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

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Spikes Gang (UA, 1974)

Shock horror: Garfield was wrong

Perhaps because I saw The Spikes Gang after a series of low-graders, perhaps because I think Lee Marvin is such a good Western actor, I liked this movie. My Virgil, my guide, philosopher and friend, Brian Garfield, he of the biblical vademecum Western Films, A Complete Guide (New York, 1982) is usually totally and reliably right. (That means I agree with him). But for once, we diverge. Garfield calls this movie “a paper-thin mod Western filmed in Spain” which “does no justice to Tippette’s engaging novel.” I call it a 70s sub-psycho Western with a slightly made-for-TV look about it but which has some charm, and is in parts a lot of fun and quite convincing.

Richard Fleischer had written, produced and directed loads of Flicker epics. I don’t know if that counts as a qualification. He wasn’t a Western specialist, although he’d directed Mitchum in Bandido in 1956 (standard gringo-in-Mex revolution stuff, nothing great but worth a look because of Bob). Anyway, he was chosen in the mid 70s to direct The Spikes Gang.

It’s the story of three farm boys who run off and are semi-forced into a life of crime, at which they are hopelessly incompetent until crusty old bandit Marvin in a splendid mustache takes them under his wing. The lads are Gary Grimes, 19 (from Cahill, US Marshal), Ron Howard, 20 (the boy in The Shootist) and Charles Martin Smith, 21 (Charlie Bowdre in Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid). They are all passable.

But of course Lee Marvin makes it. What an authoritative role player he was. He was superb in war films and gangster movies but never better than in a Western. He had all the taciturn a-man’s-gotta-do grit you need.

The sheriff was billed as Robert Beatty in the credits but it wasn’t Beatty. It was someone not very convincing. Arthur Hunnicutt, 64, as the delightfully named ‘Kid’ White, has a good bit part. Some of the Almeria, Spain, locations, photographed by Brian West, are a bit obviously not Texas or Mexico. Some of the Fred Karlin music is annoyingly hokey banjo stuff.

But all in all it rattles along until the inevitably violent end, an excellent shoot-out in a bedroom. I've definitely seen worse.


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