Sunday, April 5, 2015

In short: The Revengers (1972)

Daniel Mann’s western attempts the – by 1972 well-worn – tale of a man (William Holden) driven by vengeance turning into something quite close to the man he is hunting, yet perhaps finding his old self again through the love of a Good Woman™. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t seem to have much of a clue about how to tell that kind of story effectively or believably.

Yet it starts out well enough, with Holden’s John Benedict driven to assemble a bunch of convicts (Woody Strode as the nicest of the bunch! Ernest Borgnine! Roger Hanin! Reinhard Kolldehoff, Jorge Luke and Jorge Martínez de Hoyos) to find and kill the man responsible for the slaughter of his family, telling that part of the tale with sparse gestures and economy. That keeps up until the first big shoot-out is over, when the film decides it can’t be bothered to show how Holden’s understandable search for vengeance slowly turns bitter but only lets us in at the end of that process, which not only leaves the impression the film is taking lazy shortcuts but also lets the whole redemption angle come quite out of nowhere by leaving out the part where Holden’s character actually becomes someone in need of redemption and just bluntly states certain things happened. While it’s at it, the film also never bothers to explain why half of Holden’s gang have stayed with him for what must have been years. It can’t certainly have been the money.

And don’t even start me up about the redemptive love Mann handles with all the subtlety, and none of the timing, of a bad daytime soap opera (most of which would actually be ashamed to use a plot ploy like the one involved here to get their characters to meet their romantic partners) with little about it that feels authentic to the characters involved. It’s really not a good sign for the quality of a western script’s central character when even William Holden can’t bring him to life.

Other problems the film’s second half suffers from are spotty pacing, and an ending that’s basically Mann (or writer Wendell Mayes who was involved in more than one better western) shrugging his shoulders and pasting “The End” on screen, not resolving any of the thematic questions the film purportedly asks. But then, that would have involved thinking the film through instead of throwing elements of and actors from better films on screen and hoping the audience doesn’t see the difference between them and the half-heartedness of what The Revengers has to offer.

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