Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Take a Hard Ride (Fox, 1975)

 

Blaxploitation spaghetti: is that a thing?

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Take a Hard Ride is really a late spaghetti western. Produced by three European companies, shot in Gran Canaria with a Spanish-Italian crew and directed by Antonio Margheriti (as Anthony M Dawson), it had all the spag credentials. It even starred Lee Van Cleef as a bounty hunter, so it must have been a spaghetti.
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But it was also a mid-70s blaxploitation flick, released in the US by Fox, with Jim Brown as the hero, Fred Williamson as the charming-rogue anti-hero and Jim Kelly as the strong, silent martial-arts type. Other Afro-American actors also appear.

 

 

I warn you, it’s pretty bad.

 

 

It was at least filmed in English and not post-dubbed, so that’s something. And the De Luxe color is nice. The rather bizarre volcanic scenery does have the occasional saguaro so at least attempts to look like Arizona (though largely fails).

 

 

And a few old-timers were wheeled out.

 

 

Dana Andrews (left) is the rancher Morgan who entrusts his foreman Pike (Brown) with the money he has made from a cattle drive to get it back to his family in Sonora. This Pike duly swears and Dana croaks of a heart attack, so his part was confined to the first reel. He looked in quite good shape, actually, for someone pushing 70. It was in fact his last ever Western. He’d had a pretty good career in the saddle. For me, his best ever oater was the classy Jacques Tourneur-directed Canyon Passage, based on an Ernest Haycox novel.

 

 

Then Barry Sullivan (below) is there, as Kane, a ruthless lawman turned fortune hunter, who wants to get his hands on that money, like everyone else. It was his last Western feature too. He looks a little more anno domini, though actually younger than Dana. Still, this pot should not talk slightingly of any kettle. Barry had a good Western career too, I reckon (apart from Forty Guns, obviously).
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Then Harry Carey Jr (below) and Clint’s pal Robert Donner play Dumper and Skave, a pair of slightly Strother Martin/LQ Jones-ish scurrilous rogues who are also after the loot, and who fall in (they are obliged to) with Lee Van Cleef as Kiefer, the ruthless Colonel Mortimer-ish crack shot bounty hunter. Donner called it a Western day in ’76 (at least on the big screen) but the great Dobe would go right through to the late 90s and he took parts in, it must be said, some real junk, but a fellow’s gotta eat, I guess.
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It’s very 70s in look. The men wear elegantly flared pants and Catherine Spaak, the token woman, has make-up that Abba members would have liked. Jim Kelly plays a mute Indian (so didn’t have to learn too many lines) in an oversize hat to fit over his afro. Still, we mustn’t scoff. All Westerns had their characters in costumes and haircuts that looked like the decade the movies were made in rather than the late nineteenth century. This one, though, does look much more 1970s than 1870s. Never mind.

 

One thing I disliked strongly about this movie was the disgraceful horse-fall stunts. Sig Margheriti ought to have been banned from making another movie. Or maybe it was Hal Needham’s fault: as well as having a bit part in the first reel he was the second unit director. Maybe Spain didn’t have as strict animal welfare rules as pertain in America, I don’t know. Anyway, I shuddered several times.
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Jim is all stoic and tough
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The whole thing is loud and brash with a great deal of gunplay. The producers and director probably had too many greedy bad guys chasing the money, so that every couple of minutes Brown and Williamson have to fend off yet another attack. It is also too long at 1 hour 43 minutes and would benefit from some fairly substantial cuts.

 

Talking of loud and brash, the Jerry Goldsmith score is.

 

There are quite a few ‘Doh!’ moments, such as when the party of four goodies come to a rope bridge of dubious stability and all four walk onto it with their horses at the same time.
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Classic spag close-up of Lee
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Brown is curiously stodgy. Perhaps he was going for the steely decency approach. But all Williamson’s attempts at charming roguishness are absorbed by the wall of stolid phlegm and there is none of the Butch/Sundance spark between the two.

 

 

Naturally there’s a mega showdown and equally naturally the heroes come across some cases of dynamite. If you’d asked me I would have told you in the first five minutes that there would be dynamite at the end.
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Naturally there would be dynamite
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Oh, well, it’s OK if you like that kind of movie.
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Although I don’t, and I secretly believe in the dictum chacun à mon goût.

 

 

5 Responses

  1. I watched this today purely because I’d had it lying around for ages so thought I should finally give it a spin- it’s one of four fillms on a very oddly programmed BluRay compilation that I bought solely because Rio Conchos (my favourite Gordon Douglas film) was one of them.

    Now I shan’t mount a strong defence of this movie, it’s rather silly and overstuffed with action (one of the strengths of better Westerns is judicious pacing and placing of action and violence within genuine drama so they have real impact, here the action is so non-stop, it’s almost like a live-action cartoon). But- it’s possible to have fun watching a largely mindless and inconsequential timewaster, once you realise what you’re in for, and I confess I rather enjoyed this. The 1970s vibe is quite fun, I actually thought Brown wasn’t bad in the lead role (Williamson is weaker, IMO) and Van Cleef, with shoulder length hair, cuts a pretty cool figure (in later life he rather lost his looks, his fondness for alcohol perhaps a contributory factor, but at this point he’s still charismatic). But like you I was appalled by the filmmakers’ cruelty to horses.

    The other two films in the seemingly randomly-compiled box-set besides this and Rio Conchos are Butch and Sundance: The Early Days and The Last Hard Men, and I suppose I shall sit through these one of these days. The idea of a Western directed by Richard Lester is sort-of intriguing, but the phrase ‘Directed by Andrew V McLaglen’ has never been one to lift the heart…

    1. Fair enough re TAKE A HARD RIDE.
      BUTCH AND SUNDANCE THE EARLY DAYS a bit ho-hum (see review). THE LAST HARD MEN (also reviewed) interesting because written by Brian Garfield, but various flaws, not the least of which Charlton Heston (in 1970s pants).
      Completely agree re McLaglen. OK director for HAVE GUN, GUNSMOKE, etc but def second rate on feature Westerns.

      1. Yes I’ve read some of your reviews of McLaglen pics and have to agree with your generally low opinion of his output. Perhaps the least talented of directors specialising in Westerns, at least big budget ones: his better films are amiably mediocre and his worst ones plain bad. I will check out The Last Hard Men someday, though, seeing as you find it interesting if flawed. I have a less jaundiced opinion of Heston than you, when he’s in a role that suits his rather inflexible acting style and statuesque persona.

        1. I still have a soft spot flaws (many) and all for his Civil War miniseries from ’82 ‘The Blue and the Gray’. Now as a student of that war I’ll take what I get and thankfully better stuff has come down the pike since I still like it. You get Gregory Peck as Lincoln and Warren Oates as psychotic Confederate officer plus plenty of other familiar faces throughout.

    2. I have the same Blu ray set. Glad to have it as the prints and sound are quite good. I’ll have to go through it again. Another four film interestingly put together Blu set that I own is MGM/Fox’s that has ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid/The Horse Soldiers/The Comancheros/Fistful of Dollars’. I love getting Westerns on Blu no matter how odd the set up.

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