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Richard C. Sarafian
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Hundreds upon hundreds of westerns have been made by Hollywood and other cinematic centers of creation, but this one can at least claim a pretty unique premise and an unusual cast. The story concerns an arrogant and stubborn party of European nobility who have come to the wilds of the North American west to hunt for sport. They blithely roam onto an Apache reservation and invoke the wrath of the tribe, which has had its fill of broken treaties. Connery, as the title character, plays a well-known loner in the area who has a tenuous relationship with the Apaches and finds himself having to try to rescue the hunters. The hunters include the snobby, condescending van Eyck, his feisty fiancé Bardot, cuckolded Hawkins, his discontented wife Blackman, blithering ex-senator Knox and his Latino wife French. Their guide is the dubious Boyd, who is exploiting them for the fees they pay for his services. It is, at once, jarring and fascinating to see these characters in a western setting. The clothing, furnishings, behaviors, etc...are at odds with the typical western visuals. A butler frets that the champagne may not be cold enough, while they all sit at a dining table in the middle of the desert. The characters are so shallow and bigoted that the viewer can hardly wait to see them get their comeuppance and most of them do...in spades. Where the film primarily fails is in its storytelling, editing and location. The script is vague at times, to say the least. It's not always easy to determine the motivations of the characters. This is not helped by the fact that many of their accented murmurings are spoken softly while the musical score blares, making it hard to settle on a volume level. The editing is, at times, striking and effective, but other times it is weak and harms some of the dramatic impact of the story. The location (Spain) resembles nothing like the American west. This is immediately distracting and sometimes continues to be. There's a horribly silly title song. The direction is occasionally on the lazy side as well. However, the sheer intensity and savagery of the action sequences and some various intriguing story elements make this quite watchable. Connery is appropriately rugged, if unexpected, as a western hero. Bardot is lovely, but doesn't really get a chance to shine much. She is a striking figure on the range, even if her HEAVY eye make-up has nothing to do with the time or place. She and Connery have a slight, subdued chemistry between them that isn't fully developed. The real sparks fly between Boyd and Blackman. He is a great slimeball and she is wonderfully desperate. Her tussle with the Indians is a high point of the film. The Indians are portrayed in a throwback way...speaking pigeon English and basically doing what they did in westerns of the '30's. It's surprising that in 1968, Strode was cast as one of the leaders. Ultimately, the climax renders most of what has taken place inconsequential, another flaw in the storytelling. Still, the film has merit for it's collection of international actors, it's inventive violence and it's unusual approach to the western genre. (In some ways, it resembles a 1970's disaster movie! An all star cast gets dressed up, faces peril, gets dirty, and only a handful survive!)
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