Two Rode Together (1961) *****

Never quite considered top drawer John Ford, yet it should rank alongside Stagecoach (1939), The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). I’ve been talking recently about a movie completed in a single take (Grenfell, 2023) and the power of a single scene (The Manchurian Candidate, 1962), and now I’m touching upon another piece of cinematic dexterity – the fixed-camera seqeunce.

This is a beauty and it lasts four minutes. Yep, for a four-minute medium-shot scene featuring the  two major characters the camera doesn’t move. Lawman Guthrie McCabe (James Stewart) and Cavalry officer Jim Gary (Richard Widmark) take a break from the 40-mile journey back to the fort. You think this is where Gary is going to spring upon McCabe exactly why his presence is so necessary for Army business. But instead, the scene, driven by Gary, is set up to discover why McCabe is so agreeable to taking a temporary leave of absence from an exceptionally comfortable lifestyle back in his small town.

Sure, this scene boasts a bit of business, the waving about of cigars and some pointing and McCabe’s head bobbing around, but otherwise the camera just observes. First of all we discover that McCabe earns $20 a month more than the soldier – that is, when the officer is paid at all, three months since he saw any money – and that McCabe is on the mean side and sarcastic with it. McCabe starts puffing on a long cigar and has to be nudged to offer Gary one. “You can afford matches,” he notes when Gary produces a packet.

McCabe has temporarily upped sticks it transpires because he’s getting unwelcome heat from his hotel owning lover Belle (Annelle Hayes),  on the sticky subject of marriage. The subject was brought up with a woman’s “animal cunning” when Belle asked why he was content with just taking 10 per cent of her income when, through entering into a partnership via marriage, he could receive 50 per cent. Gary is taken aback that his old pal is getting a slice off the top. And then somewhat shocked to learn that McCabe takes the same percentage from every business in town. McCabe is surprised to learn this comes as news to Gary. How else could the marshal support his lifestyle.

This mild interrogation is interrupted by a nugget about Belle. She has a stiletto strapped to her leg. That’s not news to Gary. McCabe is perturbed. How did he know. You just told me is the speedy retort. That takes a moment to sink in before McCabe’s suspicions are aroused and then allayed.

In other hands, this scene could have lasted a minute. Some speedy dialog would have got to the point faster. But that’s not the point. You can’t attempt this length of fixed camera scene unless you have two wonderful actors. It might appear indulgent but the director wants us to be sucked in by the affable McCabe.

Not sure where they got the image of the women in red being hanged – must be from another movie.

Because until now it has been all economy. The movie opens with a well-heeled fella dozing on a hotel veranda being woken up by a waiter bringing him beer and a cigar, candle at the ready to light the tobacco. The stage arrives. Two cowboys approach asking where they can get a decent drink. The man pulls back his jacket to reveal his badge. The mention of his name, Guthrie McCabe, is enough to make the pair reconsider staying.

A cavalry troop arrives with Gary at the head. Gary’s uniform is covered in dust, so thick you can hardly beat it off, so thick that unless accompanied by McCabe he would have been forbidden entry to the hotel by the owner. There’s snippy dialog here but it’s all delivered by Belle as she provides a series of sharp observations about men. Uninvited, she joins the pair as they sit down, Gary somewhat vague about his mission. Outside, we encounter McCabe’s dumb deputy, escorting a bunch of prisoners back to the jail because the judge was too drunk to appear in the courtroom – it’s that kind of town. McCabe, seeking re-election shortly for his position, sets them free and buys them a drink. Then we’re off on the 40-mile trip.

Still, we don’t know why McCabe’s presence at the fort is so important. John Ford doesn’t usually fall back on mystery as a narrative device unless it’s some personal secret hidden by a character. So McCabe is astonished to be hailed as a conquering hero, cheered by the people inhabiting an encampment outside the fort. One woman even says she can see his halo. What the…

Inside, it transpires Gary is merely doing his superior’s dirty work. And it’s cynical stuff at that. Major Frazer (John McIntyre) wants rid of the rabble who are giving him grief over their sons and daughters long ago kidnapped by the Commanche. Due to the current treaty, the Cavalry can’t just wade in and collect the kids, grown-up by now some of them. So he needs someone who is on nodding terms with the tribal chief (Henry Brandon) and negotiate their release.

McCabe’s first thought is how much he would be paid, given a cavalry officer’s salary would hardly keep him in cigars, reckoning it would be worth $500 a skull. “Whatever the market can bear,” insists McCabe. Both officers are appalled and even more so when McCabe reckons he’ll screw the money out of the distraught families. And that’s what he does. Affable has suddenly turned callous. The camera in this next scene focuses on Gary’s face, until he can take no more of his old buddy’s blatant greed.

Sucker punch number two. McCabe is as mercenary as the later Man With No Name. but he’s not the only one displaying cynicism. To appease his second wife Henry J. Ringle (Willis Bouchey) will cough up $1,000 if McCabe can bring back any child, not the actual one lost, because the kid was so young when kidnapped that his wife won’t know the difference and he has to get her off his back because it’s interfering with his business.

But there’s more sucker punches to come. McCabe won’t accept Gary’s leadership and won’t even agree to work out their approach together. But when it comes to action, it’s soon pretty clear that McCabe is the tougher character, can anticipate the enemy reaction. And he’s right to be cynical because when Elena (Linda Cristal) is returned to the fold, she is despised, all the fort wives want to know is how many Native American braves she slept with, and why she didn’t commit suicide instead.

There’s a sting in the tale for McCabe when he returns home and finds Belle has taken decisive action in his absence.

McCabe is a superb creation, none of that risking your life for nothing in his game plan, possibly the most realistic character in the Ford oeuvre, who doesn’t care a whit what people think about him, as long as he is paid what he feels is his due. Sure, he puts his life on the line, but you can be guaranteed that’s not much of a gamble, he is so accomplished with the gun and can outwit any foe. As corrupt as he is, he’s a lot more straightforward than the apparently high-principled wives and officers who treat Elena so abominably.

There’s a good bit more to this picture than I’ve described. I’ll pass over the usual punch-up to which Ford appears addicted. Gary’s romance with civilian Marty (Shirley Jones) is well done, she carrying the burden of surviving Indian attack when her younger brother was taken, and she is an accomplished pioneer, in another superb scene Gary congratulates her on pitching her tent out of the wind, far enough for the creek to escape mosquitoes and near a dead tree to get firewood.

And there’s another brilliant scene, revolving around a music box, that could have been a cliché but in another sucker punch takes a different, quite awful, direction.

This is so beautifully written and directed I’m just astonished it wasn’t met with acclaim at the time or since. The typical western has ever been so undercut nor typical action met with such dire consequence, the soft underbelly of life at the fort never so cruelly exposed.

You might think James Stewart was taking a chance in assuming the mantle of the man who killed Liberty Valance in order to advance his political career when in reality he did no such thing. But this character is light years away from that simple theft. His character in that Ford picture was exactly the high-principled guy you had come to expect from Stewart, even if, at the last instant, succumbing to a lie.

In the hands of another director McCabe would have been played by a sleazy Lee Marvin or another actor who could not rise above his bad-guy persona. This must be James Stewart’s finest hour, making an unattractive character appealing, so much so you almost appreciate his point of view in relation to the corruption and his antipathy to matrimony, and taking pains to conceal not the goodness underneath but his understanding of the harsher realities of Western life, at which he is more than adept at dealing.

Richard Widmark (The Secret Ways, 1961) also discards his normal screen persona, his job to act as observer to the Stewart character, to lead audience disapproval, and to be hoodwinked as much as McCabe by the cynical Major while enjoying none of the reward. He is gentler than usual, more resigned to his job, expecting little. Good supporting cast including Oscar-winner Shirley Jones (Bedtime Story, 1964), Linda Cristel (The Alamo, 1960) and especially, in her only movie, Annelle Hayes, as an extremely savvy character who gets the better of her slippery lover.

Brilliant film. And if like me you come to the four-minute scene you might just rewind once or twice to enjoy what Ford, Widmark and Stewart achieve. I was so taken with the entire film, which I’d never seen before, that I watched it again the next night.  

Shalako (1968) ***

It’s a gripping and unusual opening. The jangling noise of metal beating upon metal. A trapped mountain lion surrounded by a posse of unkempt men. The beast driven into a killing zone. The camera ends up on a classy blonde in a top hat, Irina (Brigitte Bardot), drawing a bead on the animal. But as she shoots so does rugged cowboy Bosky (Stephen Boyd) and you can be sure his aim is more deadly. It wouldn’t do to have an upper-class European lady to be mauled to death by a vicious creature just because her ego got the better of her.

Except that’s not the opening. Instead, that’s sacrificed for a dumb theme tune and a few minutes over the credits watching titular hero Shalako (Sean Connery) doing what exactly? Nothing exciting that for sure. We see him riding I guess to prove he can sit as tall in the saddle as the stars of the genre like Alan Ladd, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, James Stewart, as if nobody expected James Bond to be able to complete such a transition. There’s a bit of waking up, more riding, drinking from a dirty stream, and more riding while composer Jim Dale struggles to find lyrics that rhyme with Shalako.

There’s a bit more exposition before Shalako does anything meaningful. We are introduced to a fistful of Europeans on a hunting party complete with butler (Eric Sykes) and guzzling champagne and escorted by a bunch of mean-looking cowboys looking on in envy though I doubt any would acquire a taste for champagne.

Then the real action starts. A bit’s been missed out explaining just why Irina took off on her own with just one man as escort to continue hunting and nobody thought fit to warn her this was Apache country. We know she’s in trouble because her escort is just about dead and Apaches are gathering. Enter Shalako to save the day. The first piece of dialogue between the most handsome man in the world and the screen’s most beautiful woman, a movie made just so Connery, at his Bond peak, and Bardot, in her most expensive picture, could strike sparks off each other,  is hardly something to treasure. It’s almost priceless for its mundanity. “You all right?” grunts Shalako. “Yes,” replies the breathless heroine.

But trust the British to bring that epitome of British moviemaking, the class war, to that most democratic of movie species, the western. It’s ironic that in the country where freedom is a given  – slavery long since abolished in the period this movie was set – members of the hunting party are fettered. Irina is little more than bait. You might as well have staked her out, hoping to snare German aristocrat von Hallstatt (Peter van Eyck). Marriage would cure the financial woes of her debt-ridden sister Lady Daggett (Honor Blackman) and husband Sir Charles (Jack Jawkins). Von Hallstatt doesn’t believe in making romantic overtures, it would be, like so many aristocratic marriages, a contract of convenience; he acquires beauty, she gets wealth.

To complicate matters Lady Daggett has a roving eye which has settled on Bosky, and to complicate matters even further, nobody should be firing rifles, even if only for sport, in Apache territory. It’s not long before the Apaches take umbrage and launch an attack. And it takes even less time for Bosky and his buddies to take off, leaving their charges poorly defended in a makeshift fort.

It takes way too long to sort out all these plot machinations and get to the meat of the story which is finding a way of putting Connery and Bardot together and when they are not the movie trundles along without much in the way of screen sparks. It could have done with an entirely different scenario. Something akin to Soldier Blue (1970) would have worked a treat, with roles reversed of course back to the traditional of experienced male tending the inexperienced female as they battle through enemy territory.

You needed to get this pair together – and quick – for the movie to find any steam at all. As it is, it’s somewhat laborious. While the action sequences are well done and Shalako scores in the western lore department, you wouldn’t have thought a mountaineering subplot could have produced so few thrills, its only purpose, plot-wise, to ensure that von Hallstatt acquires some credibility (he’s the mountaineer) and that the group can reach a plateau whose main attraction, as lovers of westerns will already be aware, is a pool where in the great Hollywood tradition a woman can disport herself half-naked. Shalako, in sneaking up on her, comes across like a bit of a peeping tom.

Sean Connery (The Hill, 1965) is convincing enough as a cowboy. He certainly doesn’t look out of place on a horse but it takes far too long for the expected romance to begin. Brigitte Bardot (Viva Maria!, 1965) is better than you might expect as a sharpshooter, but not quite in the fiery class of a Claudia Cardinale (The Professionals, 1966) or even Maureen O’Hara (The Rare Breed, 1965) and she’s not really given the dialog necessary to fully establish the independence of her character.

Director Edward Dmytryk (Mirage, 1965) does his best with an overly-complicated script and some cumbersome set-pieces and it would have worked far better if a few characters and reams of sub-plot had been chucked aside to bring the stars together quicker. While Connery does the riding and shooting well enough he lacks the grizzled lived-in face of his famed western predecessors and I get a sense of him trying too hard. And, as I said, it wouldn’t have taken much to pep up Bardot.

Having complained about the subsidiary characters, they are all well-drawn. Stephen Boyd (The Big Gamble, 1961) makes on helluva mean cowboy, Honor Blackman (Moment to Moment, 1966) is excellent as a predatory female. Aristocratic pair Peter van Eyck (Station Six Sahara, 1963) and Jack Hawkins (Masquerade, 1965) are the kind of actors who can denote fallen status with facial expression rather than requiring lumps of dialog. But Eric Sykes (The Plank, 1967) is really a British in-joke.

James Griffith and screenwriting partner Hal Hopper had previously worked on Russ Meyer epics like Lorna (1965). The original story came from  a novel by Louis L’Amour (Catlow, 1971).

Out-with his guise as James Bond, Connery – excepting Robin and Marian (1976) and Cuba (1979) – was not one of the screen’s great lovers so this would have been the perfect chance  to hone those particular credentials. But like the entire picture this was a missed opportunity. When the best scene is the brutal suffocation of Honor Blackman and not the two stars canoodling, you can see the target was missed by miles.

The Appaloosa/Southwest to Sonora (1966) ****

High expectation can kill a picture. Low expectation can have the opposite result. I came at The Appaloosa with the latter attitude in mind. I knew the picture had been a big flop and that critics had carped – as they had done through most of the 1960s – about the performance of Marlon Brando.

Neither was director Sidney J. Furie’s style to everyone’s taste. And it seemed an odd subject – Texan takes on Mexican warlord to recover a stolen horse. It is surely a slow burn, but it certainly worked well beyond my anticipation. There’s not much more to the story than two guys fighting over a horse.

First of all, Brando’s performance came across as natural, not mannered. Secondly, this was a real character. He was not a John Wayne striding into action to protect the underdog or a woman or out of some goddam principle.

At first it did seem odd that Matt Fletcher (Marlon Brando) placed so much importance on the horse given that said warlord Chuy Meena (John Saxon) had offered him a more than fair price for it. But in one brilliant two-minute scene, expertly directed and with virtually no close-ups – the actor caught mostly with his back to the camera or in silhouette – we discover why. Fletcher has been such a disappointment to his father that bringing home such an animal was proof that he had made something of himself. A buffalo hunter to trade, he was on the verge of starting a new life.

The second aspect of this intriguing picture was that Medena placed so much importance on a horse when he could easily buy any horse he wanted. But he was faced with losing face. His wife Trini (Anjanette Comer) had tried to escape from him on the horse and the only remedy was to persuade the watching federales that Fletcher had previously sold him the horse.

When Fletcher refuses, Medena takes the horse by force. Fletcher, in retaliation, and to save his own sense of pride, tries to take it back. He is not represented as a superhuman John Wayne or savage Clint Eastwood, but an ordinary guy who soon finds himself out of his depth. So ordinary that the first time he aims his rifle he misses the target by a mile.

Nor is he burdened with an over-enlarged empathy gland. He not only refuses to help Trini, but steadfastly refuses to take her with him, not even as far as the border, until in another of the film’s lengthy scenes she explains the reasons for her escape attempt.

Few films have exceeded it for atmosphere. This Mexico is grim, pitiless. Hostility and suspicion are endemic. Women are abused and discarded. The standout scene is Medena and Fletcher arm-wrestling over scorpions, played out against a soundtrack of scraping chairs and the poisonous insects scrabbling on the table. 

This is a brooding western featuring the actor with the best eye for brooding in the business. Sidney J Furie (The Ipcress File, 1965) is gifted – or afflicted depending on your point of view – with an eye for the unusual camera angle. Here I think the gift not the affliction is on show.

When you watch this and The Chase (1966) together it’s hard to see what on earth got the critics so rattled about Brando’s mid-decade performances. This is realistic acting at his best. Where John Wayne or Clint Eastwood present a superhuman screen persona, even if for part of a picture they are downtrodden, Brando was happy to play very human characters. In both pictures he is just an ordinary joe – forced into action by circumstance.

Soldier Blue (1970) ****

Except for the visceral violence and the gender reversal almost plays like a traditional western, mismatched pair, army private Honus (Peter Strauss) and white squaw Cresta (Candice Bergen), trekking through Indian Country until finally ending up where they started, he at the cavalry fort, she back with her Native American husband Spotted Wolf (Jorge Rivero). Initially viewed as an allegory of Vietnam, specifically the My Lai massacre of 1968, no less powerful for that element not resonating so much.

From the outset this U.S. cavalry troop has little in common with the polished units of the John Ford era, the alcoholic commander, sex-obsessed soldiers, while the Cheyenne are considerably smarter, knocking off the unit not to rescue Cresta but to steal the money being ferried to the fort in order to buy rifles. The soldiers are so raw they don’t even post “flankers” to warn of imminent danger, are taken by surprise and decimated within minutes.

Cresta, who has a better grasp of the terrain, is first to find safety, later joined by Honus. Usually, it’s the male who is dominant, the female weak, needing rescued, tended and escorted home across perilous territory. There’s nothing innocent about Cresta who shocks Honus with her cursing and the way she strips off underwear that will hold her back over their long journey. While he makes his bones, defeating a Kiowa chief in a knife fight and demonstrating his marksmanship by shooting a rabbit, largely it’s down to Cresta to plot their course, tutor the young man in the ways of the wild, and get them out of scrapes.

There’s not much to the plot except them growing closer, eventually huddling together for warmth, while she fills him in on the genocidal tendencies of the U.S. government and how life on a reservation will ruin the indigenous people. But the preachy stuff takes second place to their relationship, the virginal Honus surprised by his own feelings, made more difficult by the fact that his more worldly companion has a fiancé back in camp.  

There’s an interlude of sorts when they are captured by the itinerant Cumber (Donald Pleasance), uncovering and destroying his cache of rifles intended for the Native Americans, and pursued as a result.  

Although theoretically, the action takes place after Little Big Horn in 1876, the references are to the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. We’re given no backstory as to how Cresta came to be welcomed in the Native American camp and was accepted as the wife of Spotted Wolf, and she is regarded almost as a traitor for succumbing. The narrative drives the audience towards Honus as the shocked observer on one side of the battle and Cresta as part of the Native American camp outnumbered by the massed Cavalry and massacred.

The film is more remembered for the violence than the performances which is a shame because Candice Bergen (The Magus, 1968) is particularly good as the far-from-typical Western woman, not just in her defence of the Native Americans, but in her gutsiness and know-how, and in a superb gender reversal becoming the protector of the male rather than the other way round. Peter Strauss (Hail, Hero, 1969) makes the transition from youth to maturity, from staunch  defender of American policy to outraged witness of its barbarity.

While you would need to track back in history to get the Vietnamese references, you will need little reminder of the atrocities armies can visit on the defenceless. The movie appeared at the same time as Dee Brown’s non-fiction book Bury My Heat at Wounded Knee, the first major work to take a different perspective on the Indian Wars. I’ve just finished reading The Earth Is Weeping by John Cozzens, published in 2016, who had greater access to historical data and presented the story in less black-and-white terms and which would have challenged a narrative that placed Cresta as a loved and loving wife in a Native American camp.

Whichever version you read, the outcome is still the same – unforgivable genocide.

The U.S. commander here, Col Iverson (John Anderson) is a pitiless creature. Once the main Native American force has been wiped out, he does nothing to prevent the subsequent raping and killing, some of the scenes filmed too strong for audiences weaned on the violence of the spaghetti westerns and The Wild Bunch (1969).  

Director Ralph Nelson (Duel at Diablo, 1966) almost employs the bait-and-switch approach, lulling us with minimal violence in a tale of the couple’s journey across the wilderness, before revealing the appalling unstoppable climax. John Gay (No Way to Treat a Lady, 1968) wrote the script based on the Theodore V. Olsen novel Arrow in the Sun.

Still retains its power half a century on.

The Pistolero of Red River / The Last Challenge (1967) ****

A little gem. Mature, thoughtful, cleverly structured. Plays with expectations. Another assured performance from Glenn Ford (Rage, 1966) with Angie Dickinson (Jessica, 1962) permitted a character of considerably more complexity than normal.

Quite an unusual set-up. Marshal Blaine (Glenn Ford) is an ex-convict, his paramour Lisa (Angie Dickinson) is the local madam. Both are pretty much accepted in this small western town. Some hypocrisy comes Lisa’s way – her money acceptable to a storekeeper who out of earshot refers to her as white trash – but generally the townspeople are happy with an ex-gunslinger as lawman.

But he’s not your standard lawman. He’s very easy-going, not spending all is time upholding the law or out hunting varmints, and she’s not your typical madam either, mothers her employees, keeps unwanted men at a distance, and has made enough money for a fine rig and fancy clothes.

Blaine is sensible but ruthless, taking tough action to prevent a young kid getting into trouble with a dangerous gunman, but having no compunction about shooting the gunslinger. He’s not out for an easy life, but my he does enjoy it, though on a slack day finds fishing more fun than rolling in the hay with Lisa. She knows she has made a good catch, her friend still getting knocked about by her husband, and although Blaine doesn’t seem the marrying kind she has notions of having a baby.

But out fishing Blaine frees a villain Ernest (Jack Elam) who has upset the local Indians. Since they shared a cell way back, Ernest sees Blaine as an easy touch and when told where to go on that score fingers to blackmail Lisa. Meanwhile, this turns out to be an eventful fishing trip. Blaine buddies up with a stranger, Lot (Chad Everett), they fish, cook and drink whisky together until the newcomer reveals he’s on a mission to kill the lawman and take his title of fastest gunman in the southwest.

So you can see where this is headed. Except it doesn’t take that route. Because Lisa, worried that the youngster might well be faster on the draw, hires Ernest to kill him. And when that backfires, it’s only a matter of time before Blaine finds out and you wonder what that’s going to do to their relationship.

There’s some standard stuff, a poker cheat for example, but there’s a lot more going on. Blaine’s young deputy, mostly left to do the chores, tries to throw his weight around with the gunman only to end up with egg on his face. There’s an Native American in jail who we never see and a subplot involving his colleagues that looks like it’s headed in the direction of standard western confrontation until that notion is cleverly nipped away from under the audience’s feet.

Given credence by the worried Lisa is the idea that Blaine is coming to the end of the trail and it’s a testament to the direction that the tension lasts as long as it does. The promotional material gives out that the youngster is a tearaway threatening to shoot up the town, but that’s far from the truth, Blaine trying to talk him out of such rashness while at the same time seeing the boy as a reflection of his younger self.

There’s some brilliant dialog. “Of all the people ain’t worth saving,” Blaine tells Ernest, “you’re the first that comes to mind.” At their first meeting, Lot asks Blaine, “Where’s your tin star?” Retorts Blaine, “You better never see it on me.” As they part, Lot says, “We’ll be meeting again.” Replies Blaine, without aggression, “If that’s the way you want it.”

But there’s quite a lot that’s missed out. There’s no scene of Lisa hiring Ernest, just that he ambushes Lot. The jailed Native American is, as I mentioned, off-camera. There’s none of the usual massive build-up towards a showdown. And even as the shootout approaches, Lisa still doesn’t trust in Blaine’s skill and plans to shoot Lot herself.

That betrayal comes as a helluva shock. When has any lawman’s moll lacked such faith? As for Lot, gunslinging is all that he lives for, the measure of himself, and there’s a purity about him as he rejects countless offers of whisky and women even as he knows he’s making a terrible bed to lie in.

This was very much ahead of its time, especially in thwarting audience expectation not just in the representation of character but in the narrative. It proved a fine last hurrah for veteran Hollywood director Richard Thorpe (The Truth about Spring, 1965). Robert Emmett Gina (Before Winter Comes, 1968) wrote the screenplay based on the John Sherry novel.

As it happened, I watched this back-to-back with Rage so ended with an even better appreciation of Glenn Ford’s talent but was also very taken with Angie Dickinson for the way her character twisted and turned as she attempted to create the outcome she desired. Definitely worth a watch.

The Deadly Companions / Trigger Happy (1961) ***

Bank robbers ride into town. They pass kids playing a vicious game. There’s something unusual on a roof. Innocents are killed in the resulting shootout.

Remind you of anything?

Sam Peckinpah’s debut is best viewed as an early dummy run for The Wild Bunch (1969) but the title could refer to any of his westerns since there is always malevolence afoot among any of his marauders, be they soldiers, lawmen or outlaws.

By the simple device of waiting a year until “The Parent Trap” had charmed audiences everywhere, UK exhibitors were able to launch “The Deadly Companions” on the back of it, as if O’Hara and Keith were re-teaming for the western rather than the other way round. “The Deadly Companions” wasn’t released in Britain until summer 1962, a year after its launch Stateside, and on the lower half of a double bill.

He’s done no favors by a genuine oddity of a script which has to shoehorn in various odd characters around a basic premise of escorting a woman across Indian Territory. And, it has to be said, more than occasionally the film doesn’t make much sense.

Strangers Yellowleg (Brian Keith), better known as The Man With The Hat since he refuses to take it off in case he reveals his scalped head, gunslinger Billy (Steve Cochran) and Turk (Chill Wills), former Confederate deserter, team up to rob a bank after the first two save card cheat Turk from an impromptu hanging.

But they discover they’re not the first to come up with robbing the new bank and in the shootout with the other robbers Yellowleg inadvertently kills the son of single mum and dance hall hostess Kit (Maureen O’Hara). She decides she doesn’t want to bury the boy in a town where she is openly despised but plans to put him to rest beside the grave of her husband in an abandoned village in Apache country.

Pricked by conscience Yellowleg offers assistance. But Billy goes along with the idea because, and there’s no getting round this, he wants to rape her. Turk goes where Billy goes. At first she resists all offers of assistance and manages to fend off the amorous Billy but of course she’s not able to fix broken wagon wheels or catch a runaway horse. Eventually, it’s just her and Yellowleg, though the other two turn up at the end, Billy not having given up on the notion of bedding her.

The Native Americans they encounter, as in The Pistolero of Red River/ The Last Challenge (1967) are mostly drunk and no threat. In fact, civilization is deadlier, Kit even cold-shouldered at church, and with travelling companions like Billy danger is a constant. Kit might have done better not to get herself wet so often, since that involves either a) being nude behind a wagon to dry off or b) splashing around in full view.

Surprisingly, the hat provides a couple of tender moments. But mostly it’s kept on because Turk is the guy who scalped Yellowleg. There’s an odd presumption that, although his facial features can’t have changed, that only removing it will alert Turk to his true identity. Yellowleg wants to scalp Turk in revenge. He’s only just found him after five years looking. So when he occasionally abandons Kit in dangerous Apache territory it’s to make sure his quarry hasn’t gone far.

There are some nice touches here, although the tendency towards gorgeous sunsets seems out of place. The person on the roof is, for unexplained reasons, Kit’s son playing a harmonica. The town has odd priorities. It may have a new bank but the local saloon has to double as the church, various paintings of nudes on the walls covered up for the occasion, the preacher (Strother Martin) happily challenging our trio to remove their hats in the presence of God. Yellowleg has “something wrong with his shooting arm,” a bullet embedded close to his collarbone that having found his prey he doesn’t have time for the convalescence required after an operation. Authenticity impinges – a rig carrying a coffin and two people is a lot more cumbersome than a single horse dragging a sled, body wrapped in cloth.  

Maureen O’Hara (The Rare Breed, 1966) in tempestuous mode is the star attraction here. She’s independent, sassy, tender in turn, and able, for the most part, to defend herself against Billy. It seems a tad inconceivable that she would fall for her son’s killer much as, for purely practical reasons, she might accept his protection.    

Brian Keith’s character doesn’t quite come off since it takes too long for his quest to be spelled out. Neither do he and O’Hara gell as they would in their next teaming, The Parent Trap (1961) .

Steve Cochran (Mozambique, 1964) is mostly in scene-stealing mode and it would have helped his character if it had been spelled out whether Kit was a mere dance hall hostess or one who gave out extras for a price. Chill Wills (The Alamo, 1960) also seems to be on a different planet when it comes to acting. But it does seem a shame all the boys put so much effort into trying to steal scenes when Maureen O’Hara without doing very much sneaks away with the entire picture. A.S. Fleischman (The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, 1967) wrote the screenplay based on his own novel, O’Hara’s brother produced, and, you might as well know, it’s the actress who sings the theme song.

100 Rifles (1969) ****

Highly under-rated but effective western that cemented Raquel Welch’s position as the queen of the genre, established Jim Brown as the first African American action star, scored points for its parallels with Vietnam, and provided the only image of the actress to rival that iconic fur bikini.

Arizona lawman Lyedecker (Brown) arrives in Sonora, Mexico, in 1912 on the trail of half- breed bank robber Yaqui Joe (Burt Reynolds). He finds the Mexican army callously executing Yaqui Indian rebels. To prevent further killing, Joe creates a diversion, which, while failing, permits the captured Sarita (Raquel Welch) to escape. The $6,000 Joe stole buys the titular 100 rifles to help the rebel cause.

Most posters played up the action but here the emphasis is on La Welch.

Helped by Lyedecker, Joe escapes, picking up Sarita on the way. Both Lyedecker and the Mexicans are in pursuit, and the Mexicans soon recapture Joe and Lyedecker, who is now viewed as a rebel. Sarita again escapes. Lyedecker and Joe are returned to the garrison where the Mexicans have taken possession of the rifles. Just as the pair are put in front of a firing squad, Sarita, leading a group of rebels, frees them and steals the weapons.

In retaliation, the Mexicans attack a village, slaughtering the inhabitants and taking the children as hostages. At night, Lyedecker, Sarita, Joe and some rebels capture the garrison before the soldiers return, freeing the children. Lyedecker has been injured in the battle; after Sarita binds the wound, they make love.

When they take the rifles to the rebel stronghold, they discover the rebel leader is dead. For no particular reason, the rebels elect Lyedecker their new “generale.” Seizing a Mexican troop train is pitifully easy once Sarita creates a diversion by taking a shower under a water tower. The empty train is sent cannoning into the town and in the ensuing battle Sarita is killed. Yaqui Joe takes over leadership of the rebels while Lyedecker rides home.

While the capture- escape-chase-capture formula is overdone, the movie’s biggest structural problem is Yaqui Joe, clearly turned into a drunk to avoid becoming a romantic encumbrance for Sarita, leaving the way clear for Lyedecker. His other contributions are to brawl with Lyedecker and try to get the American to give up his quest and stay and help the rebels. There are other unnecessary characters and touches. We know it is a modern western because  a motor car is involved as there would be in The Wild Bunch. The sole purpose of a German military adviser Von Klemme (Eric Braeden) is to act as a sounding board for Gen. Verdugo (Fernando Lamas), whose actions in any case speak louder than words. Railroad magnate Grimes (Dan O’Herlihy) represents equally callous big business. When Americans get drunk in westerns, that usually leads to fisticuffs, but when Indians knock back the liquor in 100 Rifles they act like clichéd drunken Indians, tearing up the town, looting and destroying anything in sight.

These reservations apart, the film has a great deal to recommend it. On the whole, it is well directed, although without much of an eye for landscape. Sarita, wearing a red headscarf, thus  continuously color-coded, is accorded the greatest emotional depth, haunted by guilt for sacrificing her father in the name of freedom: “I helped him to die.” But she has another weapon at her disposal: her body. When captured, she distracts a soldier with sight of her breasts before stabbing him, the shock in her eyes suggests this is the first time she has killed a man.

Although the narrative advocates her as feisty leader from the start, this scene, and in particular her reaction, suggests otherwise. More than capable of taking care of herself, it is she, and not the two stronger men, who effects an escape. When she organizes the rescue of the two men, she’s more interested in the guns than them. But when it comes to children, they take precedence.

The genocide theme, pertinent both to American treatment of its own indigenous Native Americans and to the current war in Vietnam, is raised. It is more trouble than it’s worth for Gen. Verdugo to clear the Indians from their lands and ship them elsewhere, as the Americans had done when putting Indians onto reservations. Verdugo has few compunctions. Unlike in The Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, here the railroad is a tool of control. Trains loaded with troops and guns (including Gatling guns, also seminal to The Wild Bunch) and artillery can travel with ease across alien territory to keep the inhabitants in check. As exemplified by Grimes, railroads also represent the intrusion of big business into politics and ordinary lives, and the railroad man, while concerned that Lyedecker’s possible execution could jeopardize U.S.- Mexican relationships and, by extension, possible halt the American railroad’s expansion, is ultimately more apprehensive about damage to running stock than the cost in human lives of his partnership with the Mexicans.

There’s a nod to seminal Sidney Poitier picture The Defiant Ones (1958) with Lyedecker and Joe chained together, and the American, initially disinterested in rebellion, only takes up the cause after a child he has befriended is slaughtered.

100 Rifles shares with The Stalking Moon, The Wild Bunch, Mackenna’s Gold, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid the theme of relentless pursuit, of an implacable enemy, often with justice or morality or power on their side, who will never give up, and, in a twist on this, in True Grit Rooster Cogburn is the one in fearless pursuit.

At the time, in male-dominated society, the sexual centerpiece was Raquel Welch in various states of undress, forgetting that women, too, were apt to be partial to the sight of an unclothed muscular male. It is Jim Brown who is first seen shirtless. And it is Sarita who takes control of the scene, kissing him as a reward “for all the bad things I said to you.” (Another gender twist, for usually it is the man making reparation.) A more tender scene between Lyedecker and Sarita, ostensibly of the more traditional kind, feisty female   transformed into docile housewife by cooking her man a steak invited another reading, more in keeping with her character, not, you may notice, clinging to him, desperate for his love, but happy to enjoy the moment and abandon him when it suits (as Katharine Ross will in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, departing before the outlaws die).

For many, of course, the highlight is Sarita, the leader in all but name, using her body as weapon. As the train approaches the water tower, the soldiers see Sarita standing underneath dressed in only a man’s shirt, taking a shower. The train shudders to a halt for this voyeuristic delight; the camera too, for the audience’s sake, lingering on Sarita’s curves.

Although 100 Rifles is ponderous and improbable in places, with too much emphasis on escape- and-rescue, it certainly achieves its immediate aims, setting up Brown as an action man, giving Welch a role that’s hardly subordinate, ensuring the combination is as sexy as all get-out, while at the same time supplying enough shoot- outs and battle scenes to keep traditionalists happy. As important, director Tom Gries (Will Penny, 1968) is not afraid of using the film to make points, if sometimes a little heavy- handed, about Vietnam and genocide. Clair Huffaker (The Hellfighters, 1968) wrote the screenplay along with Gries based on a Robert MacLeod novel.

All in all, a movie that deserves a good bit more respect.

This review is an edited version of an article that appeared in The Gunslingers of ’69: Western Movies’ Greatest Year (McFarland, 2019) by Brian Hannan (that’s me).

Custer of the West (1967) ****

Far grittier than I expected for a portrayal of one of America’s greatest, if flawed, western heroes. Far darker, with a two-fisted take on the endemic corruption at the highest level that fuelled the Indian Wars. Revisionism with a punch. And bold enough to turn Cinerama tropes on their head.

We should deal with the last first because that reveals the extent of the bitterness that seeps through a biopic in which a soldier’s great skills are put to unwarranted use. You may recall that from its earliest days, Cinerama relied on thrills of a specific nature, one that like 3D put  viewers in the driver’s seat, only to scare the pants off them. You were always racing towards danger, whether that be down the rapids in How the West Was Won (1962) or downhill along twisting roads in The Battle of the Bulge (1965). There always seemed a runaway train to hand. Whatever, it was just a thrill ride, occupants escaping unhurt.

Not so here. The men on the runaway wagon have been tied to it. It careens downhill all right, at one point from an upside down point-of-view, but it ends up over the cliff, no escape for the men. A soldier rides a log river to escape Native Americans. He manages that but is killed on dry land by an arrow all the same. A runaway train falls into a burning bridge. The normal thrills, then, with a realistic edge.

The reward for the great hero, Custer (Robert Shaw), gallant leader of sixty dashing cavalry charges during the Civil War, is a commission with the 7th Cavalry in the Dakotas on a mission described by General Sheridan (Lawrence Tierney) as “plain robbery,” the blatant theft of land from Native Americans.

That’s virtually the first scene, a brutal analysis on the American West, greedy land-guzzling settlers requiring protection, a soldier in obeying orders tacitly agreeing to wage an unholy crusade, not a justified war against slavery.

And Custer doesn’t inherit your John Ford cavalry unit, where every drunk has redeeming features, if only to provide some comedy. His second-in-command, Major Reno (Ty Hardin) is an alcoholic, nearly an entire battalion of malingerers on sick parade. Although later spouting chivalrous nonsense about hating machines, it’s the cannon Custer brings to bear on the enemy that provides initial victory, permitting the boast that 255 men conquered the Cheyenne nation. But, of course, such triumphalism proves premature, the Cheyenne and Sioux taking revenge on defenceless towns.

Custer is presented with ambivalence, but granted something of a free pass given his intolerance of alcohol, antipathy to the war and whistleblowing that points the finger at government officials and corrupt businessmen. On the other hand he is the chief marketeer of his own image, vainglorious, not least in his determination to win the Battle of the Little Big Horn on his own, arriving a day ahead of other assigned forces.

He is both ruthless and comforting. Instead of upbraiding a mutinous soldier for stealing water during a trip over the desert, he tells him to wait till sundown when his thirst will be quenched. But, despite repeated broken treaties, he lacks sympathy for Native American chief Dull Knife (Kieron Moore) for failing to comprehend that a superior power will always win. There’s a bit too much crammed into a relatively short running time. A Russian appears to point out that the United States is negotiating to buy Alaska. Railroads enter the equation and an early version of a tank. An anonymous prospector has gold teeth because he likes “the taste of gold.” Robert Ryan makes a cameo appearance as a deserter.

All that is redundant when the venality confronting Custer is dealt with in one brilliant scene when gold prospectors start digging up the fort in the hope of finding the precious mineral.

I’m no expert on the historical accuracy but by and large whether this portrayal of the life and times of General Custer is actually true it certainly rings true.

British actor Robert Shaw (Battle of the Bulge), with his mean shifty eyes and trademark tight-lipped side-of-the-mouth delivery, doesn’t quite bring enough shade to the characterisation, but possibly that’s the fault of the screenplay, which has cast him, outside of the final calamitous engagement, as even more heroic in the political arena than on the battlefield. As his wife, Mary Ure (Where Eagles Dare, 1968) appears only fitfully and has little to do. Lawrence Tierney (Reservoir Dogs, 1992) is excellent as the self-serving Sheridan. Just like the later Cinerama epic Krakatoa East of Java (1968) this suffers from lack of recognizable stars.

Director Robert Siodmak (The Crimson Pirate, 1952) creates a literate, revisionist, western that ensures intelligence is not swamped by action. Bernard Gordon (Krakatoa East of Java) and Julian Zimet (Circus World/The Magnificent Showman, 1964) are credited with the screenplay.

A worthy attempt to use a legend to explore the greater issues of the day.

Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) ***** Now Officially The Greatest Western of All Time

Having complained about lists and then recanted when one of my favorites got the nod at the top of the heap, I’m doing the same again.

The recent Sight & Sound once-in-a-decade Directors Poll did the unthinkable and placed Once Upon a Time in the West ahead of John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) which, virtually since release, had been anointed the top western of all time. The critics who participated in the Critics Poll, which ran concurrently with the Directors Poll, were not, I hasten to add, quite so convinced. According to the critics, the John Ford picture was still top dog, ahead of the Leone masterpiece in second place. But in a battle between directors, who make a living making pictures, and critics, whose only skill is writing about them, I know which side I would come down on. And in any case I had long sided with the directors on this issue.

A masterpiece to savor. The greatest western ever made. Sergio Leone’s movie out-Fords John Ford in thematic energy, imagery and believable characters and although it takes in the iconic Monument Valley it dispenses with marauding Native Americans and the wrecking of saloons. That the backdrop is the New West of civilisation and enterprise is somewhat surprising for a movie that appears to concentrate on the violence implicit in the Old West. But that is only the surface. Dreams, fresh starts are the driving force. It made a star out of Charles Bronson (Farewell, Friend, 1968), turned the Henry Fonda (Advise and Consent, 1961) persona on its head and provided Claudia Cardinale (Blindfold, 1965) with the role of a lifetime. And there was another star – composer Ennio Morricone (The Sicilian Clan, 1969)

New Orleans courtesan Jill (Claudia Cardinale) heads west to fulfil a dream of living in the country and bringing up a family. Gunslinger Frank (Henry Fonda), like Michael in The Godfather, has visions of going straight, turning legitimate through railroad ownership. Harmonica (Charles Bronson) has been dreaming of the freedom that will come through achieving revenge, the crippled crooked railroad baron Morton (Gabriele Ferzetti) dreams of seeing the ocean and even Cheyenne (Jason Robards) would prefer a spell out of captivity.

The beginnings of the railroad triggers a sea-change in the west, displacing the sometimes lawless pioneers, creating a mythic tale about the ending of a myth, a formidable fable about the twilight and resurgence of the American West. In essence, Leone exploits five stereotypes – the lone avenger (Harmonica), the outlaw Frank who wants to go straight, the idealistic outlaw in Cheyenne, Jill the whore and outwardly respectable businessman Morton whose only aim is monopoly. All these characters converge on new town Flagstone where their narratives intersect.

That Leone takes such stereotypes and fashions them into a movie of the highest order is down to style. This is slow in the way opera is slow. Enormous thought has gone into each sequence to extract the maximum in each sequence. In so doing creating the most stylish western ever made. The build-up to violence is gradual, the violence itself over in the blink of an eye.

Unusually for a western – except oddities like Five Card Stud (1968) – the driving force is mystery. Generally, the western is the most direct of genres, characters establishing from the outset who they are and what they want by action and dialogue. But Jill, Harmonic and Cheyenne are, on initial appearances, mysterious. Leone takes the conventions of the western and turns them upside down, not just in the reversals and plot twists but in the slow unfolding tale where motivation and action constantly change, alliances formed among the most unlikely allies, Harmonica and Cheyenne, Harmonica and Frank, and where a mooted  alliance, in the romantic sense, between Jill and Harmonica fails to take root.

There’s no doubt another director would have made shorter work of the opening sequence in Cattle Corner, all creaky scratchy noise, in a decrepit railroad station that represents the Old West, but that would be like asking David Lean to cut back Omar Sharif emerging from the horizon in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) or Alfred Hitchcock to trim back the hypnotic scenes of James Stewart following Kim Novak in Vertigo (1958). Instead, Leone sets out his stall. This movie is going to be made his way, a nod to the operatic an imperative. But the movie turns full circle. If we begin with the kind of lawless ambush prevalent in the older days, we end with a shootout at the Sweetwater ranch that is almost a sideshow to progress as the railroad sweeps ever onward.

No character is more against audience expectation than Jill. Women in westerns rarely take center stage, unless they exhibit a masculine skill with the gun. There has rarely been a more fully-rounded character in the movies never mind this genre. When we are introduced to her, she is the innocent, first time out West, eyes full of wonder, heart full of romance. Then we realise she is a tad more mercenary and that her previous occupation belies her presentation. Then she succumbs to Frank. Then she wants to give up. Then she doesn’t. Not just to stay but to become the earth mother for all the men working on the railroad.

Another director would have given her a ton of dialogue to express her feelings. Instead, Leone does it with the eyes. The look of awe as she arrives in flagstone, the despair as she approaches the corpses, the surrender to the voracious Frank, the understanding of the role she must now play. And when it comes to close-up don’t forget our first glimpse of Frank, those baby blue eyes, and the shock registering on his face in the final shoot-out, one of the most incredible pieces of acting I have ever seen.

And you can’t ignore the contribution of the music. Ennio Morricone’s score for Once Upon a Time in the West has made a greater cultural impact than even the venerated John Williams’ themes for Star Wars (1977) and Jaws (1975) with rock gods like Bruce Springsteen and Metallica among those spreading the word to successive generations and I wonder in fact how people were drawn to this big-screen showing by the opportunity to hear the score in six-track Dolby sound. There’s an argument to be made that the original soundtrack sold more copies than the film sold tickets.

The other element with the music which was driven home to me is how loud it was here compared to, for example, Thunderball (1965), which as it happens I also saw on the big screen on the same day. Although I’ve listened to certain tracks from the Bond film on a CD where the context is only the listener and not the rest of the picture, I was surprised how muted the music was for Thunderball especially in the action sequences. Today’s soundtracks are often loud to the point of being obstreperous, but rarely add anything to character or image.

If you live in the U.K. you should get the opportunity to see this once again on the big screen because the British Film Institute, which coincidentally owns Sight & Sound, is planning to screen all the 100 films in its latest poll. Other countries might take note.

Bandolero (1968) ****

Darkest – and possibly the most under-rated – western of the decade featuring a top-class cast playing against type, down-and-dirty in its depiction of the itinerant cowboy, an ending you won’t see coming and if it’s not a heretical notion close cousin to the later The Wild Bunch (1969).

Gang of outlaws led by Dee (Dean Martin), condemned to death for robbing a bank, is rescued by his brother Mace (James Stewart) posing as a hangman.  While a posse led by Sheriff Johnson (George Kennedy) is in hot pursuit and the outlaws kidnap as potential hostage recently widowed Maria (Raquel Welch), Mace, sauntering through the deserted town, indulges in a bit of larceny himself.

All head for Mexico, a pitiless region, where the posse are picked off by bandits, the outlaws directed by the native Maria towards a small town which turns out to offer no safety at all. While there’s plenty action, this is more character-based. Mace and Dee are on the Civil War divide, the former (still sporting his Union uniform) riding with General Sherman, the latter with the Confederate Quantrill’s Raiders, despised by Mace as nothing more than glorified killers.

And while they are both outlaws, Mace blaming his situation on the Civil War, they are divided too by a sense of honor, Mace making it a point of principle never to harm women or children, Dee, far removed from any sense of himself, guilt-ridden, past caring, and lonely, can’t remember the last time he was with a woman he respected.

Sheriff Johnson is in pursuit in part due to unrequited love for Maria. Quick to action  in a professional capacity, he is tongue-tied in her presence. Nor has the newly-wealthy Maria much need of a male protector. A whore since the age of 13 to provide for her extended family, sold into marriage nd acceptance that for security not love, she has been, ironically, set free by violent robbery. Dee’s gang views Maria as plunder, rape imminent should the brothers turn their backs. While Maria has little interest in another male protector she finds herself attracted to Dee.

Mace is mostly peacemaker, prodding his weaker sibling into responsibility, trying to instil into him the kind of code by which the likes of The Wild Bunch swore, but, still on the shifty side himself, concealing from the others the loot from his own robbery. But where The Wild Bunch are essentially sanctified by Peckinpah, especially with their hypocritical codes of honor and their unlikely redemption, the lives of Dee and Mace are unfulfilled, lawful or lawless drifters enjoying little of life.

There’s an ambivalence to Mace, theoretically a law-abiding rancher, but apparently turning outlaw on a whim. We are introduced to an impoverished Mace being ripped off for food and accommodation, spending the night in an overcrowded bunkhouse, his Unionist uniform doing him no favors two years after the end of the Civil War in Confederate Texas. He appears less prone to violence but we are not privy to how he persuaded a hangman to part with his outfit. And he’s a mean hand with a rifle, helping his brother escape his pursuers.

You might wonder just how Mace came to be an outlaw when he witters on so often about his God-fearing mother and his upbringing on a farm and you always have the sense he’s part of that woeful Hollywood creation, the “good” outlaw, as if there was such a thing, certainly no sign of him dispersing ill-gotten gains to the poor. He might just be as deluded as his brother.

Of the three, Maria is the most clear-sighted, no qualms about her behaviour, and,  provided with weaponry, perfectly capable of defending herself. Mexican bandits offer her no clemency either, assuming that, escorted by gringos, she has abandoned the land of her birth, or just because any woman is prey.

So it’s a perfect onion of a western, layers upon layers, the pursued needing to defend themselves not just against the pursuers, but bandits lying in wait, and within their supposed close-knit community the brothers guarding against fellow outlaws and protecting the  woman.  

James Stewart (Shenandoah, 1965) played many a tough guy at the reinvention of his career in the early 1950s in Anthony Mann westerns, and while his characters often displayed venal qualities they were not outlaws. Career-wise this was a dicey role for an established western hero. That he brings the common touch that was the hallmark of his original screen persona to this characterisation of an outlaw with a code of honor does not disguise the fact that he is still an outlaw.

Dean Martin had essayed a really mean bad guy in Rough Night in Jericho (1967) but again this was his debut as an outlaw, and a conflicted one at that, enjoying the boost to his self-esteem that leadership brings, but finding himself enmeshed with the dregs of society, and certainly not on the look-out for any acts of kindness or redemption. This is a beautifully nuanced performance especially when he realizes Maria is responding to him.

Raquel Welch (Fathom, 1967) in what amounts to her first major film opposite two Hollywood legends more than holds her own. Not able to rely upon her overt sex appeal as in her previous outings, she portrays an upstanding women, abused by men in the past, determined not to take that route in the future. Alone of all the characters, having accepted her fate at an early age, she has developed a self-esteem not sacrificed to circumstance. The whore and the outlaw might be the oldest trope in the book but it works very well here as two characters find solace in each other.

George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke, 1967), more accustomed to playing tough guys, leavens his portrayal by appearing idiotic with women. This, too, is a departure for Andrew V. McLaglen. Anyone aware of Shenandoah or The Undefeated (1969) will be familiar with his dexterity for widescreen composition, but here he tamps down on that stylistic device, concentrating more on group reaction and interaction. James Lee Barrett (Shenandoah) wrote the biting script based on a story by producer Stanley  Hough.  

While there’s plenty action it’s not a rip-roaring western, too much character involvement for that, but certainly ranks as one of the top westerns of the decade.

Apologies again for the premature appearance of the blog “Behind the Scenes: Bandolero!” but that will definitely appear tomorrow.

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