opening, the creature roars outside and the rocks begin to fall away. The next morning Worm is gone and Bill and Charlie continue their hunt. As night falls, Bill and Charlie come upon the setting of Bill’s nightmare and set up camp. Charlie wonders if it’s worth risking their lives for the $2000 reward but Bill is willing to accept his fate and patrols the camp. Charlie spots a wolf behind a nearby rock, but Bill tells him not to shoot because it might scare off the buffalo. Sensing the creature’s presence, Charlie backs away and Bill readies himself. Suddenly, the white buffalo charges at Bill but the trigger on his rifle has frozen and he is unable to fire. Instead, he swings the rifle at the buffalo’s head and is thrown aside. Charlie fires while Worm casts off his wolf disguise and shoots an arrow, but neither assault slows the buffalo. Although Worm jumps on the buffalo’s back and stabs it repeatedly, he is thrown off and the creature disappears into the woods. After Bill helps Worm to his feet, the white buffalo charges through a wall of ice just as it did in his nightmare. Bill grabs a gun from Worm’s belt and repeatedly shoots the white buffalo while Worm stabs the beast to death. When Bill asks Worm why he did not use his gun, Worm explains that the buffalo had to be killed by a Native American weapon in order for him to regain his real name and his standing as war chief. Bill realizes Worm is Crazy Horse. As Crazy Horse starts to skin the buffalo, Charlie aims his rifle to kill him, but Bill says the buffalo belongs to the Indian. Charlie is outraged and contemplates a gunfight but decides to desert his companion instead. Reflecting that Bill has lost his partner, Crazy Horse offers his friendship in its place. Later, as the men part, Crazy Horse calls Bill by his true name, which he overheard during Charlie’s final words. Crazy Horse reiterates they are brothers, but warns they must never meet again because he cannot forgive Bill for killing Whistler the Peacemaker. He says that if their paths cross in the future, he will see only a white enemy. Crazy Horse drags the buffalo hide behind him as he leaves Bill alone in the snow-covered wilderness. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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