4 April 2008 | wsidejack1
Tense, gripping Western
A bloody, brutal Western where the action never stops.
First, the Bad (let's get that out of the way). Like all Westerns, the plot has its flaws -- with an Indian war party off the reservation they would not have sent a shipment of ammunition through a narrow canyon guarded by only one squad of green recruits on unbroken/partly saddle broken horses. But so what? In the classic Western Stagecoach the Indians would have shot the horses pulling the stage and then finished off the passengers as opposed to shooting at the people in the coach. Also, Sidney Poitier's silver vest remains immaculate throughout the long desert journey and several pitched battles.
However, the movie moves so fast that you never really have time to stop and remind yourself that you have to "suspend disbelief" to watch it.
Next, the Good. On one level, it's a classic cavalry vs. Indians story. But viewed through a different lens than in earlier Westerns; the Indians are shown with some perspective, if not total sympathy, which probably makes this one of the first Westerns to get beyond a one dimensional view of them. There are a variety of interesting subplots which flesh out the major characters and keep things twisting, turning, and moving along between the combat scenes. In fact, almost every one of the characters is angry about something, creating lots of tension between them. James Garner's character is looking for the men who raped and killed his (Indian) wife, Dennis Weaver's Will Grange is angry about almost everything, including that his wife was held captive by the Indians, Sidney Poitier's Toller (now a civilian) is mad that circumstances forced him to accompany the cavalry on this mission ....
Garner and Poitier give excellent performances and the other actors rise to the occasion, helping us forget that they are, in fact, Scottish or Danish.
At the end of the movie the various subplots are tied up and the issues are resolved with (in one case) a very surprising twist.
On top of that, you have a wonderful (almost superb, for this movie) Neal Hefti score, which always seems to correctly reflect the mood of the scene. It fits the movie even better because it makes heavy use of Western/military instruments: guitars, horns, drums, ....
Finally, the Ugly. There are some fairly graphic scenes here (although not exactly like in the Wild Bunch or Saving Private Ryan). The Apaches could torture with the best of them and some of that appears in this movie, although we're spared the close-ups.
All in all, I must say that this is one of my long time favorites. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!!