CABOBLANCO presents its title and then adds in lower case …where legends are born as if to reassure you this is going to be about something you’ll long remember. You’ll remember it for as long as it takes to hit the eject button: but for the glowing exceptions of three production embellishments, this 1980 attempt at something flavored of Casablanca gasps like a beached turtle. It returned a zippo $1,900,000 on its $10,000,000 cost, as audiences discovered the critics were correct in their lambasting.
Shot in the gorgeous Mexican Pacific coastal town of Barra de Navidad, it’s set in 1948 Peru ,as an ex-pat American bar owner and an exiled Nazi bigshot match wits and muscle over sunken treasure and a mysterious French woman who shows up for some reason. In full-skid mode, once-decent director J. Lee Thompson works for the third of nine times with Charles Bronson, doing neither of them a favor.
Chuck’s limited range of expression comes off frantic alongside the novocaine-injected-into-bark lifelessness of Dominique Sanda, whose work in Europe did not translate at all across the pond (see—better yet, don’t—Damnation Alley ). Jason Robards does poorly with a German accent as the bad guy, and Fernando Rey’s actual accent stifles his impressive look. Scenes crawl by.
Wasted are Camilla Sparv (demoted from mid-60s buildup), veteran Gilbert Roland, reliable Wagon Train hunk Denny Miller. Simon MacCorkindale tries to make up for his sluggish compatriots by bellowing. Script fires blanks, editing was done with a hatchet. Fine character actor Clifton James is credited but doesn’t appear and sexy Mexican starlet Ana De Sade offers some teasing nude peekaboo glances, for no discernible reason beyond momentarily waking up some of the audience.
Three elements do jell. Alex Philipps Jr. does some swell work with his cinematography of those luscious backdrops. The sets of Bronson’s bar and Robards’ estate are impressive with their wide-open tropical-colonial ambiance. Best of all is Jerry Goldsmith’s gallant attempt to inject some life with his score. The main theme is a knockout and promises all the romance, adventure and exotica that the acting, script and direction don’t reciprocate. Catch the credits sequence and you get Jerry’s note-skills swirling, and some of the camera swoops over those sun-drenched Jalisco locations. That takes three minutes and you can use the remaining 84 on something else, like…Casablanca.