Judge Daryl Loomis once had six friends, but they were too lazy to betray him.
He bought six men out of hell and they brought it with them.
The Western is one of the oldest genres in film, having represented our fascination with the frontier territory for more than a century. For many years and hundreds of entries, the genre went unchanged; producers were content with simple oaters about ranch life and invading bands of natives. But in the early 1960s, it took the Italians to blow the lid off that tradition, delivering a much more wild view of the west and a ton of acrobats for some reason that I've never really understood. America responded in kind, churning out what would become known as "Revisionist Westerns." They featured a much more cynical view of the West, with far more violence and a less than sympathetic view of American expansion. These almost entirely replaced the older style, which would then be relegated to television programs like The Big Valley and Bonanza, which is why a movie like The Revengers feels so out of its time. While not necessarily a bad movie, it fails to ring true with what else was coming out in 1972.
In it, we find John Benedict (William Holden, The Wild Bunch) returning to his ranch and loving family after a hunt. When he arrives, he finds them all brutally slaughtered by Comancheros. With vengeance now the only thing on his mind, Benedict buys six prisoners, all of whom are various degrees of monster, ostensibly for a mining trip, but really they are going to hunt and murder the leader of the gang, a man known best for his one white eye.
I feel about The Revengers much how I felt about Deadwood the first time I tried to watch it. Eventually, after a few years and a dedicated attempt at a rewatch, I changed my tune about the HBO western, but The Revengers will always resemble an old-style oater, but with a lot more cussing. Had it come out fifteen years earlier, it might have come across a lot stronger (albeit without the swears), but in 1972, it feels terribly old fashioned.
Still, it's entertaining enough, with decent but unremarkable direction from Daniel Mann (Our Man Flint). The Mexican landscapes look very nice, but they're nothing particularly special; this is no Monument Valley, but it delivers the time and place pretty well. The performances are hit and miss, but that's no surprise. William Holden doesn't put in his best work, but he's always a fine lead, while Earnest Borgnine (The Dirty Dozen) and Woody Strode (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence) are both a little more problematic in their roles. Borgnine, because he's acting like a fool most of the time, and Strode for weird racial stuff. That's not his fault, of course, but it makes the character hard to watch.
The big problem comes from a lazy screenplay by Wendell Mayes. It's odd the film would feel so old fashioned, given he would go on to write one of the choicest examples of New Hollywood with Death Wish just two years later. It's a very simple revenge/betrayal story that doesn't really go anywhere. Plus, the betrayal angle that sets up the final act doesn't make a lick of sense, unless this Benedict character is a genuine sap, which is an unlikely and stupid way to present a rancher with revenge on the brain. While this kind of writing doesn't tank the movie entirely, it certainly won't encourage me to return to the movie anytime soon.
The Revengers comes to DVD from Paramount in a bare-bones edition. The 2.35:1 image transfer represents the cinematography by Gabriel Torres (The Deadly Trackers) very well, which is good because that's the only truly admirable thing about the movie. The colors are nicely saturated and flesh tones are mostly accurate, while the detail shows off the landscape nicely. It isn't perfect; there a bit of dirt remaining on the print, but there's no significant damage to report. The mono sound mix is fairly underwhelming, but there's no background noise to contend with. The dialog and musical score are clear enough, but there's little dynamic range. The only extra is a trailer.
Had The Revengers come out in say 1951, I would look at it as just another genre entry. In 1972, it comes off as something one's grandfather might appreciate, but as a measure of nostalgia instead of quality. While not really that bad of a movie, I'm going to have a tough time recommending it to anyone but the most devout genre fans.
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