Sony // 1966 // 101 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // March 17th, 2006
They thought he was dead. Now they wish it were true.
The western may have been going through a renaissance and rebirth in the 1960s, but obviously somebody forgot to tell Ride Beyond Vengeance, a B star-studded affair that tries hard to shake its TV-movie-of-the-week vibe, but only ends up in a smelly heap on the floor of the local pasteboard saloon.
Chuck Connors (Soylent Green) stars as Jonas Trapp, a grizzled buffalo hunter who is on the trail home to his estranged wife Jessie (Kathryn Hays, As the World Turns), carrying the proceeds of his 11-year sojourn in Kansas. On arriving in town, however, Jonas is held up, beaten and branded across the chest by three ne'er-do-wells, corrupt banker Brooks Durham (Michael Rennie, The Day the Earth Stood Still), well-dressed gunslinger Johnsy Boy (Bill Bixby, The Incredible Hulk), and rough 'n' tumble drunk Elwood Coates (Claude Akins, Rio Bravo). Even worse, when the penniless Jonas drags his bruised and battered carcass home, he finds that Jessie wants nothing to do with anymore -- she's been shacking up with Mr. Durham!
When Ride Beyond Vengeance hit theatres, the American western genre was in a state of evolution, as the epic revenge of Italian spaghetti westerns and the ultraviolence of Sam Peckinpah reinvigorated the used and abused genre for the better. Anyone could see that innovation and mythic deconstruction had become the forces driving the hackneyed western into the 1970s, but Ride Beyond Vengeance is sorely stuck in the past: a costume drama that would have fit in nicely 20 years beforehand, but sticks out in its era like a freshly blocked Stetson on a worn, dusty Texas trail.
Looking conspicuously like it was shot in between cast and crew breaks from a show like Rawhide, everything about Ride Beyond Vengeance is embarrassingly low-rent, from the unconvincing sets to the static cinematography, the cameos by fading stars to Richard Markowitz's lackluster musical score. It's a definite missed opportunity, because the story based on Al Dewlen's novel The Night of the Tiger, could have been pretty interesting in the right hands -- the potential for violence and vengeful retribution are certainly there, and a better director and cast could've made this novel into a classic tale of bloodshed among the tumbleweeds. Instead, Ride Beyond Vengeance spends almost all of its time dwelling on tired soap operatics -- the woman spurned, the return of the prodigal husband, and the obvious love triangle. If you've seen your fair share of westerns, there's just nothing that Ride Beyond Vengeance offers that hasn't been seen before -- it's a lackluster adaptation of the novel, through and through.
Still, Chuck Connors -- who was staring in the short-lived western TV program Branded at the time -- does a fine job as the hero, Jonas Trapp. As in the show, he has to walk a very fine line between the anti-heroes of the time and the paragons of virtue that populated the westerns of the '30s and '40s. He pulls it off, and his scenes stand out as the emotional highlights of the film, such as they are. Though quite obviously in the twilight of their careers, Claude Akins and Michael Rennie provide some much needed class to the film, making up for the gratuitous cameos by TV stars like Frank Gorshin, James MacArthur, and Jamie Farr.
Even the 1:85 anamorphic widescreen transfer looks something like a '60s era TV show on DVD -- kind of fuzzy, and full of source artifacts. Everything seems to have an unpleasant green tint to it, though that may be some ill-considered artistic choice. Sound, at least, is pretty good, a bold, clean track that is about as good as a mono 2.0 track should be. There are no extras on this release, save for some unrelated trailers for other Sony DVDs.
This one should have been hogtied before it ever got out of the pen. Ride Beyond Vengeance never rises above the level of a budget-conscious TV western. It's not worth your time, unless you are a completist, or a rabid Chuck Connors fan.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 101 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated