Raw Deal (1977)

Country: Australia
Director: Russell Hagg
Starring: Gerard Kennedy, Gus Mercurio, Rod Mullinar, Christopher Pate, Hu Pryce, Norman Yemm, John Cousins, Michael Carman
Music: Ronald Edgeworth

In the 1970s, two of the most popular actors in Australia were Gerard Kennedy and Gus Mercurio who starred in the television series Tandarra (1976), which was a period piece set in colonial Australia. I remember thinking it was the best show on television as a kid – I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old. It seems strange now, to realise that there were only 13 episodes made. I must have watched a lot of repeats – or get it confused with Cash and Company, which was made a year earlier, and starred Mercurio as the same character.

The chemistry on screen between Gus and Kennedy was a key ingredient to the show, and it was not so surprising that they were teamed up once again for Raw Deal, a kangaroo western. I saw Raw Deal in the mid 1980s, when it was released on VHS, and thought it was pretty damn good. But it is one of those movies that has all but disappeared off the face of the earth. I have spent the last fifteen years hunting high and low for a copy.

At last a copy has landed in my lap. Is the film as good as I remember? Short answer: Yes!

Gus Mercurio discusses the benefits of a Winchester rifle

The story starts in an un-named rural settlement. A gang of marauders, known as the Tyrones ride into town, assemble the town folk, and then begin to steal their money and jewelery. However two men refuse to acquiesce to the Tyrone’s wishes. They are Palmer (Gerard Kennedy) – a man with a reputation as a mercenary; and Ben (Gus Mercurio) – an American gun salesman, who just so happens to have a supply of the latest Winchester repeater rifles.

Naturally enough, a gunfight ensues – with Palmer and Ben, despite being outnumbered, proving their gun-fighting prowess.

Gerard Kennedy & Gus Mercurio teaching the Tyrones some manners

Palmer and Ben’s fighting prowess bring them to the attention of an English powerbroker named Sir Charles (John Cousins). Sir Charles is worried about the Tyrone’s increasing numbers. They are almost like a small army, and it is feared they may start a rebellion (remembering that when this movie is set, Australia was still an English colony). He attributes their strength to their charismatic and daring leader, an Irishman named, O’Neil (Norman Yemm). Sir Charles figures if O’Neil was assassinated, the threat would be contained.

But he needs assassins, and Palmer and Ben appear to be perfect for the job. For a hefty fee, they agree to do Sir Charles’ dirty work.

Young Dick (Christopher Pate) about to be cured of his virginity

However, as brave and undoubtedly talented with a gun they may be, two men against an army is sheer folly. So they recruit some men to assist with their daring raid. They include: womanising ‘dandy’, Alex (Rod Mullinar), seasoned soldier, Ned (Hu Pryce), and young con-man, Dick (Christopher Pate).

The five men, armed with a hearse full of dynamite, set off across the desert to take on the Tyrones. And of course, the odds are stacked against them, but never for a moment does it appear like they are outmatched.

However, as the movie is called ‘Raw Deal’, there is some treachery involved at the climax – and once again Palmer and Ben’s gun fighting skills are put to the test.

Kennedy and Gus blasting their way to freedom

As Raw Deal has no nudity, or ultra violence, it flew under the radar when Ozploitation became popular due to the documentary, Not Quite Hollywood. The film still remains MIA, but I hope someone like Madman or Umbrella choose to seek it out, and get it out there on DVD or Bluray. It’s a good solid western, that should have a better reputation, and deserves to be seen.

Thanks to ST, for helping me acquire a copy of this gem of a movie.

Raw Deal (1977)

Gone to Texas

Gone to TexasAuthor: Forrest Carter
Publisher: Whipporwill Publishing
Original Title: The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales
Release Year: 1973
Pictured: Futura paperback 1976

I hardly ever read western novels, which is really strange because I love western movies, particularly those of Clint Eastwood. I could talk about the Dollars trilogy all day — and have done so, much to the chagrin of those around me. But Eastwood’s range extends far beyond his early spaghetti westerns, and I believe The Outlaw Josey Wales to be one of his better films. To paraphrase Orson Welles oft quoted opinion of Josey Wales, that if it had been directed by anyone else but Clint Eastwood, it would have won and Academy Award for best picture. Back in 1976, Clint’s reputation isn’t what it is today. He was considered a wooden, violent action star; that is despite some of his films, such as Dirty Harry, The Beguiled and his directorial debut, Play Misty For Me, being not only entertaining, but displaying an artistic quality not usually associated with an actor of Eastwood’s standing.

The Outlaw Josey Wales was based on a book called The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales, and later renamed Gone To Texas by an author named Forrest Carter. Carter’s story is a fast paced, knowing and quite and entertaining read.

As someone who has read a great deal of film novelisations, or even books which serve as the basis for films, I also enjoy comparing, or discovering the differences between the two mediums. And there are naturally enough differences between Gone To Texas and The Outlaw Josey Wales, most of which has to do with the villains. Gone To Texas does not really have a defined villain to hate. Captain ‘Redlegs’ Terrell (as played by Bill McKinney in the film) is not a part of the story. Nor does it feature Fletcher’s betrayal of his Confederate brothers. In the book it is a faceless enemy that hounds Wales (and the disparate family he picks up along the way).

Much of the dialogue in the film is faithful to the book, and the sensitive treatment of American Indians is transposed too. In the story, Indians are not shown as stereotypical ‘rampaging hordes’, or conversely ‘noble savages’, but as fellow human beings with all the foibles that go with the human condition – humour, love, loss, anger, pride and everything else.

All in all, Gone To Texas is a great novel, and will appeal to fans of the film as well. But there is more to the story than that. Let’s dig a little deeper, and look at the author, Forrest Carter.

Here’s Carter’s mini bio from the first page of Futura paperback edition of Gone To Texas (1976):

Forrest Carter, whose Indian name is Little Tree, is known as Storyteller in Council to the Cherokee Nations. Orphaned at the age of five, he lived with his grandpa (half Cherokee) and his grandma (full Cherokee) in Tennessee until their deaths when he was ten. He has been on his own ever since. He has worked ranches in the South and Southwest – calls Dallas County, Texas, home. History is his main interest, especially of the South-Southwest and the Indian; he uses the council storytelling method of the Indian in passing on the history of his people. A number of Indian organisations will share in the proceeds of this book.

The Education of Little Tree
The Education of Little Tree

From that bio, it is clear to see why Gone to Texas portrays Indians in such a positive way – as Forrest Carter was one. However that’s not quite the case, as we will discover.

Aside from The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales, Forrest Carter’s other literary claim to fame was that he wrote a highly regarded memoir called The Education of Little Tree. In Little Tree, Carter retold the tale of how he was orphaned at a young age and was brought up by his Cherokee grandparents, and in particular his relationship with his Scottish-Cherokee grandfather, who, and I am sure this is not a coincidence, was named Wales.

The truth however, is quite different. Carter was not an orphan, nor was he raised by Cherokee grandparents. And furthermore, ‘Forrest’ was a non de plume. His real name was Asa Earl Carter.

Quoting from that font of all wisdom; Wikipedia:

Forrest Carter
Asa Earl Carter (September 4, 1925 – June 7, 1979) was an American speechwriter and author, most notable for publishing novels and a best-selling, award-winning memoir under the name Forrest Carter, an identity as a Native American Cherokee. As Forrest Carter, he wrote a purported memoir, The Education of Little Tree, in which he said he had been orphaned into the care of Cherokee grandparents. In 1976, following the publication success of his western The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales, The New York Times revealed Forrest Carter to be Southerner Asa Earl Carter.

Of course, this issue was not that Carter had used a non de plume. Many writers use pen-names. The issue was that Asa Earl Carter was a Klansman and a segregationist, and his claims of being a native American were dubious. From Wikipedia:

Carter spent the last part of his life trying to conceal his background as a Klansman and segregationist, claiming categorically in a 1976 The New York Times article that he, Forrest, was not Asa Carter. The article details how as Forrest, Carter was interviewed by Barbara Walters on the Today show in 1974. He was promoting The Rebel Outlaw: Josey Wales, which had begun to attract readers beyond the confines of the Western genre. Carter, who had run for a campaign for governor of Alabama (as Asa Carter) just four years earlier in a campaign which included television advertising, was identified from this Today show appearance by several Alabama politicians, reporters and law enforcement officials. The Times also reported that the address Carter used in the copyright application for The Rebel Outlaw was identical to the one that he used in 1970 while running for governor. “Beyond denying that he is Asa Carter”, the Times noted, “the author has declined to be interviewed on the subject.”

When the story of Carter’s deception hit the news, it was inevitable that Clint Eastwood would be drawn into the controversy. From Clint Eastwood: A Biography by Richard Schickel, published by Alfred A. Knopf New York 1996:

Clint was on location, making Unforgiven, when this article appeared, and he sent a polite letter to the Times, pointing out that he had met the man he knew as Forrest Carter only once. He also observed, “If Forrest Carter was a racist and a hatemonger who later converted to being a sensitive, understanding human being, that would be most admirable.”

But maybe that wasn’t the case either — or possibly Eastwood was being diplomatic. Schickel also relates that Clint’s producer on Josey Wales, Bob Daley saw another side to Carter:

He saw a decent side to the man, reflected in warm, supportive letters he received from Carter on the death of his father. He also saw vicious anti-Semetism, directed at William Morris agents, when the arguments about money started up. He finally came to the conclusion that Carter was basically an opportunist, willfully burying – but not necessarily abandoning – his racism so that he could rejoin decent society.

I cannot know what Carter’s thoughts and attitudes really were. But the evidence, such as the bio, and his public denial that he was Asa Earl Carter, would support Daley’s claim that he was an opportunist, whose attitudes could and would be put to the side where financial gain was concerned.

But having said that, as the popularity of the books would attest, Carter was a good writer who wrote stories that were not racist, and depicted Indians in a light that had never really been seen in main stream fiction at that time.

Carter is certainly an enigma. And despite what his actual beliefs may have been, there is no denying that Gone To Texas is a great western story, and a thoroughly entertaining read.

Gone to Texas

The Only Man in Town

Author: Emerson Dodge (Paul Wheelahan)
Publisher: The Cleveland Publishing Co.
First Published: 1977

“We don’t cotton to strangers makin’ free with our womenfolk!”

I have often bemoaned the fact the Australian pulp fiction tradition is dead – but there is one last hold out, and it is Cleveland Publishing. Cleveland caters to a unique niche market, especially for Australia, and that is they publish westerns. And they really are pulp – it’s hard to describe the actual books themselves – they are more like a mini magazine printed on newsprint – only 20,000 to 25,000 words (under a hundred pages) and barely 5 millimeters thick.

Here’s some of the history of Cleveland from their website:

Cleveland Publishing Co Pty Ltd, home of the Cleveland Westerns, is an Australian owned and operated publishing house which was founded in Sydney, Australia in 1953 by Jack Atkins. Having its beginnings in the boom of pulp fiction writing in the 1950s, Cleveland prospered as a publisher of high-quality short stories, principally in the Western genre, and remains as Australia’s most successful and only pulp fiction publisher today.

At its height, Cleveland Publishing printed 18 of its exceptionally popular Westerns each month with print runs for each of its titles peaking at 25,000. The company continues to satisfy its readers’ desire for superior short stories in that genre today with the publication of eight titles, including two new stories under its popular ‘Cleveland’ brand, each month both in Australia and, via its website, internationally.

The story I am reviewing here is called The Only Man in Town, and it was written by Emerson Dodge. A quick Google search reveals that Emerson Dodge was one of the many pen names of Paul Wheelahan – and Australian author who wrote for Cleveland from 1963 to 1997.

Here’s a snippet from a 2005 interview with Wheelahan on Reader’s Voice by Simon Sandall.

The Cleveland westerns were just under 100 pages long, in 10 chapters. Paul Wheelahan could turn out these 100 page westerns at a rapid rate.

“During my three books a month period at Cleveland I used to take four or five days,” he said.

“… Sometimes on the Monday I’d get up and I wouldn’t have a synopsis, and I’d write a synopsis, and then start the story and I’d take it in on Friday afternoon in the car, get there about 10 minutes before closing time, and then go to the pub. I don’t know how I did it.”

Read the whole article and interview here.

The Only Man in Town concerns Harlan Chadd, a mysterious no-nonsense stranger who rides into the town of Assembly. He immediately locks horns with the spirited owned of the Cressida Hotel, Etta Cassidy. Etta was the oldest of four sisters, and when their mother died, she assumed the responsibility of getting the girls married off to prosperous men. Adopting a pompous and snobby attitude, Etta only associates with the finest and wealthiest people of Assembly. Chadd, as a grubby unkempt horseman is an unwelcome.

Unbeknownst to the good people of Assembly, somebody has been buying up all the property in a line from the end of the railroad, to the river. Those who have refused to sell have either been bullied and threatened, or become victim to freakish accidents. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that the railroad intends to come through the town.

Naturally, one of the properties on the proposed path, is the Cressida Hotel, and Etta has no desire to sell. She figures her wealthy friends will stand beside her when push comes to shove. Of course they don’t, and it is Harlan Chadd who comes to her aid when things turn ugly.

The Only Man in Town is quite predictable, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment this fast paced story has to offer. If I have a criticism, it is the resolution is wrapped up in about two pages – which seems a tad abrupt after such a prolonged build up. However, for the price of a pot of beer, this tale delivers everything it should.

I was delighted to find out Cleveland Publishing is still going – putting out the same type of stories it has for nearly sixty years – and I hope it continues to do so.

The Only Man in Town

Chato's Land (1971)

Country: United States
Director: Michael Winner
Starring:
Charles Bronson, Jack Palance, Richard Basehart, James Whitmore, Simon Oakland, Richard Jordan, Victor French
Music: Jerry Fielding

Chato’s Land is a very interesting film. It is not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but all the characters are fleshed out, and have multiple layers, and some traditional western stereotypes are turned on their head.

The film opens in a saloon, and an Apache, Chato (Charles Bronson) has a shiny silver dollar down on the bar, and he is expecting to be poured a drink. At that moment, the Sheriff of the town, Eli Saunders, enters the saloon through the swinging doors and makes his way to the bar. The bottle of whisky intended for Chato, is snatched up by the barkeep and handed to the lawman. The Sheriff pours a goodly portion into his glass, and then approaches Chato saying that it is a ‘white man’s saloon and sells white man’s liquor’. He tells the Indian to leave before he kills him.

The lawman keeps pushing Chato, and then pulls a gun. But he is not fast enough. Chato spins, aims and fires. Eli Saunders falls down dead.

With the Sheriff dead, justice falls to Quincey Whitmore (Jack Palance), an ex-soldier who craves authority and command. From an old trunk, he drags out he old Confederate uniform and puts it on. Then he assembles and leads a posse, setting out to apprehend the renegade Apache. However, many of the posse members are not really ‘bring to justice’ types – particularly the Hooker Brothers. They are racist killers with their own perverted agendas to fulfill.

Of course, as played by Charles Bronson, Chato is not easy to track, let alone kill.

The main problem with the film is the lack of explanation for Chato’s initial reaction. Sure, the sheriff was a loud mouth racist; but if Chato had left the bar when he was initially asked, then there wouldn’t have been a killing. It’s probably a safe assumption that Chato had been bullied and victimised his whole life. And he certainly had the right to have a drink in the bar as much as the next man. But enough was enough, and he acted. On the flipside, however, is he killed the sheriff, and as such should be brought to justice. His act of defiance perpetuates the negative attitude that all American Indians are savage animals. Chato’s actions are not the way of a ‘noble savage’; this is more an example of ‘might is right’*. Chato was the better gunman, and that is why he won in the brief gunfight. It was not because he had ‘right’ on his side.

All the characters in the film are drawn in shades of grey. No one is right. The casting of Charles Bronson as the central protagonist negates any social commentary that the film may have provided. Maybe if Will Sampson had been cast, then it may have been a different story.

Admittedly, the Hooker brothers, all driven by racist hate, push the posse on to further extremes than their lawful mandate would warrant. But despite the individual idiosyncrasies, good or bad, of each man in the posse, the group is treated as a whole. After the rape of his wife, Chato as he seeks retribution, kills everyone (or at least that’s his intention). He doesn’t divide them into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ posse members. As far as he is concerned, they are all responsible.

As I said at the top, Chato’s Land is an interesting film, but it never makes any profound statements, beyond life in the old west was tough, which is a shame, because the film had a solid framework, and could have served up, not only an action packed western, but a thoughtful one too.

* Before anyone comments, that I am a racist and missing the point of the film, and this may seem strange for someone as parochially Australian as I am, but my great great grandmother was an Apache, so I am not pumping out some politically correct agenda or ‘anti-political correct’ agenda as the case may be. In fact the racist slurs in the film I find particularly repellent, but I also understand that they are part of a performance by actors portraying repellent characters.
Chato's Land (1971)

Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)

Sukiyaki Weatern DjangoRelease Year: 2007
Country: Japan
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Hideaki Ito, Koichi Sato, Yusuke Iseya, Masanobu Ando, Masato Sakai, Yoji Tanaka, Renji Ishibashi, Sansei Shiomi, Quentin Tarrantino
Screenplay: Masuru Nakamura, Takashi Miike
Music: Koji Endo
Editor: Taiji Shimamura
Producer: Hirotsugi Yoshida, Toshinori Yamaguchi

I figure if you’re the type to watch a film called Sukiyaki Western Django then you’ve probably watched your fair share of world cinema – and most likely the odd samurai film – and while this film is a western it still owes a debt to the samurai films of the past – even a gunshot wound can produce an arterial spray reminiscent of those in a Zatoichi film.

But first and foremost, this film obviously is a weird hybrid homage to spaghetti westerns. Actually it’s probably just plain ‘westerns’ in general, as there are quite a few allusions to classic American westerns, in particular there’s a nice moment where there is trumpet player in the mountains, and the tune he plays echoes ‘Duegolo’ – the song of the cut-throats from Rio Bravo. And there’s also some stuff from The Magnificent Seven, but as Seven was based on The Seven Samurai, I guess that a bit of a genre homecoming…but I’ll talk more about that a bit later on.

The most obvious reference however, is Sergio Corbucci’s Django – even going so far as to have a wooden coffin dragged through the mud, containing a secret weapon. If you don’t know what’s inside, well I’m not going to tell you!

But to enjoy this film, your knowledge of spaghetti westerns does not have to be particularly broad – the ones of display are the more accessible ones such as Fistful of Dollars, Fistful of Lead, The Big Silence and even God’s Gun (is that a spaghetti western or a matzah ball western?).

I hate to admit it, but I went into this film fully prepared to hate it. The premise alone – a Japanese spaghetti western – just reeks of trying too hard to produce a cult hit. It’s sort of like when Tarrantino and Rodriguez did their Grindhouse flicks, and failed because when you’re trying deliberately to make a grindhouse flick, you sort of undo the point of it being a grindhouse flick – if you know what I mean? I thought the same thing for Sukiyaki Western Django. The film is cravenly grasping for cult status – and as such I believed it could not achieve it. And to be honest, I don’t think it does achieve it – but despite my misgivings the film did win me over as a fun slice of retro entertainment.

Sukiyaki Western DjangoHowever, before I was won over, there was one other hurdle to get over – and that was the Quentin Tarrantino introductory sequence. Tarrantino plays the role of Piringo. Thankfully it’s not just a scene tacked on to the beginning for American audiences – as it has a linking sequence later in the film – which makes sense of the whole thing. But this cow-catcher is not truly indicative of the style of the film, which reverts to a more traditional story telling technique.

If there is an irony to this film, I’d guess it is the fact that the first really big spaghetti western, Fistful of Dollars was based on Akira Kurasowa’s Yojimbo. And as I alluded to earlier, The Magnificent Seven was also based on a Kurasowa film, The Seven Samurai. So the Japanese Samurai films has been a pivotal source of inspiration for the western genre in the 1960s. In Sukiyaki Western Django, director Takashi Miike is reclaiming some of his countries ‘intellectual property’ as it were, by hijacking the western film, and combining it with his own stylised samurai fable. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition, and one that subtly asks the question – which parts of the film are Japanese, and which are American or Italian?

Sukiyaki Western Django (2007)

Hannie Caulder (1971)

Director: Burt Kennedy
Starring: Raquel Welch, Robert Culp, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Christopher Lee, Diana Dors
Music: Ken Thorne

Hannie Caulder is a film that is very hard to classify. Sure it’s a western, but what kind of western is it? It appears to be a Spaghetti Western, produced by the British; and made by and starring Americans. Furthermore at times, particularly during the opening scenes, it comes across as a dirty little exploitation picture. Adding to that it often veers off into black comedy. Strangely that comedy is performed by the three most repugnant characters in the film – almost as if the film-makers wanted us to like them.

Here’s a quick overview of the story. The three Clemens brothers, Emmett (Ernest Borgnine), Frank (Jack Elam), and Rufus (Strother Martin) ride into a sleepy Mexican town. It is the middle of the day, and all of the Federales are taking a siesta. The Brothers make their way to the bank and hold it up. The robbery goes wrong and it turns into a violent bloody shootout. With the Federales awoken, the would be banditos mount their horses and gallop out of town. With the Federales hard on their heels, the Clemens boys ride their horses pretty hard until they are worn out.

Here, they come upon a farm with a corral full of fresh horses. As they attempt to steal some new beasts, the owner of the property enters the picture brandishing a shotgun. Unfortunately he doesn’t notice Rufus off to his left, also carrying a shotgun. Rufus fires and the farmer is killed. Inside the small homestead, the farmer’s wife, Hannie (Raquel Welch) is preparing a meal. Frank, Emmett and Rufus stumble into the house and repeatedly rape her.

With fresh horses and their carnal desires satiated, the brothers ride off leaving Hannie to die in the burning homestead. She manages to scramble out before the building collapses, but her only possession is a Mexican poncho which barely covers her.

Desolately she waits at the house. What for? – we’ll never know. Suddenly a stranger appears with two horses. The man is Thomas Luther Price (Robert Culp), and he is one of the most feared and respected bounty hunters in the country – depending on which side of the law you stand.

Hannie offers her body to him if he will teach her to shoot. He says no and rides off. She refuses to take no for an answer and follows him on foot. Eventually Price gives in, and agrees to teach Hannie the art of gunfighting, so se can seek revenge.

Hannie Caulder is an uneven film, not only because of the differing styles, but because the actors appear to be acting in different films. The Clemens Brother are the Three Stooges – that is if the Three Stooges were violent psychopathic rapists. Everything they do is wrong – the bank heist goes wrong – a stagecoach robbery goes wrong. They are just plain incompetent. At one point Emmett explains that everything would have been okay if their father was still alive – only to learn that Rufus accidentally killed their Daddy while cleaning his gun. I don’t know if it is meant to be black comedy, but the lines are delivered as if it is.

Next we have Raquel Welch. This film was made at the peak of her popularity, and she certainly looks great, especially in the poncho. But as a rape victim her character is damaged goods. But at times this film displays a double standard – she wants revenge because she was brutally raped, but to get this revenge she is willing to offer her body to Price. Even when a sleazy sheriff spanks he on the ass, she passes it off as a joke. Now I am far from being an expert on the psychology of rape victims, but I can accept that after such an incident, that the sex act would no longer have any meaning to Hannie. But the fact that she is so doggedly determined to track down and kill the men who violated her would indicate otherwise. As I said, I am not an expert, but to me the character seems uneven.

That brings us to Robert Culp. I have seen Culp in numerous television shows, but in very few movies. Based on my limited viewing experience, I would say that this is Culp’s best performance. He is the ‘heart’ of the picture. He is noble, fair, and great with a gun. In real life, nice guys often finish last, but not so here. Of course, if you are going to watch Hannie Caulder, you are watching it foe Raquel Welch – I understand and appreciate that. But this is not a skin flick. It’s about performances, and Culp gives the best one.

And worth a quick mention, horror film icon Christopher Lee makes a small appearance as a gun smith, and what’s more – he’s a good guy?

I’d like to recommend Hannie Caulder very highly. But I can’t. It’s bit too confused and the character motivations are skewed. I can even see some people being offended by this film. But it is a ‘revenge and retribution’ flick, so some unpleasantness is to be expected. Maybe this would make a great vengeful female gunfighter double feature, teamed up with The Quick And The Dead.

Hannie Caulder (1971)

The Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)

Country: United States
Director: Paul Wendkos
Starring: George Kennedy, Monte Markham, James Whitmore, Reni Santoni, Bernie Casey, Joe Don Baker, Michael Ansara, Fernando Rey
Music: Elmer Bernstein

The Guns of the Magnificent Seven is the third movie in the four film series. As with most film series, each additional entry diminishes in quality from the first film. The big difference with Guns, is that George Kennedy plays the role of Chris, taking over from Yul Brynner. I like Kennedy as an actor, and his performance in this film is perfectly acceptable, however his more open style seems at odds with the character – especially when compared with Brynner’s depiction which is cold, clinical and clipped. Chris is a gun for hire – and although he has feelings and morals, he is not one to show them outwardly. Kennedy’s Chris wears his heart on his sleeve. He almost seems the type to apologize after shooting a man who was trying to kill him. This is kind of strange, as Kennedy in other films, such as Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, showed he could play a ruthless cold bastard rather well.

Possibly in an effort to shift this feeling of softness, one of the new ‘Seven’, Levi Morgan, is played by James Whitmore. Whitmore is definitely the old, cuddly father figure, even to the point where one of the children in the film, asks him to be his father until his real father turns up. Morgan, the cold blooded killer, says yes. So this entry for the seven is considerably softer than the other entries.

The story begins with Quintero (Fernando Rey), a revered political leader who is trying to inspire the Mexican farmers to rise up against the corrupt President, being captured by a sadistic Colonel in the Mexican army. Colonel Diego is played by one on the screens great villains, Michael Ansara. In the 1970s, Ansara, along with Henry Silva and John Saxon, had a monopoly on villain roles. Ansara appeared in everything, such as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, ChiPs, Vega$, The Rockford Files, Kojak, Mission Impossible, Hawaii Five O, The Mod Squad, The Streets of San Francisco, The Man From UNCLE, The Girl From UNCLE … and many more, too numerous to mention here.

Of course once Quintero is captured, one of the would-be-revolutionaries, Max (Reni Santoni) obtains some money from a bandit chieftain and rides off to find Chris (Kennedy) whose deeds have spread throughout Mexico. Max finds Chris and outlines the job, which is to break into Diego’s prison and rescue Quintero. Chris agrees and goes about recruit a band of men to go on the mission.

The new ‘Seven’ consist of Chris – Morgan, the knife thrower – Cassie (Bernie Casey), the muscle bound negro who is an expert with dynamite – Slater (Joe Don Baker), a one armed sharp shooter – Keno (Monty Markhan), a horse thief – P.J. (Scott Thomas), a tuberculosis riddled gunman on his last legs. And rounding out the ‘Seven’ is Max, who wishes to be trained as a gunman.

Of course, Elmer Bernstein’s score is rousing as always, rehashing the themes and musical cues from the previous films. It sounds like I am complaining – but I wouldn’t have the music any other way. When I watch a Magnificent Seven film, I want the theme up front and in my face (or should that be ears?) If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The shootouts and action scenes are all competently handled, but there is not much that is new here beyond the cast. Unless you are interested in the cast – any young Joe Don Bakerologists out there? – then the film does little to add to the mythos of The Magnificent Seven.

The Guns of the Magnificent Seven (1969)

Red Sun (1971)

Ursula Andress FestivalAKA: Soleil Rouge
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Charles Bronson, Toshirô Mifune, Ursula Andress, Alain Delon, Capucine, Anthony Dawson, Luc Merenda
Music: Maurice Jarre

By the early seventies, the Spaghetti Westerns (which had revitalised the Western genre) were starting to run out of steam. The look, the feel, and the violence weren’t enough to attract audiences anymore. Westerns needed another twist, or an angle to put bums on seats again. Then somebody took the old saying ‘East meets West’ and twisted West not to mean ‘civilisation’ but the ‘old west’. And for a brief moment in time we had Kung-Fu and Samurai Westerns. Entries in this short lived cinematic movement include Fighting Fists Of Shanghai Joe, the TV series Kung Fu with David Carradine, and this film Red Sun (okay it was a very small movement).

The idea is simply a variant on the fish out of water story, but Red Sun added another nice twist on top of that – the casting of Charles Bronson and Toshirô Mifune. How is that special I hear you ask? Well Mifune was one of the Seven Samurai and Bronson was one of The Magnificent Seven. I like the correlation.

But the film features many fish out of water. It was filmed in Spain, and starred the American, Bronson; Japanese, Mifune; French, Alain Delon; and the Swiss actress Ursula Andress.

The film opens in 1870, and the Japanese Ambassador is travelling by train, accompanied by two Samurai guards, across the wild west to deliver the gift of a golden ceremonial sword to the President of the United States. Unfortunately for the Ambassador, this is the train that outlaws, Link Stuart (Charles Bronson) and Gauche (Alain Delon) have chosen to rob with the help of their band of trusty outlaws. Well maybe ‘trusty’ is the wrong word. There is no trust. In fact Gauche double crosses Stuart and leaves him dead. Gauche also angers the Japanese Ambassador when he steals the ceremonial sword and kills one of the Samurai guards.

The Ambassador orders his other Samurai guard, Kuroda Jubie (Toshirô Mifune) to track down Gauche, kill him and retrieve the sword. They figure the best man to lead Kuroda to Gauche is Stuart. So begins a journey for the two men. Wise-ass Stuart, has no intentions of staying with Kuroda, who is dressed in full Samurai gear. But Stuart does want to get to Gauche, and retrieve the money that is rightfully owing to him. But his attempts at breaking away from Kuroda aren’t too successful, as Kuroda is dogged in his determination to complete his mission – retrieving the sword – and if that means sticking with Stuart, then that’s exacly what he does.

Stuart and Kuroda aren’t too successful in tracking down Gauche, so Stuart adopts another strategy. He let’s Gauche come to him. Or more correctly, come to Christina (Ursula Andress). Christina is a prostitute, and also happens to be Gauche’s girlfriend. Stuart figures that sooner or later, Gauche is going to have the ‘urge’, and when he does, he’ll come for Christina; and Stuart will be waiting.

Red Sun, while being very enjoyable in it’s way, is quite an uneven film. After the train robbery and betrayal at the start, the film spends quite a bit of time with just Bronson and Mifune’s characters; and here the film works very well as almost a character piece. But plotwise, with only two men making a journey together, not much story progression is taking place. But that’s not to say it is boring – these are characters that are engaging.

For the second half of the film, once Ursula Andress’ character is introduced, the story does move forward, but it doesn’t really have any place to go.

The ending itself, is very reminiscent of Bandolero (and numerous other Westerns), where the ‘good’ guys and the ‘bad’ guys have to team up to defeat a common enemy – here they have to battle a number of rather European looking Comanche Indians. I always think it is a clumsy plot device when fate steps in to turn the tables in favour of the hero. A real hero would ‘think’ or ‘fight’ his way out of trouble.

Ultimately Red Sun is not a great film, but it is an interesting one. It’s Samurai Western with a likeable International cast performing a variety of Swordplay, Gunplay, and if you count Christina’s seduction of Link, Foreplay.

Red Sun (1971)