"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Revengers (NGP, 1972)

The Dirty Half-Dozen


Ernest Borgnine (replacing Van Heflin on his death) and William Holden were reunited in a Western three years after The Wild Bunch but The Revengers is a pot-boiler by comparison. Not that it’s bad. Directed by Daniel Mann (was he related? There are so many Manns it’s hard to know), fast-paced (chase stories often move at the rate of the slowest horse) and action-packed, it benefits also from some good acting – Holden, of course, in his last ever Western, but also Woody Strode and some of the lesser parts.

The plot is a revenge-pursuit drama mixed with the good old Magnificent Seven  yarn combined with with a Western version of The Dirty Dozen of five years before (which Borgnine was also in, to reinforce the similarity), only in this slightly cut-price version Holden recruits six criminals so we better call it The Dirty Half-Dozen.

Foul Comancheros slaughter Holden’s whole rather-too-idyllic family (and ranch hand Arthur Hunnicutt, so they were really nasty) in Colorado, and Holden chases them to Mexico where he recruits the six heavies in a Mex prison. The six are pretty stereotypic. Borgnine is the comical low-life; Strode the tough, dignified black guy, long-suffering so named Job; there’s an amorous Frenchman (Roger Hanin); a bovine German called Zweig (Reinhard Killdehof); the obligatory gunslinging kid (Jorge Luke, in his first Western); and Jorge Martinez de Hoyos, the Mexican villager Hilario from The Magnificent Seven, is philosopher Cholo, this time one of the seven.
The less-than-magnificent seven

For you’ve guessed it, Holden and his six men make up the Mystical Western Number of seven, ideal for all gangs, posses and bands of riders.

Holden holds it all together. He is, as usual, splendid. Tough, driven, single-minded, he devotes his life - and toys with death - to find the wicked white-eye leader of the Comanchero band.

There are various nods to John Ford in this picture: the idea of the son of a Congressional Medal of Honor holder having the right to attend West Point, for example; the hero’s implacable seeking, even through desert and snow, Searchers-style; the cavalry defense against the Indians at the end; and the noble young lieutenant (played by Holden’s son Scott); even the use of William Holden himself, and Woody Strode, Ford veterans.
Hope they don't fire than cannon, Bill

Susan Hayward, in her last film, is the nurse who saves Holden when he is nearly shot to death and who falls in love with him, but he is too obsessed with grief for his dead wife and lust for revenge to dally. It is a pity, though, that the Brooklyn-born Ms. Hayward, normally so competent, had to essay an Irish brogue. Mistake. Still, she was a great actor and had graced some excellent Westerns (Canyon Passage, Rawhide and Garden of Evil, to name but a few. She was best of all, in my view, in the underrated Fox Western Rawhide in 1951).

There’s a semi-interesting attempt to make the decent Holden become more like the criminals, and they at the same time to assume some of his nobility. Kind of.
Bill and Woody in classic gunplay

Holden’s Colorado ranch is to die for and there is a lot of fine Mexican scenery, moderately well photographed by Gabriel Torres. Many of the credits are Spanish-sounding so they evidently used a lot of Mexican crew. The score (Pino Calvi) tries for a Magnificent Seven-style orchestral romp but ends up sounding inappropriately jazzy. Still, the music is relentlessly up-tempo and it carries the action along at a cracking pace.

All in all this is a pretty formulaic Western, fairly predictable, and certainly no top ten contender. Never mind. It is a solid actioner and well worth a DVD purchase, for Holden alone.

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