It's 1912 somewhere south of the Rio Grande in Mexico, and an Arizona lawman, Lyedecker (Jim Brown), has no idea what he's ridden into. Looking to keep his sheriff position on a permanent basis, Lyedecker has been tasked with arresting and bringing back an outlaw who stole some $6,000 from an Arizona bank. He actually finds the outlaw, a Mexican-half breed, Yaqui Joe (Burt Reynolds), in a small town but quickly finds out that Joe is wanted by the Mexican army as well. Now, Lyedecker finds himself working with the man he's supposed to arrest, but desperate times call for desperate measures. With an ethnic-cleansing minded general, Verdugo (Fernando Lamas), on their trail, Lyedecker and Joe race across the frontier. The key to them getting away? It may be a fiery Mexican girl, Sarita (Raquel Welch), fighting with the revolutionaries against Verdugo's forces.
Okay, let's get this out of the way. This is an entertaining, always interesting quasi-spaghetti western, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's good. The story drifts along with a series of episodic showdowns and some cool characters over a 110-minute running time. Any criticisms aside though, this is an excellent, action-packed shoot 'em up that western and action fans will certainly enjoy. Filming on location in Almeria, spaghetti western fans will no doubt recognize some of the on-location shooting. Maybe the best thing you can take away from '100' is the score from composer Jerry Goldsmith. Listen to an extended sample HERE, the best part of the theme kicking in about 40 seconds in and then again at 1:55. It's an underrated score, one of my favorites, a great whistle-worthy theme. The score was recycled seven years later in the 1976 western The Last Hard Men.
Nothing flashy but always enjoyable, '100' is a good example of a Zapata western, westerns with similar themes and stories involving the Mexican Revolution. We get all the familiar faces, genre archetypes you get used to seeing with enough viewing. The Mexican bandit/fighter is Yaqui Joe, the outsider, usually an American thrust into the fighting, Lyedecker, the fiery revolutionary, Sarita, the evil general, Verdugo, the German military adviser, Lt. Franz Von Klemme (Eric Braeden), and the American businessman working with the developing railroad, Grimes (Dan O'Herlihy). Like the better Zapata westerns, '100' covers a lot of ground with plenty of interesting characters. They're drawn in broad strokes, the good if flawed (Lyedecker, Joe, Sarita), the bad (Verdugo) and the messy gray middle ground (Von Klemme, Grimes). It is all familiar, but it is fun.
What ends up being the best part of '100' is the buddy dynamic between Jim Brown's stubborn sheriff and Burt Reynolds' fun-loving, live on the edge bandito. They don't like each other in the least, but their constant arguing, the never-ending bitching and moaning is pitch perfect, especially when they're thrown right in the mix of all the fighting. Yaqui Joe (half-American, half-Indian) actually used his stolen $6,000 to buy 100 rifles for the revolution, but Lydecker still intends to bring him back for trial. The only way to do it? Help Joe escape from the Mexican army. The rest of the cast is okay to bad. The worst? Welch, sporting a stereotypically heavy Mexican accent as Sarita. She's given any number of chances to undress or wear little -- including one shower scene while wearing clothes -- but this wasn't her best work. Lamas evils it up in impeccable fashion, thick mustache, constant sneer and pearl-handled pistols completing the look.
Who else to look for? Braeden is underused as Lt. Von Klemme, a military adviser who sees the mistakes Verdugo is making with each passing day. O'Herlihy is solid too as the greedy American businessman, interested in making the railroad money and keeping his locomotive intact. Also look for Michael Forest as Humara, Sarita's muscle-bound enforcer who doesn't speak a word, and spaghetti western regular Aldo Sambrell as Sgt. Paletes, Verdugo's trustworthy non-commissioned officer.
Onto the action! And let me tell you, there's plenty of it. The story drifts along at times, a series of quick dialogue scenes broken up by said action scenes. Lots of gunplay, some good chases, all of it handled well with only an occasional slow-motion death here and there. We get the small-scale like Brown and Reynolds having a good knock-down fight about halfway through. On the far bigger scale, we see an ambush of a heavily guarded train in a seemingly empty desert, all of it leading to the epic final showdown in another well-guarded town. Is this a great movie? Far from it, but I'm always entertained, and Reynolds especially makes it worthwhile. He commits himself to the fun, and it always looks like he's actually having fun. A good, solid almost spaghetti western.
100 Rifles (1969): ***/****