Though it’s only February, it seems like 2023 has become the year where movies that sound “bonkers” end up getting reviewed on 18 Cinema Lane. First, it was the Lifetime movie, Sea Change. Most recently, it was Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. Now, for Classic Movie Muse’s Kim Novak Blogathon, it’s The White Buffalo. If it wasn’t for this event, I would have never heard of this film, as I happened to stumble upon it on Kim’s IMDB filmography. Based on the title, synopsis, and poster, The White Buffalo seemed like it would be “bonkers”. But as Sea Change and Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter have taught me, just because a movie sounds “bonkers”, doesn’t mean it will be “bonkers”. So, I was curious to see if The White Buffalo met my expectations. I’ve also mentioned in the past how westerns aren’t often reviewed on 18 Cinema Lane. So writing about The White Buffalo for the Kim Novak Blogathon has given me an excuse to check out more western films!
Things I liked about the film:
Kim Novak and Charles Bronson’s on-screen chemistry: In The White Buffalo, Kim portrays Poker Jenny, a widow from the town of Cheyenne. When Bill, portrayed by Charles Bronson, arrives in town, he pays Jenny a visit. Though these characters spent only a brief period of time together, I felt Kim and Charles had strong on-screen chemistry! There was camaraderie between Jenny and Bill, a shared history only they knew. Confident personalities complimented one another, highlighting how well they get along. Because of their strong acting performances, both Kim and Charles successfully sold this relationship! I wish their characters shared more screen time together.
Using the buffalo sparingly: The White Buffalo has gained legend status in the world within this movie. This is because of the terror it inflicts on people who have crossed its path. The buffalo itself is only shown in a handful of scenes, while the majority of the film shows the characters either talking about the buffalo or searching for its existence. That creative decision was a good way of building tension and suspense for the audience. Limited presentation of the buffalo highlights how this creature is a threat who can show up unexpectedly. It is also a film-making technique from the horror genre, where the unseen can be scarier than what is seen. This reminds me of films such as Jaws.
Building atmosphere: In any film, the atmosphere can compliment the world the characters and story exist in. It can also elevate the movie’s intended tone. In the opening scene of The White Buffalo, a snowy landscape is presented at night-time. Slow camera movements travel over the landscape, building up to the audience’s first look of the White Buffalo. Suspenseful music is heard on top of the footage, providing a reason for the viewer to be scared of the titular creature. When the buffalo finally appears on screen, it’s an explosive moment where adrenaline and terror collide. The opening scene of this movie lays down the foundation for what this story is about!
What I didn’t like about the film:
Limited sense of urgency: Throughout the film, Bill and Crazy Horse, portrayed by Will Sampson, are seeking the White Buffalo in order to destroy it. This quest serves as the main conflict in The White Buffalo. While there was a sense of urgency in the story, it wasn’t consistently featured in the movie. Along with the film’s main conflict, sub-conflicts share the run-time, such as Bill’s encounter with a criminal from his past. Because of this creative decision, those sub-conflicts took away from the urgency toward finding the White Buffalo.
The under-utilization of Kim Novak: In past blogathons, I have reviewed a movie because of a certain actor’s involvement, only to see that actor’s talents under-utilized. This was the case when watching The White Buffalo, as Kim Novak is one of the reasons why I sought out this film. As I mentioned earlier in this review, Jenny and Bill spent only a brief period of time together. During this hour and thirty seven minute movie, Kim appeared in about three to four scenes. She did a good job with the acting material she was given. However, I was disappointed by her limited on-screen appearances.
The run-time: When talking about Kim’s few appearances in The White Buffalo, I said the movie was an hour and thirty seven minutes. With the story itself being straight-forward, the run-time doesn’t need to be very long. This could have been achieved had the sub-conflicts been eliminated from the script. The run-time could have also been shortened if some scenes were cut down. One example is when Bill meets Charlie for the first time, a scene that lasts about fifteen minutes.
My overall impression:
In the introduction of this review, I said just because a movie sounds “bonkers”, doesn’t mean it will be “bonkers”. That is what happened when I saw The White Buffalo. At best, the movie is ok. The atmosphere was well-built and the acting was strong. The film even does a better job at combining the western and horror genres than Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter! But the film isn’t without its flaws. The story contains a limited sense of urgency and the movie is a bit drawn out. I was also disappointed by the under-utilization of Kim’s talents. However, watching The White Buffalo did give me an opportunity to seek out more projects from Will Sampson’s filmography, as I am familiar with his performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Like I said in this review’s introduction, I was also given an excuse to watch more western movies. Therefore, I’m grateful I was able to expand my cinematic horizons!
Overall score: 6-6.1 out of 10
Have you seen The White Buffalo? Are there any westerns you’ve checked out that also feature the horror genre? Please tell me in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!