The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Bravos

The TV movie is seemingly a thing of the past. In the 1970s and 1980s, TV movies and miniseries dominated the landscape, movie stars making the jump to television as roles presented themselves. Now with cable, dish and satellite, it's hard to consider what's even a TV movie and what isn't. Heading into the wayback machine, it's easy to identify them from the past, like 1972's The Bravos, a western with some potential that doesn't quite live up to it but is entertaining just the same.

It's just a year or two since the end of the Civil War, and the U.S. is focusing on expansion westward. At a remote outpost on the frontier, Major John Harkness (George Peppard) is doing his best to work himself out of quite the situation. His garrison is just 77 men and supplies and ammunition are running low. Those are problems enough, but reports are coming in from his patrols that the Navajo tribes seem to be joining up in the mountains. One report even has their numbers somewhere around 2,000. With so small a force though, Harkness has little options as to what he should do. The situation at the outpost is thrown for another loop when a small wagon train led by egotistical trail guide Jackson Buckley (Pernell Roberts) arrives seeking supplies for their coming trip. That's not all though. Buckley killed three young Kiowa warriors on the trail, Kiowas who were trying to join up with the gathering Navajo warriors. Can help arrive in time to stave off a brutal massacre?

It was pretty evident early-on that this was a TV western, a fact I wasn't aware of until after I started watching (clever Encore Westerns). From director Ted Post, 'Bravos' is a solid, entertaining western that is at times limited by its smallish budget. The 2,000 warrior war party is only mentioned as we never see more than 15 or 20 murdering Indians at a time. What does work though? It's a TV movie, but it was filmed on location in Sedona, Arizona, the sparse, windy and winter-bound desert providing quite the backdrop for the story. It's easy to understand the fear of living out there. Anything could be hiding in that desert just waiting to strike. As well, the set for the cavalry outpost is pretty cool, a crumbling little fort with obvious defensive deficiencies. Also worth mentioning is the musical score from composer Leonard Rosenman, similar to his score from 1962's Hell is For Heroes. 

One of my favorite tough guys stars, Peppard does a good job here leading a capable cast. His Maj. Harkness has been dealt the lousiest of hands, his garrison undermanned, under-supplied and waiting for an inevitable attack against horrific odds. Somehow, he's got to keep his command together even as his officers and enlisted men question what the point of it all is for. A weak subplot involves his son (Vincent Van Patten) who was kicked out of his Eastern school arriving at the outpost at the worst possible moment. Peppard has a knack for being a condescending tough guy, that ever-present smirk on his face, and it works here well. His officers include George Murdock as the questioning second-in-command, Dana Elcar as the fort surgeon, Ron Kelly as the cigar-chomping lieutenant, and John Kellogg as the loyal sergeant-major.

For a TV western, a pretty good cast has been assembled with some familiar faces. It's cool to see L.Q. Jones get a major role, playing the capable scout, Ben Lawler, who always seems to tangle with Harkness despite their long-standing friendship. Jones and Peppard sparkle in their scenes together. Roberts get to preen and yell as the overmatched trail guide, blustering his way through his "occupation" of which he knows little other than money. A young Bo Svenson players Bucholz, a former soldier on the run with Buckley's wagon train, playing a key part in a mission late. Clint Ritchie is solid too as Cpl. Love, the trusted enlisted man seemingly always leading another five-man patrol. Because a love story was needed (????), Belinda Montgomery plays Heller, a young woman traveling with her fiance, Garratt (Barry Brown). 

The biggest place the flick is hit by is in the action department. We're not talking any major battles, gunfights or chases across the desert. What we do get is a shootout here and there, the biggest being "an attack" on the fort by some sniping Navajo warriors. The best part though is a dangerous mission late as Harkness, Lawler and Bucholz head out into the wilderness to rescue Harkness' son from a raiding party. No spoilers here, but it's a cool premise and it is executed really well. You don't need a cast of thousands (hundreds, even tens I suppose) to be effective as is on display here.

Unfortunately though, then the movie just ends, almost like the TV movie just ran out of money or time to fit in a two-hour slot. One thing is resolved, but several other key things need to be dealt with. Nope, not here. Credits roll and the movie is over. I still liked the build-up, but it is a finale that feels forced in all sorts of ways. At 97 minutes, maybe it was getting too long. Maybe some resolution was cut out, but what we get is disappointing. Give it a try at Youtube HERE in its entirety. It's got enough going for it to recommend but know you'll most likely be disappointed with the finale.

The Bravos (1972): ** 1/2 /****

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