Archive for April, 2012


“Breakout”

There are days when you think you have everything lined up for a great evening watching a good movie – the film is Charles Bronson’s “Breakout”, made during the 1970s when he churned out a series of fine action flicks, the cast includes Robert Duvall, John Huston, Randy Quaid and Emilio Fernandez and it’s about busting someone out of prison. 

The sure-fire ingredients for a great Charles Bronson actioner, right? Not really. “Breakout” is a confused, muddled mess despite good performances by Bronson and Quaid.

Businessman Jay Wagner (Robert Duvall) is framed for a murder in Mexico by his ultra-rich grandfather Harris Wagner (John Huston) and given a 28-year sentence to be served in a prison that allows conjugal visits by his wife Ann Wagner (Jill Ireland). 

After an attempt by Jay to bust out of prison by hiding in a coffin nearly ends in disaster, Ann hires Nick Colton (Charles Bronson), the owner of a struggling airline and a minor conman, to get her husband out of the jail. Colton ropes in his business partner Hawk Hawkins (a very young Randy Quaid) and an ex-flame Myrna (a great turn by Sheree North) for a series of harebrained schemes to get Jay Wagner out of the prison run by an oily warden (Emilio Fernandez).

One scheme even has the lanky Randy Quaid trying to pass off as a Mexican hooker (!) calling on Duvall at the prison.

I truly wanted to like this movie but its uneven tone is all wrong. It goes from dead serious to slapstick comedy in the span of a few minutes. We never really learn why Jay Wagner has been framed by his grandfather though there is some mention of the involvement of some CIA types. (Roger Ebert, in his review, says the movie was based on a real life incident. Maybe we would have been better off if the filmmakers had just stuck to that tale.)

Jill Ireland and Robert Duvall in "Breakout"

“Breakout” is available on DVD in Regions 1 and 2 in a great transfer that shows off Lucien Ballard’s fine cinematography. Recommended only for die-hard Charles Bronson fans.

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“The Spikes Gang”

By the time the Mirisch Company made “The Spikes Gang” in 1974, most people believed Westerns were well on their way in riding off into the sunset. Except for actor-director Clint Eastwood, few others in Hollywood would make any worthwhile forays in the genre in the next few decades.

“The Spikes Gang” is a mix between a coming-of-age tale and a revisionist Western that features a stellar performance by Lee Marvin as the unscrupulous outlaw Harry Spikes, who becomes an unlikely father figure for teenagers Wilson Young (Gary Grimes), Tod Hayhew (Charles Martin Smith) and Les Richter (Ron Howard).

Ron Howard, Gary Grimes and Charles Martin Smith in "The Spikes Gang"

The three boys find Spikes near their town, all shot up and bleeding, and hide him in a barn despite finding out that he’s an outlaw with a posse after him. As Spikes regains his strength, he fills the boys’ heads with colourful and romantic tales of holding up banks and living a carefree life off the spoils. 

Spikes soon leaves on a horse gifted to him by Wilson, but the boy’s action angers his domineering father, who administers a brutal whipping with a belt. The thrashing helps make up Wilson’s mind to leave home for a life on the road that is obviously inspired by Spikes’ stories.

Wilson is joined by Tod and Les and the boys drift from town to town, unable to find any work and running short of money. A run-in with a sheriff in a frontier town pushes them into making a desperate bid to rob the local bank but the act has unforeseen consequences – a gun battle erupts and one of the boys shoots dead a state Senator while another drops the loot.

The boys drift across the border into Mexico, get busted by the law for pawning and stealing back Wilson’s gold watch, only to be freed from a squalid prison by Spikes. The outlaw feeds and takes care of them before the boys and he go their separate ways. The boys take up odd jobs with a butcher and at a cantina but are unable to make much of a living.

The boys with Lee Marvin

A second meeting with Spikes leads to the outlaw taking the boys under his wing and making them members of his gang for the planned hold-up of a bank across the border. This robbery too goes horribly wrong – Tod is fatally injured and Spikes’ insistence on leaving him behind leads to a parting of ways.

Wilson goes back to his hometown to deliver a letter written by Tod to his parents, and on his return to Mexico, he learns that Spikes has become a bounty hunter in order to clear his name. Wilson is driven blind with rage when he learns that Spikes has shot and seriously injured Les, and decides to confront the outlaw in his hotel room.

“The Spikes Gang” has a grimy and grungy look that helps reinforce the drudgery and grim life on the frontier. The script by the husband-and-wife team of Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr (responsible for classics like “The Long Hot Summer” and “Hud”) gives many great lines to Lee Marvin, and he turns in a masterly performance. Even when he’s acting like a father to the three boys, we know Harry Spikes is rotten to the core.

There are no fancy shootouts in “The Spikes Gang” – all the action scenes, especially the final shootout between Wilson and Spikes, are brutal and hit the viewer like a slap across the face. It’s also fun to watch Ron Howard and Charles Martin Smith long before they became established performers but one can’t escape the feeling that this Western could have become so much more in the hands of a more capable director. Richard Fleischer had a long career that spanned from film noir (“Armored Car Robbery”) to fantasy (“Conan The Destroyer”) but here, he seems to be painting by the numbers. 

As with the Mirisch Company’s best known Western, “The Magnificent Seven”, and its sequels, “The Spikes Gang” was filmed outside the US. In this case, Spain stands in for both Mexico and the US. “The Spikes Gang” is available in a fine transfer on DVD-R in the MGM Manufactured on Demand series.

“Call Northside 777”

How often have we seen the words “Based on a true story” on the big screen and found out later that the events depicted in the movie we’d just watched had virtually nothing to do with the reality.

“Call Northside 777” (1948) begins with the legend “This is a true story”, and more than lives up that claim. Filmed almost like a documentary by director Henry Hathaway, the movie documents the case of two Polish men who were wrongly arrested and convicted for the murder of a policeman in Chicago in 1932. 

The movie opens with a montage of period footage that details the lawlessness witnessed in some American cities during the prohibition era. On a bleak winter’s day, a policeman is gunned down in a speakeasy, whose owner Wanda Skutnik (Betty Garde) fingers Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) and his friend Tomek Zaleska.

James Stewart in "Call Northside 777"

The two men are put on trial, convicted largely on the basis of Skutnik’s testimony and given 99-year prison terms. Twelve years after the crime, Chicago Times editor Brian Kelly (Lee J Cobb) is intrigued by an advertisement offering $5,000 for any information regarding the murder of the policeman.

Kelly assigns reporter P J McNeal (James Stewart) to the story, asking him to find out who’s offering the reward. McNeal learns Wiecek’s mother Tillie (Kasia Orzazewski), a scrubwoman, is behind the reward, having saved up the money over the past decade as she’s convinced her son is innocent.

McNeal, who is unconvinced about Wiecek’s innocence, bangs out a report on the poor mother travails in the hope of ending his editor’s interest in the story. But the public response convinces Kelly to goad McNeal into doing more stories about Wiecek.

James Stewart and Kasia Orzazewski in "Call Northside 777"

As McNeal digs some more and meets many of the unsavoury characters linked to the crime, he begins to believe Wiecek is a victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Hathaway treats “Call Northside 777” as if it were a documentary, with several key scenes filmed on location in what look like some tough neighbourhoods. McNeal’s portrayal of a journalist is pretty convincing (I’m a reporter, so I should know) – there are no heroic showdowns, this is just a dogged guy who sticks with the story and is willing to bend a few rules to get the information he needs.

The director’s only nod to Hollywood conventions is the introduction of a twist that allows McNeal to produce new evidence before a pardon board reviewing the case of Wiecek. Other than that, the script sticks closely to the details of the real incident. 

James Stewart made “Call Northside 777” at a time when he was moving away from the boyish romantic leads he had played in the years before World War II to a harder and grittier image that he would use to perfection in a string of Westerns with director Anthony Mann. Another star of this film is the stand-out black and white cinematography by Joe McDonald.

“Call Northside 777” is available in Regions 1 and 2 on DVD with a great transfer.

Once you’ve watched the movie, you may like to read all about the real life incident that inspired it here.

“Springfield Rifle”

There aren’t too many Westerns I can think of that have an undercover agent as the hero. The only two that readily come to mind are Charles Bronson’s “Breakheart Pass” and “Springfield Rifle” with Gary Cooper. 

“Springfield Rifle” (1952) is set in the American Civil War at a time when the Union Army is in desperate need of horses for a planned offensive against the Southern forces. Someone at Fort Hedley in Colorado is tipping off the Southern Army about the movement of horses, allowing raiders to ambush convoys and steal the animals. 

At a time when the use of spies and undercover agents was frowned on and considered despicable by chivalrous military officers, Major Lex Kearney allows himself to be court-martialed for cowardice and booted out of the Union Army so that he can infiltrate the ring of Southern spies that is responsible for stealing the horses.

Gary Cooper is branded with a yellow streak in "Springfield Rifle"

This puts our gallant hero in all sorts of tight spots – Kearney has a yellow streak painted on his back (yes, that’s the origin of the term) as he’s unceremoniously booted out of Fort Hedley, he can’t tell his virtuous wife Erin (Phyllis Thaxter) about the work he’s doing, and his son runs away from home, unable to face the idea that his father is a coward (remember this was the early 1950s, when leads in Westerns were stand-up guys like Van Heflin or father figures like Alan Ladd’s “Shane”).

The rest of this fast-paced film focusses on Kearney’s quest to unmask the Southern spies, smash the gangs of raiders and regain his position in the Union Army. And just in case you’re wondering, the film’s title is derived from a batch of experimental firearms that Kearney and his troops use in the climatic shootout against the bad guys. Though it’s another matter that the real Springfield Rifle entered service well after the end of the US Civil War.

Lobby card for "Springfield Rifle"

Veteran director Andre de Toth’s keeps things moving at a clip, aided by a tight script from Charles Marquis Warren. There are also good turns by David Brian as rancher Austin McCool, Philip Carey as the army officer who accuses Kearney of cowardice and Lon Chaney Jr as a dim-witted and brutal horse thief.

“Springfield Rifle” is available on DVD in regions 1 and 2 with a transfer that is more than acceptable.

For a great collection of stills on the making of “Springfield Rifle”, go here.

“Warlock”

The 1950s was a decade that produced some fascinating Westerns. Long before the term revisionism was applied to the genre, screenwriters and directors were turn to the politics of the day to fashion tales set in the Old West that had an entirely new way of looking at things.

Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn in "Warlock"

Director Edward Dmytryk’s “Warlock” (1959) begins like a conventional town-taming Western but Robert Alan Arthur’s script, based on Oakley Hall’s novel, includes many complex characters and twists that elevate this film to a whole new level.

Abe McQuown (Tom Drake) and the lawless cowboys from his San Pablo ranch want things done their way in the nearby mining town of Warlock. The movie opens with them humiliating and running out the deputy sheriff while the scared townsfolk watch from behind their closed doors and windows.

Soon enough, the Citizens Committee decides to hire Clay Blaisdell (Henry Fonda), a feared gunfighter who has tamed several frontier towns, as the marshal despite reservations expressed by some of its members. Blaisdell arrives with his club-footed partner Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), who takes over the local saloon and establishes a Faro parlour so that the duo can make some money on the side while they tame the town.

Anthony Quinn in "Warlock"

Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark) is a member of the San Pablo gang who is already troubled by the violence of McQuown and its impact on his younger brother Billy Gannon (Frank Gorshin). Johnny leaves the gang and later takes on the vacant position of deputy sheriff, which pits him against both Blaisdell and McQuown’s boys.

Billy and two others members of the gang are gunned down when Blaisdell decides to enforce an order barring members of the McQuown gang from Warlock, setting in motion a string of showdowns that have some unforeseen consequences.

Arthur’s script provides a lot of material to the three main male leads and Widmark, Fonda and Quinn turn in great performances. But the screenplay doesn’t do justice to the movie’s two women characters – Jessie Marlow (Dolores Michaels), a peace-loving citizen who develops a romantic relationship with Blaisdell, and Lily Dollar (Dorothy Malone), a woman of easy virtue and a former lover of Morgan to whom Johnny Gannon takes a shine.

Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark in "Warlock"

Scenes in which Henry Fonda’s laconic killer suddenly begins romancing the town’s Ms Goody Two Shoes just aren’t convincing. Just as frustrating is the effort to inject some romance between Johnny Gannon and Lily Dollar (probably the most suggestively named female character in a major Hollywood production till Pussy Galore in the James Bond flick “Goldfinger”).

Much has been made by some reviewers of the purportedly homoerotic relationship between Blaisdell and Morgan but I find it hard to accept. Morgan is a just a twisted character, a cripple who’s convinced himself that Blaisdell is his meal ticket and that nothing should be allowed to come in the way of their partnership.

I always have time for any decent movie starring Richard Widmark, and he’s pretty good in “Warlock” as his character is transformed from a bystander to one who gets to play a key role in shaping events. Widmark received top billing in “Warlock” and was originally cast as Blaisdell before suggesting that the role be offered to Fonda. 

The movie’s cast includes L Q Jones and a pre-Star Trek DeForest Kelley. “Warlock” is available on DVD in Regions 1 and 2 in a great transfer that shows off the wonderful cinematography by Joe MacDonald.

“Apache Territory”

Every fan of Westerns has probably read at least one of the many novels churned out by the unusually prolific Louis L’Amour or watched a film adaptation of his books. L’Amour led a colourful life, working as a professional boxer and a merchant seaman, before turning to writing and producing a long list of pulpy novels set in the West. 

L’Amour has been well served on television in recent years by a series of films starring Tom Selleck and Sam Elliott. On the silver screen, adaptations of the author’s works have ranged from the eminently watchable “Hondo” (starring John Wayne) to “Shalako”, a dull and plodding mess despite the presence of Sean Connery and Brigitte Bardot.

“Apache Territory” (1958), based on the novel “Last Stand At Papago Wells”, falls somewhere in between. Intended as a star vehicle for Rory Calhoun, who also co-produced, this is a slight entertainment that, at just 71 minutes, does not overstay its welcome.

Rory Calhoun in "Apache Territory"

Logan Cates (Calhoun) is a drifter making his way to Yuma when he spots a group of Apaches trying to ambush three men. After firing a few shots to warn the men, Cates rescues Junie Hatchett (Carolyn Craig) from another group of Apaches who have massacred her parents.

Cates decides to hole up at Apache Wells, a water hole surrounded by rocks at the foot of some mountains. There, he and Junie run into Lonnie Foreman (Tom Pittman), the only survivor from the three men he had warned a short while ago. In due course, the trio is joined at the oasis by Jennifer Fair (Barbara Bates), who just happens to be Cates’ ex-flame, her fiancé Grant Kimbrough (John Dehner), and the remnants of a cavalry patrol led by the inexperienced Sergeant Sheehan (Francis De Sales).

Rory Calhoun and Barbara Bates in "Apache Territory"

The motley group turns to Cates to get them out of their predicament despite some opposition from the cowardly Kimbrough and hot-headed soldier Zimmerman (Leo Gordon in one of his numerous appearances as a baddie).

Of course, a movie like this wouldn’t be complete without the good Red Indian. This time round, it’s Lugo (Frank DeKova, an Italian-American suitably daubed with brown face paint), a Pima Indian who decides to help the whites in their stand against the Apaches after Cates stops Zimmerman from killing him.

With food and water running low, the group prepare for a final showdown with the Apaches.

Director Ray Nazarro, who had a long career that stretched from the silent era to Spaghetti Westerns made in Europe in the 1960s, keeps “Apache Territory” moving along but isn’t served too well by screenwriters Charles R. Marion and George W. George, whose script has some truly clunky lines, especially between the teenage lovers Junie Hatchett and Lonnie Foreman. 

“Apache Territory” is available as a made to order DVD-R in its correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio in the Sony Screen Classics by Request series distributed through the Warner Archive. The print used for this transfer hasn’t been restored but remains watchable despite a few sequences with faded colour.

“7 Men From Now”

Every time I watch one of the Westerns Randolph Scott made with Budd Boetticher, I’m struck by how much the director could achieve with so little. These are little films – low budgets, short running times of less than 90 minutes and featuring stars like Scott who were considered over the hill and newcomers like Lee Marvin who were yet to make their mark.

Randolph Scott in "7 Men From Now"

But they were all big on plot, characters and subtext – none of these films has a traditional hero or a villain. In several of them, the hero and villain spend a lot of time together on screen, sometimes even getting to like or respect each other.

“7 Men From Now”, the first movie that brought together star Randolph Scott, director Budd Boetticher and scriptwriter Burt Kennedy and led to the “Ranown cycle” of Westerns, is a simple and spare tale told with a lot of elegance.

It all starts simply enough – former sheriff Ben Stride (Randolph Scott) is on the trail of seven men who killed his wife, a clerk at a Wells Fargo office, during a hold-up in the town of Silver Springs. But Kennedy’s script – surprisingly his first produced script – deftly adds layers of complexity and introduces twists, none of them contrived, that elevates this Western to a completely different level. 

The movie opens on a cold rainy night, with Stride walking into a cave where two men are sheltering. Stride tells the men his horse was eaten by Chiricahua Indians, has some of their coffee and talk turns to the robbery at Silver Springs. Stride realises the two men were in on the robbery but there’s no big shootout. The screen cuts to the men’s horses in the rain, they twitch as shots ring out and the next morning, Stride rides out with the horses.

Stride’s journey brings him into contact with John Greer (Walter Reed) and his wife Annie (Gail Russell), Easterners making their way west to California, as well as Bill Masters (Lee Marvin) and his sidekick Clete (Donald Barry). Stride and Masters have a shared history, with the former sheriff have locked up Masters twice in the past.

Masters makes it clear that he intends to ride along with Stride so he can get his hands on the $20,000 the robbers stole from the Wells Fargo office. Matters come to a head between Stride and Masters in another scene set on a rainy night – a scene that Boetticher later described as the best he had ever directed.

Lee Marvin and Donald Barry in "7 Men From Now"

Stride, the Greers and Masters sit inside a cramped wagon, drinking coffee, as the raffish Masters jokes about John Greer’s lack of masculinity and, as one reviewer put it, verbally makes love to Annie Greer. This scene alone shows how right Burt Kennedy was about getting Lee Marvin for the role of the baddie – he’s possibly one of the few actors who can be convincing while menacing a solid-as-a-rock hero like Randolph Scott.

Soon after, Stride and Masters go their different ways but we know their paths will cross again soon, and only one of them will emerge alive from the showdown.

Lee Marvin’s character is more flamboyant than the good guy – sporting a bright green scarf and endlessly practising his fast draw – while Scott’s former sheriff is a cold fish who blames himself for his wife’s death; she took a job at the Wells Fargo office because he was too proud to work as a deputy after losing the election for the sheriff’s post.

“7 Men From Now” is much more than a Western, it’s one of the greatest little movies around. Do yourself a favour and watch it. The film is available in a Special Collector’s Edition in Regions 1 and 2, featuring a transfer based on a restoration done by UCLA and a nice documentary on the movie, Budd Boetticher and his collaborators. 

For more on the backstory of “7 Men From Now”, the TCM website has a great article here.

By the way, if you hate the horrible theme song at the start of the movie, don’t worry, you’re in good company. Both Budd Boetticher and Burt Kennedy hated it too.

“The One That Got Away”

World War II movies with a German perspective and made by American or British directors have been few and far between. The only two I can readily recall are Sam Peckinpah’s “Cross Of Iron” and Roy Ward Baker’s “The One That Got Away”. 

Baker’s film centres round the exploits of Franz von Werra, the only German prisoner of war to escape from the Allied forces during World War II. In this 1957 film, von Werra is played by the charismatic young Hardy Kruger (little bit of a stereotype here, given that Kruger looks like the archetypal Aryan blonde so favoured by Hitler’s Nazis).

The film opens with von Werra’s fighter crashing into a British farm in 1940 and throws us fairly quickly into the pilot’s increasingly bold and desperate efforts to break out of captivity. A poorly planned bid to break away during an exercise march and trek across desolate marshes nearly ends in tragedy for von Werra due to bad weather.

Hardy Kruger and Michael Goodliffe in "The One That Got Away"

Transferred to another prison camp, von Werra and four other Germans tunnel their way out. This time, von Werra resorts to the audacious ploy of posing as a Dutch pilot in the Royal air Force and talks his way into an airbase in order to commandeer a fighter plane.

Captured once again, von Werra is transferred to Canada (which was then part of the British Empire). While being transported to a prison camp, von Werra jumps out of a moving train and makes his way to the border with the then neutral United States of America.

Hardy Kruger and Alec McCowen in "The One That Got Away"

Like many war movies made in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, this is a “little” film – small budget and simple special effects (check out the miniature plane used to depict von Werra’s crash at the start of the movie) – but with a solid cast. Kruger, who is in almost every scene in the film, carries off the main role with aplomb, playing a cocky young man who is not willing to let anyone or anything keep him in captivity.

The only flaw, for me, was the lack of any exploration of von Werra’s desperate efforts to break out. There is no real explanation for his desperate desire to escape.

The direction by Roy Ward Baker, who had a long career in British films and television series, is solid and workmanlike. This was a man who always churned out watchable stuff, ranging from episodes of the series “The Saint” and “The Persuaders” (both featuring Roger Moore) to Hammer horror films like “The Vampire Lovers”.

“The One That Got Away” is available in a fine PAL anamorphically enhanced DVD from Britain in its correct 1.66:1 aspect ratio.

“The Ox-Bow Incident”

The issue of mob justice and vigilantism has often inspired filmmakers over the decades but few movies offer as unflinching a look at the consequences of taking the law into one’s own hands as William Wellman’s “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943).

This intense film has a running time of a mere 75 minutes but packs the wallop of something twice that length. I vividly remember the first time I saw this movie about twenty years ago, and I felt just as disturbed by its stark ending when I watched it again recently.

Dana Andrews in "The Ox-Bow Incident"

Set in Nevada in 1885, the film begins with Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and Art Croft (Harry Morgan of “MASH” fame) riding into a one-horse town for a drink, only to find tensions caused by a spate of cattle thefts. Carter is a hot-head who soon gets into a fight with rancher Jeff Farnley (Marc Lawrence).

Just then, news comes in that Farnley’s friend Larry Kinkaid has reportedly been robbed of his cattle and murdered. Soon enough, Farnley and Major Tetley (Frank Conroy) have gathered together a group of men to track down those who attacked Kinkaid. Though described as a posse, this is nothing but a lynch mob with little interest in justice.

Carter and Croft reluctantly ride along with the posse, which comes across three men with a herd of cattle – Donald Martin (a young Dana Andrews in one of his first major roles), Juan Martinez (an equally young Anthony Quinn) and Alva Hardwicke (portrayed by silent movie veteran Francis Ford, the brother of director John Ford) – and decides to mete out summary justice.

Anthony Quinn, Dana Andrews, Henry Fonda and Frank Conroy in "The Ox-Bow Incident"

Most of the men in the mob have no interest whatsoever in establishing whether the three men were actually involved in any crime – they’re too busy drinking and baying for blood in order to right a perceived wrong. Martin’s claim about buying the cattle from Kinkaid without a bill of sale makes no difference with this lot – they’re more focussed on circumstantial evidence like Kinkaid’s gun that is found in Martinez’s possession.

Even Carter is no traditional hero – though he and Croft are among seven men who vote against hanging Martin, Hardwicke and Martinez, the duo actually joined the posse to ensure they would not be suspected of involvement in the attack on Kinkaid.

Where a lesser director would have resorted to mawkishness, Wellman handles the heartbreaking climax and its impact on the members of the posse with great sensitivity.

Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan in "The Ox-Bow Incident"

Every time I watch Hollywood movies from the 1940s and 1950s, I’m struck by how good almost all the actors in supporting roles are. Frank Conroy is excellent as the prissy Major Tetley, who may have never actually seen action in the Civil War and views the posse as a way of making a man out of his pacifist son, while Jane Darwell is the cackling Jenny Grier, the only female member of the posse who participates with relish in activities that would make hardened men squirm.

Here, Darwell portrays a woman who is the complete opposite of the loving matriarch she played in the classic “Grapes Of Wrath”, which too starred Fonda. “The Ox-Bow Incident” was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar but lost out to another classic – “Casablanca”.

“Gold Of The Seven Saints”

There are some movies that exist for no reason other than to entertain, and there’s nothing wrong with that. “Gold Of The Seven Saints” falls squarely in that category.

Shot on what was obviously a miniscule budget, this Warner Brothers Western from 1961 makes great use of its Monument Valley locations and two very likeable stars in Roger Moore and Clint Walker, who were then best known for their roles in the television Western serials “Maverick” and “Cheyenne”.

Moore and Walker portray two rogues – fur trappers Shaun Garrett and Jim Rainbolt who have hit pay dirt by finding a small fortune in gold nuggets and are headed across the desert for the town of Seven Saints. Things go wrong when their pack horse dies and Garrett is caught while trying to steal another horse in a small town.

Garrett gets away by paying with a gold nugget, but this tips off McCracken (Gene Evans) and his gang of outlaws, who decide to follow our heroes across the desert with the intention of bushwhacking them and making off with the gold. Rainbolt hides the gold under some boulders but the duo is surrounded by the outlaws.

Clint Walker, Chill Wills and Roger Moore in "Gold Of The Seven Saints"

Rainbolt and Garrett get a helping hand in the ensuing shootout from the brandy swilling Doc Gates (Chill Wills) but he too has his eye on the gold. After breaking away from the outlaws, the men run into Gondora (Robert Middleton), a Mexican warlord who is an old friend of Rainbolt.

They take up Gondora’s offer to rest at his hacienda so that Garrett can recover from a gunshot wound. But McCracken soon catches up and kidnaps Garrett and Doc Gates. Rainbolt sets off to find his friend, setting the stage for a tense confrontation with McCracken and his men.

The script, by Leonard Freeman and Leigh Brackett, is a fine example of what a couple of good writers can do with very little material. The focus is squarely on the friendship between Rainbolt and Garrett and their interaction with the characters who want their gold, from the nasty McCracken to the ambiguous Gondora.

Clint Walker and Gene Evans in "Gold Of The Seven Saints"

Of course, a lot of the credit for this movie being so watchable must go to the journeyman-like direction of Gordon Douglas, who was equally at home helming sci-fi movies (Them!), action comedies (In Like Flint) and gritty detective films (Tony Rome). “Gold Of The Seven Saints” was the third in a series of Westerns Douglas made with Clint Walker and a quick glance through The New York Times archive of film reviews reveals that this Western opened at the same time as “The Sins Of Rachel Cade”, a drama also directed by Douglas. One hard-working man!

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