The Scalphunters

Shelley takes no nonsense…

This is Shelley Winters to me:


Always has been. Always will be. In fact, I don’t know her in any other role. That is, the cigar-smoking, non-nonsense taking Kate from The Scalphunters (1968). So there you have it…another secret is out. I guess I should try watch at least one other movie of hers…but you know what? I quite like her as this western lady. The one who gives tough-as-nails leader of the “wickedest, crookedest”* scalp hunters, Jim Howie (who else but Telly Savalas?), a run for his money:


She has to though…who else would put up with kissing a man who chews tobacco and likes prunes:

Kate: “Look. Look at my skin. It’s getting all dried up. Pretty soon I’m going to look like an old prune.”

Howie: “Well, I like prunes”

She’s not scared to tell Jim Howie to run his business “like you knew what you’s doing” in such a way that all he can reply with isĀ  “ain’t she pretty?”. And that she is. Underneath all her toughness, she dreams of a fancy house and beautiful skin. And, she’s Shelley Winters, really a pretty lady who has the perfect balance of sweetness and feistiness to pull off this role. I’m not sure who else could have been so perfectly cast opposite Telly Savalas, himself at times overpowering the screen.

Here she is, promised that after having had her hair shampooed by the humble cactus, she’ll be a fine lady:


I think that goal was definitely achieved:



Throughout the movie, Shelley Winters is just fabulous in her role. The perfect fit here and when facing the Kiowa chief, offering him a bottle of whiskey, she sums up her character (and performance) absolutely perfectly: “Indian Man, I don’t know how many wives you got now…but you’re going to have yourselves the damnedest white squaw in the Kiowa nation.”

If you haven’t seen this movie yet, do so. Aside from Shelley‘s performance, Telly Savalas, Burt Lancaster and Ossie Davis add their great acting skills to this western (with some comic moments added in). The story is about a fur tracker who encounters some Indians and being forced to trade his precious goods for an escaped slave. Things are further complicated when the furs end up with the renegades. For a more detailed review of the actual movie, head on over here (here).

*as so aptly described by Joe Bass (Burt Lancaster) to Joseph Lee (Ossie Davis)

Now I’m heading over to Realweegiemidget Reviews and Poppity Talks Classic Film the hosts of The Shelley Winters BlogathonĀ  (here) to be enlightened on some more of this actress’ roles.




The Scalphunters (1968) – Fun Western

Burt Lancaster teams up with Ossie Davis, Telly Savalas and Shelley Winters in this comedic Western directed by Sydney Pollack.

Fur Trapper Joe Bass (Lancaster) is travelling with his latest haul when he is stopped by Kiowa Indian Two Crows (Armando Silvestre) and a group of his men who “trade” Bass‘ furs for their captured slave Joseph Lee (Davis, who was nominated for a Golden Globe in this role). Highly educated and very professional, Joseph Lee and Joe Bass, who can’t even write his name, head off to get the furs back. What they don’t count on is Jim Howie (Telly Savalas) and his band of scalphunters relieving the Kiowa of both the furs and their own hair. Through circumstance, Jospeh Lee ends up with Howie and Joe Bass continues his fur-retrieval efforts alone.

scalphunters3Davis definitely deserved the Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor for this one. He is absolutely fantastic as the former house slave heading for Mexico, now claiming to have “full Indian citizenship” (He was property of the Comanches before the Kiowa got him). Watching him interact with Lancaster and Savalas is absolutely wonderful. And who better than Shelley Winters as Kate to contrast Savalas as his wife/partner. Oh what a wonderful ensemble who seem to gel so well together.


Even music, courtesy of Elmer Bernstein, adds so much character to this movie. From the opening credits (which are likewise well done), to the end, aurally, it is a pleasure, with the main theme sticking in your mind long after you’ve finished watching. In fact, the theme is one of the things I clearly remembered now after not having seen this for a good 15 years.


So, fun Western. Keep a lookout for Burt Lancaster‘s circus background coming through in a “oh really?” moment near the end.

Head on over to MovieRob for his monthly Genre Grandeur series which is the Western genre this month. I’ll be sending my Grandeur-worthy entries to him for publishing at the end of the month.