Monday, March 15, 2010

This Western Heats Up With a Red Sun

One of my favorite western movies is Red Sun. It is considered a formula Spaghetti Western that has loads of action and a simple plot. However, I think Red Sun has an interesting plot that tells the story of a friendship between two very different men who are culturally worlds apart.

The movie was made in Spain in 1971 and released in the United States a year later. With the apparent goal of attracting an international audience, the four stars were from different countries: Charles Bronson (U.S); Alain Delon (France); Ursula Andress (Switzerland); and Toshiro Mifune (Japan). Bronson had become a popular European performer by the early 1970s and had starred in several previous Westerns. Delon was known for his roles as a handsome man who often gets in trouble with the ladies. One of his most famous movies is 1960’s Plein Soleil (aka Purple Noon), which was remade as The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999 with Matt Damon. Ursula Andress played the first Bond girl in Dr. No. Toshiro Mifune was Japan’s most well-known star, mostly due to his roles in Akira Kurosawa films like The Seven Samurai (which was remade in the U.S. as The Magnificent Seven with Bronson). Many critics consider the Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson movie, Shanghai Noon ( 2000), a spoof of Red Sun.

Director Terence Young had already scored huge hits with several James Bond movies such as: Dr. No (1962) with Ursula Andress; From Russia with Love (1963); and Thunderball (1965). He also directed The Valachi Papers in 1972 with Charles Bronson in the lead role again.

Set in the mid-19th century, Red Sun opens with a Japanese ambassador traveling by train from the Western U.S. to Washington, DC. His mission is to deliver an ancient samurai sword as a gift to the President of the U.S. The ambassador is accompanied by two samurai body guards, one of which is Toshiro Mifune who plays Kuroda. Gauche (Alain Delon), a bandit leader, and his partner Link (Bronson) rob the train. They have no idea where this train is going or who is traveling on it. After the robbery, Gauche turns on Link and tries to kill him. Then, he takes all the money and the samurai sword and kills Kuroda’s samurai friend. The Japanese ambassador tells Kuroda to find the samurai sword in seven days and return it in the same place when the train returns. If Kuroda does not retrieve the sword and kill Gauche for taking it, he will have to commit suicide because of his failure.

Link and Kuroda seek out Gauche for two different reasons. Kuroda wants to kill Gauche for taking the sword and killing his friend. Link wants to find Gauche and keep him alive until he can take him to where he has hidden the money. Link and Kuroda put their differences aside and decide to work together. These two culturally different men begin a trek to find Gauche and his hide out. While traveling together, Kuroda and Link began to respect one another. Link knows the territory and Kuroda is a worthy ally with his samurai sword. The two men form an unlikely friendship, with Link always questioning and making fun of Kuroda ,who retorts how odd he finds Americans.

Link knows that Gauche is traveling to a whorehouse to see his girlfriend Cristina, a beautiful prostitute played by Ursula Andress. Link forces Cristina to take him to Gauche’s hideout. Andress’s performance as the prostitute, who Gauche loves and spoils, is priceless. She is not only whiny, but has a very nasty temper. Cristina agrees to take Link and Kuroda to Gauche, but she escapes and goes to find Gauche herself. Unfortunately, she is quickly surrounded by Indians who want to torture her to death. What Link and Kuroda do for Cristina shows their respect and compassion for her. Link reveals that he may be a bandit, but is also a man with goodness in him.

The climax of Red Sun is not only exciting, but creatively filmed. It is one of my favorite scenes in a Western movie. The ending is a nice surprise, too. Despite its emphasis on action, Red Sun is a well-done story about the friendship between East versus West.

The film also features a memorable score by veteran film composer Maurice Jarre. He wrote quite a few impressive musical scores for film and television, winning Oscars for the following: Lawrence of Arabia (1962); Doctor Zhivago (1965); and A Passage to India (1984). My favorite of his scores is Red Sun and the title theme is on my iPod.

Charles Bronson was a man who loved horses. The horse he rides in this movie is his own. Notice the beautiful Spanish Andalusian horse that Andress rides too.

Red Sun is a hard movie to find on video and has not been released on DVD. Unfortunately, I do not own it on video, but I saw it recently on AMC. If you like Spaghetti Westerns and are a Charles Bronson fan, this is a must-see movie.


  1. Aki,
    It has been along time since I have seen the classic western movie Red Sun with Charles Bronson, Toshiro Mifune. The scene that I remember most is when Charles Bronson is trying to fight Toshiro Mifune. Toshiro is getting the best of Charles Bronson. Bronson laying on the ground, says looks like you are getting tired. So let's call it a draw. The look on Toshiro Mifune's face is cute. I loved your review. Sorry, I missed watching it on TV.

  2. Aki, I have always enjoyed this unique Western--and I own it on VHS! As you point out in your review, the relationship between Bronson and Mifune is what sells the film. They're sort of a Western odd couple (except that they can dispose of massive amounts of bad guys, too). I never really thought of SHANGHAI NOON as an homage, but can see the similarity now. Jarre's RED SUN music score is indeed memorable. Thanks for choosing an entertaining Western that doesn't get a lot of recognition.

  3. Dawn, my husband really likes Ursula Andress and had never seen Red Sun. I got it from Netflix so there is another way to see if you don't own it. I liked the scene you mentioned too. I also love the scene where Toshiro is taking a bath in a small pool of water when they are in the cold, snowy mountains. Bronson can't believe anyone would do that!! I thank you and Rick for the nice comments.

  4. I once filled out a survey asking what films would you like most to see on DVD and this was one of the three I listed. Fine write up for a terrific film. It's always been a favorite of mine. The Encore westerns channel has screened it of late - alas not wide screen. I'm glad you mentioned the Maurice Jarre score - I've always been very fond it.

  5. I have seen this unique western and love the unlikely relationship between Bronson and Mifune. Of course any film that has Ursula Andress is noteworthy. Great review!

  6. Aki, I forgot to mention that this is my favorite Bronson of the 1970s. But I also like BREAKHEART PASS and FROM NOON TILL THREE, which both twist the genre. BREAKHEART is a train-bound mystery and NOON is a satire about celebrity (with Mrs. Bronson's best performance). By the way, Anonymous, the European version of RED SUN include more revealing footage of Ms. Andress.

  7. Rick, I like Breakheart Pass also. It is an interesting mix of a western and an mystery story. I really like Chato's Land made in 1972. Bronson is an Indian being hunted down by a posse of white men. He hardly speaks a word in the film. I love the tagline, "The scream of his victims is the only sound he makes." It is an good movie. Kevin, I couldn't agree with you more about wanting Red Sun on DVD. I do too!!! Thanks everyone for your kind comments!!

  8. Aki, this was an excellent review of "Red Sun." I loved your research and it was fascinating to read about the four leads coming from four different countries, while the movie was filmed in a fifth. I also enjoyed reading about the horses and thought it was cool to read that Charles Bronson rode his own. Awesome post!