Movie Report: The Master Gunfighter (1975)

Book coverGentle reader, when I watched the 1993 anime film Ninja Scroll (and Ghost in the Shell), I said:

I would have enjoyed these films more as actual films with actors and stuff, maybe, but I’m too old to be watching a lot of cartoons.

And, in an amazing coincidence or bit of cosmic kismet, I proved that to be true within the week.

I grabbed this film thinking that it was going to be a sort of B-movie Western. I knew it starred Tom Laughlin, who played in the Billy Jack films so I expected it would have some political messaging.

The prologue voice over (provided by Burgess Meredith) tells of how the man was educated in Europe and the East, which explains why he was so skilled with a gun (a special 12-shooter) as well as the katana. But he, the Master Gunfighter, is leaving the hacienda of his father-in-law after the father-in-law’s men killed the native residents of a coastal village to cover for their illicit recovery of gold from a shipwreck. The Master Gunfighter, Finley, did not participate in the killing except to save himself when a villager attacked him, but he carries that guilt and cannot stay at the hacienda. Wait a minute, that’s the story from Ninja Scroll adapted to 19th century California instead of Tokagawa Japan.

Finley is working as a sideshow in Mexico when a group of gunfighters comes to find him and kill him because the leader of the hacienda is planning a similar slaughter to steal some gold to keep his hacienda running and wants to have Finley out of the way first. So Finley makes his way back to the hacienda to reunite with his wife, played by Barbara Carrera, and to dissuade his in-laws from pursuing their plans, meeting a mountebank, the only survivor of the first village slaughter, and a government spy along the way (the government spy, of course, tracks with Ninja Scroll as well). Gunfighting and swordfighting ensue.

After watching the film, I went to see if they shared a common source. And although Ninja Scroll‘s Wikipedia page does not mention it, The Master Gunfighter‘s Wikipedia says it’s a remake of a 1969 Japanese live-action film called Goyokin. Strangely, nobody on the Internet seems to have said that Ninja Scroll is also based on this film as well–I’ve found an article about anime that mentions both, but the listicle includes another anime whose soundtrack mirrors Goyokin‘s. So looky there, gentle reader: some original thought/connection/research here on MfBJN. That’s the insight you’re paying big bucks for. Born of a coincidence that still tickles me several days later.

At any rate, a little preachy, as you might expect from Billy Jack. It’s multi-layered though, and not as simplistic as you would get these days. The Americans are pressing the Spanish-ancestored landed gentry in California, who are then slaughtering natives for profit, and the natives abhor the Catholic missionaries.

I remember that my mother watched the Billy Jack movies when they came on. She might have had a little thing for Tom Laughlin, who was a native of Milwaukee and studied at the same university that I did, and I remember he ran for president in 1992.

But if the Internet had been around in 1975, well, public Internet, maybe we would have had Eula versus Chorika debates.

Barbara Carrera played Finley’s wife Eula and Geo Anne Sosa played Chorkia, the native from the village who survived the slaughter by not being there. Carrera, as you know, was a Bond girl, sort of (it was Never Say Never Again which is sort of canon). Sosa only played in a couple of movies, the other being The Trial of Billy Jack.

Barbara Carrera
Geo Anne Sosa

I am torn, but would likely have to lean toward Geo Anne Sosa if pressed.

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