Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Desperate: "The Desperados" (1969)

This 1969 western gives an early take on a dysfunctional family, and almost works on its incredible action scenes alone.

Jack Palance is the father and leader of a bunch of Confederate guerillas modelled after Quantrill's Raiders. He and his sons and men invade towns, stealing money, raping women, and burning the town to the ground. In one Kansas town, eldest son Vince Edwards decides the killing needs to stop. Edwards kills one of his own men by accident during the raid. He is arrested and sentenced to death in a family run court. With family like this, who needs in-laws? Anyway, Edwards escapes after kicking little brother George Maharis' butt, and goes to Texas, changing his name and living the good life with a wife and son.

In Texas, only marshal Neville Brand knows Edwards' secret. Soon, Palance's gang sets their sights on Texas, specifically Edwards' new town. After a deadly raid, some of the gang is jailed.

They escape, and the town finds out their new neighbor is in fact a cold blooded killer, and a necktie party is thrown for Edwards. He escapes with Brand, finds Palance's gang, then escapes from them, knowing when the gang will strike next. Sure is a lot of escaping going on. Edwards thwarts a train robbery, killing Maharis. Palance kidnaps Edwards' son, kills Edwards' wife, and the final showdown between the two looms. It also turns out completely opposite from what the viewer may expect.

Levin's direction is very good, and his action scenes are great. The scenes aboard the flaming runaway train are very exciting. David Whitaker's musical score is perfect, with bombastic stuff during the action, pumping the adrenaline and setting the perfect mood.

The main problem is the two leads here. Vince Edwards as Palance's son? Palance is only nine years older than Edwards, and they do look the same age. Jack Palance is awful here, playing the part way over the top and constantly stepping into unintentionally hilarious melodramatics. Edwards is the opposite, holding the same constipated look on his face throughout the film, showing as little emotion as he possibly can. Despite some good stunts, the fact that these two are in almost every scene brings down any technical achievements. Even the normally reliable Neville Brand seems at a loss here.

"The Desperados" is gritty and violent, but Levin's inability to get control of his actors weighs down the action. I cannot recommend this film. (* *) out of five stars.