Stars – William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Woody Strode, Susan Hayward
Director – Daniel Mann
Released by Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
The Revengers has the makings of a good western. Looking at the cast and the advertising you’d expect a cold blooded tale of revenge with no holds barred. You almost get it, too. Set right after the civil war, a good man’s family is massacred leaving him with nothing but a thirst for revenge. He sells everything and recruits some bad hombres from the local prison to set out after the man with one white eye who led the band of cut throats responsible. This man Benedict won the medal of honor during the civil war but his morals will be twisted and turned inside out by the time he reaches the man he wants to kill more than anything in the world. William Holden is a solid actor easily capable of tracing this character arc during the course of the film. One of the prisoners thinks he may be the lost son of Mr. Benedict. There are some others of middling interest. The outdoor locations look suitably rugged. In keeping with the times there is a great deal of bloodshed with every battle. However something is missing. The plot kind of skips along. I don’t merrily I mean as if it just skips over long sections of time and leaves out portions of the plot line.
We never get to see this randy group of miscreants do any real bonding with Benedict. There is one scene early on where he shows them how tough he is. We later find out that he greases up his holster for a quick draw and ties his trigger back so he can shoot faster. But we are denied any scenes of him earning their respect and vice versa. At one point they ride up a trail on a sunny day in the mountains. When they come down the other side we see them from way above. Everything is covered in snow and we hear someone complain that they have been on the trail for two years. Where did those two years go? There are none of those great male bonding scenes that Sam Peckinpah was so good at portraying. This crew is obviously devoted to Benedict but time and time again we see them choose to keep riding along with him because they have nothing better to do.
At one point Holden gets shot and left for dead. The film stops being a rugged western and becomes a two person play with Susan Hayward (The Birds) suddenly brought in to play the Irish nurse who can give him back his health and let him find love again. She is a tough lady with a big heart and lots of homespun advice. Benedict turns a cold shoulder to her but eventually is won over. We know he likes her because he hauls himself out
of bed to go out in the field to help her dig potatoes out of the ground before it gets too cold. We see these two amazing actors sitting next to each other just filling baskets with dirty potatoes. That’s a pretty clichéd image there. Then all of a sudden Benedict runs into the old gang. Everyone is good friends again and they take off after the man with one eye since Borgnine knows he is being held prisoner by a cavalry outfit. They ride in to shoot the guy but wind up taking a heroic stand against overwhelming odds. They join the cavalry who are outnumbered by Indians who fill the horizon line.
The film is more of a snack than a meal. Woody Strode is dressed in an outlandish outfit that makes him look like he should be in a road show of the play Purlie. It’s hard to know if the script was tampered with and cut down or if it was written badly from the start. The other real puzzler her is that Daniel Mann was chosen as the director. If anything he had a reputation for adapting stage plays into dramatic movies. Later in his career he had success with two very different films for him – Our Man Flint (1966) and Willard (1971). His talents just feel wrong for this. There are none of the kind of textures that should inhabit a western like this. The other factor that hampers this film so strongly is the poorly matched music. Pino Calvi’s score is brash and brassy. The quick tempos and melodies would seem more suited to any number of TV cop shows of the period. Still Holden and Borgnine are fun to watch. Borgnine had really perfected the art of the larger than life character who is along for the ride. He’s the only one that brings some fun into the proceedings.
The cool looking posters and ad campaign touted the line, “He brought six men out of Hell and they brought it with them – These are The Revengers!”. If you loved the Wild Bunch the casting may hold out the promise of rejoining Holden and Borgnine together again. The film Holden made right before this one was The Wild Rovers (1971) with Ryan O’Neil. It was directed by Blake Edwards. It too was a western that meandered around too much. The ending was very bloody with squibs exploding all over. That one didn’t work either. Holden went on to much better films in the twilight of his career. So did Borgnine.
Video – 2.35:1
Much of the exterior footage looks bright and detailed. When things get dark either inside or outside the presentation suffers. Black levels are not strong enough to sustain when the images are not lit by sunlight.
Audio – DTS Mono
All dialogue is clear. The effects fit well enough in the mix. The music tends to be obtrusive both due to the nature of the compositions and the sound levels. It also feels a bit on the sharp or trebley side.
Extras – Trailer
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :
Blu-Ray – Good
Movie – Fair / Good