I first heard of this one in the mid-1980’s when it was run by fake-redneck movie critic Joe Bob Briggs — born John Bloom — on some weekend cable show that showcased schlocky films, and I’ve been intrigued by it ever since. I only saw about two minutes of it, but the image of a blonde Apache chick madly lashing a group of stagecoach horses in order to evade a bunch of hostile comancheros was sufficiently Frazetta-like to burn itself into my memory and make me remember the film nearly ten years later while scouring one of the Upper West Side’s many VHS rental shops that was being driven out of business by the rise of Blockbuster Video. The once-popular mom & pop video stores that were folding had to get rid of literally mountains of VHS tapes and priced them to move, so us fans of cheesy movies made out like bandits as scores of exploitation, Nazi “roughies,” martial arts, T & A epics and sundry drive-in classics (and non-classics) hit the going-out-of-business shelves. The one thing that sucked about this sudden windfall (other than the extinction of stores run by individuals rather than corporate entities that self-censor their rental items) was that many of the tapes in question had seen rental to viewers who didn’t take care of the movies, often returning them after running them through VCRs that hadn’t been cleaned since day one, so the tapes could be shredded or suffering from a myriad of other defects. When I found YELLOW HAIR AND THE FORTRESS OF GOLD in one of the cutout bins for five bucks I almost bought it, but having been burned before by defective tapes I opted against buying it because the box it came in showed all the signs of a tape that had been rented many times, most likely by horny guys looking for copious amounts of gratuitous nudity based on the cover image of a Loni Andersonesque blonde with a whip (who, admittedly, looked more like a porn star than an action hero) and the film’s R rating.
Now we skip ahead some fifteen years to this past Friday night and the big DVD sale at the Times Square where, while rummaging through the $7.00 bin, I found a brand new DVD of YELLOW HAIR AND THE FORTRESS OF GOLD. This time there was no fear of VHS-style tape damage, so I picked it up, figuring that for seven bucks I couldn’t go toot far wrong.
The film opens with the framing device of a movie theater in the midst of a weekend kids’ matinee and the viewer arriving for the latest chapter in a serial featuring Yellow Hair (Laurene Landon), a blonde half-Apache woman who’s tougher than any of the braves she was raised amidst, and the Pecos Kid (Ken Roberson), a somewhat smarmy gunslinger who sports a Southern accent despite being raised with Yellow hair and the Apaches (?). As we quickly figure out, Yellow Hair — or “Yella” as she’s called throughout the story — and Pecos are often at odds with a “comedically” gay Mexican colonel and his corrupt minions, and this week’s installment involves the good guys and the bad guys vying to discover the whereabouts of a legendary fortress made of and containing a vast horde of gold. There’s also a subplot in which Yellow Hair discovers her true origin — for no adequately explained reason, her Apache mom always told her she was the result of rape by a white man —, a birth that’s conveniently connected to the fortress of gold and its resident Indians who have a knack for extremely creative tortures, but does all of this actually add up to anything, entertainmentwise?
During the frequent gunfights and punch-ups, there are action set pieces meant to evoke old serials and the then-recent and incredibly lucrative RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, but the film moves at a rather slow, almost dreamlike pace that’s reminiscent of many of the lesser Spaghetti Westerns of the sixties and seventies. And although the film bears an R rating, there is nothing on display here that wouldn’t have been passed with a PG when it came out. There’s no cussing, minimal blood to speak of (less than would be found in any contemporary TV show), and if you’re looking for any trace of nudity you’re shit outta luck; the closest the film gets to providing any skin is a scene wherein Yellow Hair takes time out for a seaside bath following the dusty stagecoach adventure, after which she dries off in plain sight of the flummoxed Pecos Kid, but we get to see absolutely nothing thanks to the stagecoach obscuring Yellow Hair. All of which beggars the question, why the hell was this rated R? Sure, there’s an interesting scene in which the gold fortress dudes torture and kill some of the comancheros, dip their heads in molten gold and fashion disturbing masks out of them, but it’s all done in such a way that could easily be shown on an afternoon syndicated TV package.
The film ends with the fortress of gold story resolved, but we’re treated to uninteresting scenes from the alleged next chapter (that never came) and then the credits roll. It’s leaves the viewer with a somewhat disconcerting feeling and a sense of an incomplete moviegoing experience, so while it might be worth a look for curiosity seekers and undiscerning Western completists, YELLOW HAIR AND THE FORTRESS OF GOLD is best given a miss by pretty much everyone else. TRUST YER BUNCHE and stick to the far superior HUNDRA, made a year earlier by most of the same people and showcasing star Laurene Landon to much greater effect as a take-no-shit barbarian chick.