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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The McMasters" is set somewhere in the American south just after the Civil
War. A former slave Benjie (Brock Peters) returns home in his Union uniform
following his participation in the conflict. His home is on a ranch owned by
McMasters (Burl Ives) who apparently has freed him from slavery and taken a
fatherly interest in him.
Naturally Benjie has problems with the local bigots led by rancher Kolby (Jack Palance) and his cohort Russel (L.Q. Jones). Storekeeper Watson (R.G. Armstrong) and townsman Spencer (Dane Clark) oppose the prejudice.
When McMasters makes Benjie an equal partner in his ranch and gives him his name, you know that Palance & Co. will have something to say. Meanwhile, Benjie befriends a hungry group of Indians led by White Feather (David Carradine). He allows them to take a couple of his cattle for much needed food. In return, White Feather offers Benjie his sister Robin (Nancy Kwan) as a token of their gratitude. Gradually Benjie comes to love Robin and asks the local preacher (John Carradine) to marry them.
When some cattle are stolen by the Indians, Russel and his cronies come to McMasters ranch and rape Robin and rough up old McMasters. When Benjie returns he manages to overpower the intruders, killing two of them, before driving the others away. Kolby marshals up the townsfolk for an attack on McMasters ranch. Benjie decides that he will defend his land to the death.
Director Alf Kjellin gives us an authentic looking set piece. It really has the look and feel of the American Southwest of the 1860s. Although Burl Ives was top billed he really only has a supporting role. The marvelous and often under rated Brock Peters is actually the star. He shows grit and determination in his quest to keep his land. It is odd though, that he is the only black man in the cast. Palance is his usual sneering self as the head villain and Jones is suitably slimy as his cohort.
Poor Nancy Kwan as the long suffering Robin has to endure a number of rapes. David Carradine is good as White Feather conveying a feeling of hopelessness for his people. Father John appears briefly as the preacher.
"The McMasters" is a compelling drama of the post civil war period. Often violent and unforgiving, it is one of the few opportunities that Brock Peters has had to play the leading role. That lifts the film up a notch or two and makes for an entertaining hour and a half.
'The McMasters' is yet another film that stands as a testament to the
changing values of North American society: another case of "There's no way
that could have been made today".
Brock Peters plays Benji, a former slave and Civil War veteran who is adopted by kindly-old-white-man Burl Ives ('Mcmasters'), and given title to the old man's farm. Conflict with the racist locals, led by the chilling Jack Palance as Kolby, ensues, leading to a violent conclusion.
To me the film was almost painfully riveting, and frank in its depictions of violence and racism.The violence in today's action films is highly stylized, and almost glamorous by comparison: today's post-Star-Wars escapist fare has no place for the smallest depiction or frank discussion of racism. I found myself getting involved with the characters, cheering them on and yelling advice to the screen. I also loved the western/blacksploitation angle of the film, even though the "showdown" plot is pretty standard western fare.
The film seems old-fashioned when viewed today: does that mean that society has progressed, or regressed since 1969? You be the judge.
The title for this flick is a connotation, and the McMasters is a riveting Western if I ever saw one! Wow hard core to say the least, but the film was professional from Cast Extras to the Director of this post civil war drama. This Western would be way out in outer space by today's standards for "Political Correctness". I respect the harsh intones that are portrayed for record of what some men really were like at that time. Nudity and worse are part of the action, not to mention language that is intolerable in today's public. Barbarism is pervasive throughout this action packed thriller. Jack Palance as always performed wonderfully, but Burl Ives's immortal abilities carries this movie in support of Brock Peters. Actions and words in this movie shook and shocked me, but not by the actions and words in of themselves, but by the ingenious ways in which they were introduced into this masterpiece. The quality technicalities of this film on DVD were good, color, etc.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Helmed by a TV director, and nearly always looking like it, this rugged little western has an interesting assemblage of actors, but fails to become a memorable piece of film-making. Peters is a former slave who's been fighting for the Union in the Civil War. He foolishly returns to his home town in the south while still wearing his blue uniform. This antagonizes Palance, who lost an arm in the war fighting for The Confederacy. Palance is even more displeased when Peters' former master (Ives) takes him in and makes him half-owner of his ranch! When some local Indians are discovered stealing cattle for sustenance, Peters allows them to have some of his own. In return, he is gifted Kwan (who he greets, for some reason, with a vicious rape.) Ives, Peters and Kwan then form the title (decidedly unusual) family unit, much to the dismay of the bulk of the citizens of the town. Only Clark, as a progressive thinker, is willing to stand up for Peters' right to own land and marry an Indian. Eventually, the situation reaches a boiling point and Palance, along with several pals such as Jones, invades the McMasters' home, wreaking much havoc. Ives, despite his billing, is not the star of this film. He has a supporting role and does a solid enough job with it, though it's hardly a challenging or particularly meaty role. His easygoing style does help to keep some of the potentially offensive material in check somewhat. Peters over-emotes a bit, but, for the most part, he is strong. Unfortunately, his character makes several either idiotic, confusing or bothersome decisions, so it isn't always easy to identify with him. Kwan has a very demeaning role (and a surprising nude scene), but she is able to bring a certain amount of tenderness to the proceedings. David Carradine, in this stage just prior to gaining fame on "Kung Fu", plays one of the Indians while his father John has a cameo as the local preacher (and was probably relieved to be playing a somewhat normal person instead of the typical horror movie lunatic that he leaned toward through a lot of his career.) Sam Peckinpah cronies Jones and especially Armstrong lend effective support in their small roles. Following his positively embarrassing work in "The Desperadoes", Palance is still wildly over the top and inexcusably hammy. Most of his lines are sputtered through a wad of chewing tobacco and he revels in delivering nasty lines with a snarl and a gnash. The film's biggest problem (aside from a trashy, trite script) is probably the routine direction paired with a low budget. It also sports a musical score (by a gentleman who worked on many black-oriented films) that is unbelievably repetitive and tiresome. It's a dour, cruel and bleak film with very few bright spots. In what was a very unusual move, two versions of it were released to theatres. In one, Peters triumphs. In another (slightly longer) version, the bad guys win out. Neither version could be considered a very important addition to the screen western except that a couple of the stars are black and Asian.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Benjie" (Brock Peters) is a young black man living in the South who stole a horse in order to join the Union forces during the Civil War. After the war he returns to his hometown and is greeted with hatred and animosity by almost everybody. Fortunately, the man who raised him since he was a child "Mr. McMasters" (Burl Ives) has always had a great fondness for him and welcomes him back whole-heartedly. Not only does he give him half ownership of his ranch but he is especially pleased when Benjie decides to take his last name as well. Not long afterward Benjie helps some starving Indians and in appreciation is given a woman by the name of "Robin" (Nancy Kwan). At first he is repelled by the idea and treats her quite cruelly but eventually he comes to love her and make her his wife. But things don't go smoothly after this. Anyway, rather than detail the entire movie and risk spoiling it for those who haven't seen it I will just say that this was an interesting movie that captured the harsh and brutal conditions faced by non-whites who tried to rise above their surroundings during this particular time in the United States. Additionally, while I liked the performance of Nancy Kwan and David Carradine (as "White Feather") I thought both of them were slightly miscast in their respective roles. Be that as it may, while I consider this movie to be slightly above average I should also warn parents that this is not a movie that one would want to watch with smaller children due to the rather graphic content depicted.
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