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Pedro Armendáriz Jr.
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Lino Ventura comes into gold, loses it, and tries to recover it
"Le Ruffian" begins with Lino Ventura working at a gold mine in British Columbia. It's beautiful mountain country and the film takes advantage of it as we follow a truck up a narrow mountain path to the mine. It's payday, it's mail day, and there's lots of camaraderie among the men. This is interrupted by a shockingly violent robbery and action scene. Ventura and two Indians manage to survive and kill the gang. Alone with a lot of gold, they decide to make off with it, but the Indians are far from trustworthy. A harrowing jeep trip across rugged mountain tops follows. After some conflict, Ventura ends up with the gold.
Next thing he's secured a canoe and is paddling downstream when he encounters a swift current and large waterfall (Wapta Falls). Barely able to escape, the canoe with all the gold tumbles over the falls, overturning.
Ventura makes it back to the city where he sets about recruiting his friends to go back to recover the gold. At this point, the movie slows down to a crawl as it elaborates on the back story of his crew, mainly a young man who is paralyzed from an auto racing accident when his car touched that of Ventura. Also his wife's character is built up. Then there is Claudia Cardinale's character, who owns a bar and grill. She has aged very well and it is a pleasure to see her again. This segment is rather strained. The camaraderie seems forced. They are building a boat, but there is no real suspense to it. As this slow segment winds down, the two Indians show up. The action heats up as they find a way to foil them.
On the road to the river, the trip is again not very interesting except that they encounter two bikers who are robbers.
On the river and at the falls, there is a fair amount of interest as they construct the pulleys and winches needed so that Ventura can dive safely beneath the falls. New suspense is injected because of a stranger who has their scent and has followed them, ready to plunder what he can.
All in all, we have a fairly good adventure movie, but one that is too lackadaisical at times and too strained (phony) in its portrayal of the friendships of the team. The movie periodically runs out of steam and then picks up again. Ventura seems uncomfortable playing a happy-go-lucky, risk-taking, tough guy who has an easy-going side. I think the writer-director, Jose Giovanni, more or less misfired with this one. I typically like his work more than this, not that this is terrible. It's a pleasant outing with a few thrills and some nice scenery and a modicum of suspense. It apparently was not meant to be a rougher, tougher, harder-edged adventure film.
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