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As a history teacher, this sort of western irritates the life out of
me. While it's supposed to be set just after the Mexican War (which
ended in the late 1840s), nothing about the film looks rightnothing.
The guns are all repeating cartridge pistols circa 1870s-1880s, the
cavalry uniforms from the 1860s and the whole look of the film is just
another late 1800s film. So why, then, did they bother setting the film
in this much earlier era if they just didn't care what they slapped on
the screen? I guess they just wanted to churn out anythinghoping the
public just would watch it anyways.
The film involves a very common theme to westernsthe baddies who are trying to grab up all the land and force the good people off their own property. In this case, an evil American is trying to force Mexicans off their land now that it's become a US territory. Unfortunately, it's all very familiar, the acting is unspectacular (at best) and the production just looks cheap and slapped together. My feeling is that since there were at least 13923035440509 other westerns made during this era, why not try watching one of the others first? After all, it's most likely a lot more interesting and better produced than this cheapie. And, perhaps my score of 3 is a bit generous.
Although full of actors with a lot of experience in westerns--Jim
Davis, Harry Lauter, Lee Van Cleef, Douglas Fowley--this cheap and
irritating film from Republic comes across like it was made over a
weekend by a couple of guys who got some money (very little of it, from
the looks of things) together and said, "Hey, let's make a western!".
This was released by Republic near the end of its existence--the studio
went out of business two years later--although it wasn't actually made
by them but was an independent production they picked up for
distribution. That at least salvages their reputation somewhat, since
Republic specialized in making westerns and knew how to make efficient,
action-packed horse operas; I can't think of any of its own product
that is as tenth-rate as this mess is.
There are so many things wrong with this film that it's difficult to know where to begin. For starters, although it's called "Raiders of Old California", it's set along the Texas/Mexican border, nowhere near California. As pointed out by other reviewers, the US troops wear uniforms and equipment that weren't issued until 15 years or so after the period the film was set in (the late 1840s). The film opens during the Mexican-American War of 1848 with a US Army attack on a Mexican fort, and it's an indication of what's to come--the "action" is dull, slow, poorly staged and full of stupid mistakes (while attacking the fort, the US soldiers don't bother running but stand out in the open, where they are promptly shot; soldiers fall off their horses although no shots are heard being fired; after the battle is over and the Americans have taken the fort, a Mexican soldier rides through the front gate and starts speaking to his commanding officer--in English--apparently not noticing that the fort has been taken over by American soldiers), and the "fort" itself is a painfully obvious, shoddily made set that looks like it was slapped together with wrapping paper and plywood.
The story of greedy villains trying to take land away from poor defenseless peasants and farmers has been done a thousand times before (and a thousand times better) and despite the cast of western veterans, no one acquits themselves particularly well. I hope their checks didn't bounce so at least they got something out of it, because this flabby, badly written, sloppily made hackjob isn't anything any of them should be proud of.
Jim Davis is star and protagonist of Raiders Of Old California, a
western from the last days of Republic Pictures. Davis is an army
captain who uses the Mexican War and the uniform to steal himself a
Spanish land grant from the previous owner Lawrence Dobkin who after a
murder attempt by Davis henchman Lee Van Cleef on his life, retires and
becomes a friar.
It's been previously pointed out the disparity in times for a film set in the post Mexican War years, with Davis, Van Cleef etc. wearing Civil War era uniforms and carrying even later weaponry. Herbert J. Yates was not much for authenticity and research.
Faron Young and Marty Robbins from the Grand Ole Opry are a good guy and a bad guy in this film. It was getting a little too late for country and western stars to become western stars on the big screen. Their time to become another Gene Autry had passed.
Those who are thespians do a good job with their roles. But Raiders Of Old California is a subpar western.
Former Cavalry officer Jim Davis and fellow heavies Lee Van Cleef and
Marty Robbins take control of a huge parcel of land following the
Mexican American War, pushing the Mexican peasant farmers off the
property given them by it's former owner, a General in the Mexican
Raiders Of Old California looks a bit cheap but it's so hard-boiled and action packed that the low-budget doesn't hurt it all that much, though I wish country stars Robbins and Faron Young could have strummed and sang a few tunes.
Speaking of Young, he's pretty good as Davis' nemesis, a justice seeking U.S. Marshall. If he had been fifteen years older he could have been an excellent Saturday matinée western star.
Lee Van Cleef too has a pretty meaty role as Davis' number one henchman. Here he's just as mean, cold, and cruel as he is in later performances. This is essential viewing for Van Cleef fans.
Never having heard of producer-director Albert C. Gannaway, I wasn't
sure what to expect, even though I am a long-time fan of Jim Davis.
In addition, I had never seen Faron Young in a movie, either, and again had no idea what to expect.
Faron Young, whom I remember from my childhood as a singer, turns out to be one good action hero, an excellent cowboy movie star.
Director Gannaway was an absolute master of camera placement.
So I was not only surprised, I was exceedingly pleased by what I saw in "Raiders of Old California."
The script has some flaws. I never heard of Comanches in California, but except for the title, California doesn't seem to have anything to do with this. It seems, except for the title, to be in Texas and maybe Arizona. "Seems" because of a discussion about the boundaries of the land in question.
But the story moves otherwise beautifully, with superb action, highly professional stunts, and plenty of them, and, again, lots of action, with Faron Young playing his part as if he had made a hundred movies.
Harry Lauter gets one of his best roles, and plays it perfectly. He was an actor! And deserved more and bigger roles.
Jim Davis has never been more evil. Another truly great actor.
Douglas Fowley gives what must be his most unusual performance, as a crusty desert-rat kind of sheriff. Another truly great actor, he more often played a villain, and usually a city slicker, but his characterization here is just eye-popping.
Lee Van Cleef also gives an excellent performance as a nasty character, and his eventual switch to hero roles was gratifying to his fans, and impressive to his audience. He was paid, according to reports, with satchels and briefcases full of money to make a series of Italian westerns, and he earned every penny.
Everything -- except for the occasional script and/or title flaw -- about "Raiders" is excellent. For a very little known western, it is more than excellent, and I highly recommend you give it a look. There is a first-quality print available at YouTube, where I saw it. I hope you like and admire it as much as I do.
After making The Badge of Marshal Brennan earlier in the year, Jim Davis once again teamed with producer/director Albert C. Gannaway and co-stars Arleen Whelan, Marty Robbins, Lee Van Cleef, Louis Jean Heydt, Harry Lauter, and Douglas Fowley, among others, for this one. Here, he's Captain Angus McKane who, after the Mexican war, takes the land that once belonged to his enemies by force and threatens to shoot anyone who dares to challenge him for it. I admit to being partly confused by some sequence of events but a flashback near the end explains nearly everything to my satisfaction. I also noticed one sequence involving fighting Indians that seemed the same one from the other picture I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Probably was done that way for budget purposes but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of this one. Really, there's good action and compelling drama throughout. So on that note, Raiders of Old California is recommended.
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