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, February 20, 2015

The Revengers

As I've mentioned before, I've got a list in my head of hard-to-find movies that I've long sought. An interesting cast, a intriguing story, anything and everything, it can be anything that catches my eye. Today's entry? A 1972 western, The Revengers, that I found recently at the local Barnes and Noble. It was a tad pricey for a movie I've never seen, but this is one that's been on the list for too long to risk passing up. Did it pass the test?

A Civil War veteran with a distinguished war record, John Benedict (William Holden) has put the war behind him and is now running a successful ranch in Colorado. His life is thrown into chaos though when he returns from a hunt to find his wife and four children brutally murdered. A posse catches some of those responsible, Comancheros working with raiding Comanche Indians, who identify the leader of the attack, a one-eyed renegade named Tarp. Wanting nothing more than to exact revenge on the renegade, Benedict rides into Texas and then Mexico, ultimately leaving a posse behind. He tracks Tarp down to an isolated trading post but the odds are stacked against him. Needing help to kill Tarp, Benedict takes desperate measures, recruiting six convicts from a prison mine in the hills in Mexico. Will they turn on him the first chance they get? Can Benedict hold them together long enough to get the job done?

Yikes, what a weird movie. The 1970s were a weird time for the western genre in general, but this one was really weird. It's from director Daniel Mann and was a bomb in theaters upon its release. 'Revengers' has the distinct feel of an American western but with touches of a made-for-TV flick with some touches of ultra-violent spaghetti western mixed in. So unfortunately it is all of those and none of those because it never quite picks a tone. The positives though? Filmed in New Mexico, this is quite the good-looking western with some unique locations that I've never seen in a western before. The western-themed score features some rock overtones too, kinda odd but it works in a bizarre fashion. Go figure. There's something entertaining and oddly appealing just the same even if I can't honestly say that it's "just good."

The basic premise for 'Revengers' is a tweak on the 1967 WWII movie, The Dirty Dozen (one of my favorites). One halfway decent guy, a team of convicts turned mercenaries of sorts, unleash them on some impossible, mostly suicidal mission. I loved the DD and really enjoyed knockoffs and quasi-knockoffs using a similar premise. I thought I'd enjoy (maybe love) this one. I didn't. Holden is solid but nothing flashy as John Benedict, the revenge-seeking rancher who wants to kill the man who helped lead the attack on his family and ranch.

His Revengers? There's some recognizable faces and some cool parts, starting with Ernest Borgnine hamming it up as Hoop, a former Comanchero himself who'd turn on his own mother for a profit. There's also Job (Woody Strode), a runaway slave who killed his pursuers and ended up in prison, Quiberon (Roger Hanin), a woman-loving deserter from Maximillian's army and a bandito, Zweig (Reinhard Kolldehoff), the mad German, Chamaco (Jorge Luke), the young Mexican assassin, and Cholo (Jorge Martinez de Hoyos), the philosophizing revolutionary. The international, dynamic feel to the quasi-vigilante group is very cool. Like the movie and story itself, there is a ton of potential that never quite jells. Benedict treats his convict partners as equals, addressing them as 'Mr. ...' and they come to respect the man who handed them their freedom.

That's where things get to be a little disjointed. By a little, I mean a lot. The build-up is entertaining but familiar, seemingly shooting for something action-heavy and dumb and fun. It's a movie that is 108 minutes long and takes a big, surprising departure a little past the halfway point. I didn't see it coming AT ALL. However, it isn't just that the departure happens. It's that the twist throws the rest of the movie for a loop that it never really recovers from. We're shown that most of a year passes, the Revengers develop into friends, becoming almost a bounty hunting gang -- randomly shooting down attackers at one point -- and Benedict has become something else, something he never wanted to be. That device is used several times, jumps in stories moving things forward without warning in a flash.

And in the end, that becomes it's ultimate undoing. 'Revengers' has absolutely no idea what it wants to say or do, much less how to do it. I would have loved to see a story that focused far more on the dynamic between Benedict and the men who become his unlikely allies. That premise could have been at the helm of a really good to maybe great western. Instead, it never clicks as intended. Even the ending disappoints, kinda a limp finish for a story that could have built to something ultra-violent and dark and surprising. In other parts, look for Susan Hayward and Arthur Hunnicutt. Ultimately a disappointment but one that did entertain me overall. Probably more of a two-star review, but with that cast, I'll give it a slight bump. The print on the DVD is a beauty for those wavering over what to do concerning a purchase.

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

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