Sunday, September 6, 2015

"The Revengers" (1972)

The 60s and 70s was a zeitgeist for ensemble action movies. The Guns of Navarone, The Professionals, The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, and many others. Group-oriented stories like these had precursors in films like Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, but the 60s and 70s saw a reassurance for these sort of multiple character-driven action narratives, each featuring a seemingly insurmountable task carried out by an all-star cast. The Revengers (1972), just released in a gorgeous Blu Ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, seems to follow in this tradition, and for the first half hour it certainly does, however the film has several twists that take the story in unexpected and unusual directions.

The film begins on the secluded farm of William Holden, retired military officer and Medal of Honor recipient during the Civil War. West Point officials arrive to recruit his son. Before the boy leaves, however, marauders arrive and massacre Holden's entire family. The sole survivor, Holden swears to track down the murderers and get revenge. Instead of assembling an army of upstanding men like The Magnificent Seven, Holden goes to a nearby prison and hires six of the nastiest, meanest, and vilest criminals for cheap labor (including Woody Strode and Ernest Borgnine). Neither the criminals nor the warden have any clue what the real purpose is. Once Holden arms his men and tells them the plan, however, the criminals show their true colors by turning their guns on him and abandoning the mission before it has even started.

That's only the first twist, and many of others ensue, with plenty of impressively orchestrated action sequences and collaborative destruction, as befits the teamwork narrative. What is most impressive to me, however, are the unexpected and unusual tonal shifts, such as a lengthy passage when a wounded Holden recovers at the home of an Irish nurse (Susan Hayward, in her final big-screen role). Coming after nearly an hour of straight action, with the widescreen frame filled with seven (or more) characters and long-shots and close-ups that highlight the micro- and macro-majestic destruction, director Daniel Mann slows things down for a lovely, subdued sequence between Holden and Hayward. The muted tones, interior settings, and intimate frame shared by only two bodies offer a refreshing contrast to the bright and explosive images from earlier in the movie, and they also allow both Holden and the audience to question the necessity of such a violent plot. The title of the movie gives you Holden's motivation, but how valid is it, and what will it change?

Overall, The Revengers is a terrific and under-appreciated western that mixes post-Spaghetti brutality with sympathetic characters and a strong, moral conscience reminiscent of Hollywood's classical westerns.

Available on Blu Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

1 comment:

  1. I think Huamg Tia has missed the point entirely. It's supposed to be about the violence.


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