Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Land Raiders (Columbia, 1969)

 

Pretty bad

 

Land Raiders was a late-60s Western that has all the look of a spaghetti. It was shot in Spain (with a bit in Hungary), has Italian-looking 1960s costumes, those stupid gunshots that have a ricochet whine all the time even when they don’t hit anything, sub-Morricone jangly music (by Bruno Nicolai) and so on. It was in fact an American production, made by Morningside Productions (Face of a Fugitive and Good Day for a Hanging in 1959) and produced by Charles H Schneer, a Sam Katzman henchman at Columbia’s B-movie unit, and Roy Rowland, husband of Louis B Mayer’s niece, who directed a fair bit (his last picture at MGM was Gun Glory with Stewart Granger) and been a producer on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.

 

Producers Schneer and Rowland

 

Land Raiders was directed by Nathan Juran. Juran was a former Oscar-winning art director (he designed How Green Was My Valley and Harvey) and as director was probably best known for The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in 1958. In the Western domain he did art direction for Anthony Mann on Bend of the River and Winchester ’73, and his best work helming oaters was with Audie Murphy – Gunsmoke, Drums Across the River and, particularly, Tumbleweed. The direction of Land Raiders, however, is pedestrian at best. At 101 minutes the picture is too long, and drags, periods of tedium alternating with spurts of bloody action, in the spaghetti way.

 

Nathan at the helm

 

The distinctly implausible screenplay and story were by Jesse Lasky Jr and Ken Pettus. It’s nominally set in Arizona in the 1870s, with two brothers who hate each other because they fought over the same woman.

 

The casting was iffy. Pre-Kojak Telly Savalas, the year he was Blofeld, topped the billing as Vicente Cardenas, now Vince Carden, who prefers to become a gringo in order to get on – he’s one of those ruthlessly ambitious types who will stop at naught. He is an evil land baron who wants all the Apache land for his herds to graze. Savalas did seven feature Westerns in the late 60s/early 70s, his first, The Scalphunters, being the best, but it was only relative. Several of the others were truly dire. In this one he is the bad older brother.

 

Probably better as a cop

 

George Maharis was Pablo, become Paul, the angry younger one. For me, Maharis will always be Buz Murdock, because I grew up with Route 66, and he only did two Westerns, this one and the equally bad The Desperados the same year. Actually, he manages the Spanish accent a lot better than Savalas does – the latter doesn’t bother, just dispensing his usual New York patter.

 

George is the hero

 

Arlene Dahl, with, if I were being ungallant, an ounce or two de trop, was Vince’s wife, Janet Landgard (who?) was the young blonde love interest of Maharis, very British character actor Guy Rolfe was the army major trying to make peace with the Apaches (but Indian-hating Vince has offered a bounty on their scalps so that isn’t easy), another son of Greek immigrants, George Coulouris, is the Mexican Cardenas, father of Savalas and Maharis, and Fernando Rey is, obviously, the priest.

 

Arlene is his wife

 

Major Rolfe

 

Coulouris is Cardenas père

 

The picture was shot in bright Technicolor by Wilkie Cooper (who did Sinbad for Juran) and is satisfactory, if very Spanish. There’s a Blu-ray, should you feel the urge, called Fahr Zur Holle, Gringo, but sincerely – save your money. There’s quite a lot of stock footage from older movies inserted which looks very different. Reader John K tells me that some of this came from Columbia’s 1957 Audie Murphy oater The Guns of Fort Petticoat. This was obviously done to save budget. They couldn’t afford hordes of whooping Indians themselves, or a herd of stampeding horses, so they used previous ones. It’s highly amusing when a wagon train appears because there are only three wagons and Juran and Cooper clearly had their work cut out disguising that fact, especially when the order comes, “Circle the wagons!”

 

It all comes to a head with a Maharis v Savalas fistfight, though Savalas is so obviously doubled that it’s laughable.

 

The picture was of course completely overshadowed when it came out, not possibly able to compete commercially with The Wild Bunch, True Grit and, especially, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and being relegated to rural theaters and such drive-ins as remained.

 

Still, at least the Indians won for once. Telly comes to a St Sebastian-like end.

 

 

 

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