Judge Clark Douglas prefers soft rides.
Two movies! One disc! Lotsa shootin'!
Jim Brown will probably always be best-known as an NFL great, but he's also one of the few pro athletes to make a genuinely successful transition into cinema. During the 1960s and 1970s, Brown appeared in the sort of masculine films (The Dirty Dozen, Ice Station Zebra, 100 Rifles) that were most likely to appeal to the guys who followed his football career. Fans of the fullback/actor will undoubtedly be enthusiastic about this new release from Shout! Factory, which packs two vintage westerns featuring Brown onto a single disc.
First up is Rio Conchos, directed by Gordon Douglas. It seems that someone has been selling stolen firearms to a tribe of violent Apaches, and a team is put together to investigate the matter. Included on the team is the Indian-hating ex-Confederate Major James Lassiter (Richard Boone, Have Gun—Will Travel), the no-nonsense Captain Haven (Stuart Whitman, The Comancheros), Haven's old pal Sgt. Franklyn (Jim Brown, The Running Man) and womanizing Mexican Juan Luis Rodriguez (Anthony Franciosa, A Face in the Crowd). Along the way, they add an Apache warrior woman (Wende Wagner) to their band of misfits. Eventually, the men will track down the corrupt Col. Theron "Gray Fox" Pardee (Edmond O' Brien, The Wild Bunch) and engage in a violent showdown.
The plot of Rio Conchos is largely borrowed from Michael Curtiz's The Comancheros; a fact only enhanced by the presence of Comancheros co-star Stuart Whitman. Unfortunately, Rio Conchos doesn't deliver quite as much fun, going through the motions of its predictable plot in a fairly routine manner. The vast majority of the film is standard-issue western material, but the film's dark edges bring it at least some distinctive qualities—there's a particularly unnerving scene in which the bigoted Boone character cackles while watching an Apache burn to death. The film remains best-known as Jim Brown's cinematic debut, and the actor makes a sturdy impression in his first role. Brown isn't given many lines, but he brings an assured presence that would continue to earn him work in cinema for decades. Still, it's not surprising that this otherwise generic western adventure has been more or less forgotten by many.
On the backside of the double-bill is 1975's Take a Hard Ride, directed by Antonio Margheriti (whose name is roughly the 756th movie reference made in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds). The premise: a whole bunch of folks are hot on the trail of $86,000 in cash. Making a run for the money are such diverse folks as the tough trail boss Pike (Jim Brown), the violent bounty hunter Kiefer (Lee Van Cleef, For a Few Dollars More), the down-on-her-luck prostitute Catherine (Catherine Spaak, The Cat O'Nine Tails), the slick gambler/con man Tyree (Fred Williamson, Black Caesar), the mute martial arts master Kashtok (Jim Kelly, Enter the Dragon) and many, many others. Who will get there first?
Take a Hard Ride is a considerably less conventional western than Rio Conchos, sort of a fusion of spaghetti westerns, blaxploitation flicks, and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (though big-name movie stars are replaced by recognizable B-movie stars and character actors in this flick). The film is entertaining stuff for the most part, as the plot is stripped-down enough that an emphasis can be placed on intense showdowns and entertaining bits of character interaction. Brown and Williamson are particularly strong during their scenes together, as they boast an easy-going chemistry that sets the tone of the film (the frequent spurts of violence do little to detract from the film's generally warm demeanor). Van Cleef also milks his screen image for all it's worth, basking in close-ups where he simply stares menacingly into the distance with a half-grin on his face. I don't want to overstate the film's level of quality, but Take a Hard Ride really is a rather enjoyable genre mashup that does what it does with skill.
The transfers for both films are pretty underwhelming, but I suppose that's to be expected when you cram two full-length movies onto a single DVD. Rio Conchos is easily the worst-looking of the two, offering some scenes that look absolutely miserable. Detail is rough and darker scenes look awful. Take a Hard Ride looks great in comparison, but truthfully it's still a pretty middling transfer. Detail struggles at times and there are some flecks and specks present, but the film looks okay considering its age. Both films are given competent mono audio tracks, both of which are highlighted by scores from the great Jerry Goldsmith. Take a Hard Ride fares better in terms of dialogue, though. In terms of extras, we get a very enjoyable pair of new interviews with Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly plus trailers for both films.
While Take a Hard Ride is the only film in this set I would actually recommend, Rio Conchos is a perfectly watchable bonus. Considering the very low price of this release, you won't feel ripped off even if you dislike one of the movies included.
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Scales of Justice, Rio Conchos
Perp Profile, Rio Conchos
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, Rio Conchos
Scales of Justice, Take A Hard Ride
Perp Profile, Take A Hard Ride
Studio: Shout! Factory
Distinguishing Marks, Take A Hard Ride
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