Sony // 1969 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // August 3rd, 2006
The only good gringo, is a dead gringo.
Telly Savales stars in this hard-boiled Western about two brothers' blood feud and a squad of pissed-off Apaches.
Savales plays Vince Cardon, a powerful landowner and all-around bastard. >From his vast ranch, he runs the neighboring town with an iron fist, buying favors and ensuring hapless townsfolk stay indebted to him for perpetuity. His insatiable hunger for more land hits a snag when the government plans to open up an Apache reserve. So he hatches the sinister scheme to frame the Apaches for a murder, rile up the towns people, and start a land war that will -- he hopes -- result in an Apache massacre and land galore.
What he doesn't count on is the surprise emergence of his brother Paul (George Maharis). Paul is an angry man, who stormed away from the family compound when his beloved was killed in an accident, and he was fingered as the killer. But Paul always thought there was malfeasance at play, and Vince may be involved.
So reluctantly, Paul re-enters the scene, in time to play his part in the looming war, and settle matters with his brother once and for all.
Truth be told, I'm not one for Westerns, but Land Raiders turned out to be an enjoyable little tale of vengeance. The key dramatic conflict is, of course, the tension between Paul and Vince. Paul is your typical tormented hero, a guy who's not afraid to mix it up in a barroom brawl and waste and Apache or two if need be, yet is reluctant to do the right thing unless it benefits him directly. Vince is a straight-up dickhead. Savales and Maharis play the roles well, with the former bringing suitable menace to the heavy and the latter flexing some significant on-screen machismo. The two women in the film, played by Arlene Dahl and Janet Landgard, are strong and feisty and, well, pretty hot. But the real surprise was the authentically engaging action sequences. While the story couldn't be simpler (brother vs. brother amidst lots of Indian on white man violence), the mayhem supporting the threadbare plot is top-shelf. The centerpiece of the film is a multi-wagon Apache chase, where the Indians light their war fires and take to the plains to massacre a caravan of unprepared settlers. Paul happens to be present and as chaos explodes he hijacks a wagon, defends the comely lady driver, battles Indians hand-to-hand, tossing them out the back, and opening fire point blank at the marauders. It's a fast, well-shot sequence and proves to be a real visceral thrill. Flanking this impressive stretch are mucho gunfights and brouhaha, culminating in the requisite stampede and town battle, where Vince's chickens come home to roost.
There are a few distracting elements at play, as well. Director Nathan Juran utilizes flashback sequences to fill in the back-story of Paul's deceased lad friend. These shots are filmed through a hazy filter and, while helpful in the exposition department, ultimately seem a little gimmicky. In addition, boilerplate elements like really tan white guys playing the part of Indians and loads of stock footage work against the suspension of disbelief.
Minor gripes. The bottom line is, I was surprised by this film, enjoying it a lot more than I anticipated. It's rough and tough (the presence of blood and nudity, while minimal, is enough to give it some teeth) and the characters give an edge to the simple story.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks fine, though some print flaws pop up throughout. A mono soundtrack works the soundscape adequately.
Land Raiders is a badass little western. That's about it.
Not guilty, gringo.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated