Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On the Right Track: "The Deadly Trackers" (1973)

Richard Harris, who has appeared in quite a few westerns for being from across the Atlantic, tackles another role with gusto in this hard hitting 1973 film.

Harris is Kilpatrick, a pacifist sheriff in a Texas town. Rod Taylor and his gang rob the bank, kill a few people, and get set to ride off with the loot. Harris blocks their departure with a system the town has rigged up so as not to kill anyone, just capture them. He does not believe in guns, and only shoots to injure and scare, not kill. Taylor and the gang kill Harris' wife and child, and ride away, with Harris on their trail. He does not let that pesky Mexican border deter him either, as he rides on through and meets another lawman a lot like him.

Al Lettieri plays Gutierrez, who is also after Taylor. However, Gutierrez's pacifism comes to annoy the viewer as well as Harris. The Mexican sheriff is insistent on letting justice prevail, always looking for witnesses, and never just going after and killing the bloodthirsty gang. Harris begins to catch up to the gang, and dispatches them one by one, until he finally is down to two. He is also on his last nerve, as he finally gives in to his gun's quick justice. The climactic shootout in the convent, where Harris finds himself on the same level as Taylor, is very moving.

Despite the (PG) rating, this is one violent film. Once the viewer overcomes this, they are definitely in for a wild ride. Harris is great as the vengeful sheriff who will not die, and brings the same intensity to this that he showed in the "A Man Called Horse" series. Rod Taylor goes down in western film history as one of the meanest villains on celluloid. One great scene has him describe how he murdered his father, as even his jaded gang looks at him in horror.

In the outlaw gang- William Smith, who seems to have been in everything and you will recognize him the minute you see him, does well as the seemingly retarded Schoolboy. Neville Brand is good as Choo Choo, who earned that nickname because he has a section of rail where his hand was. Paul Benjamin is great as Jacob, a very intelligent black man who uses his wits to outsmart the rest of the gang, but cannot get past how others feel about his color.

As mentioned before, the cast is great except for the character of Gutierrez. Eventually, he became a thorn in the side of Harris and the audience. He never seemed to get what Harris was trying to do, and adhered so closely to the law that he became annoying. His final murderous act is more frustrating than noble.

Shear's direction is okay, once in a while I would notice the shadow of a camera in an outdoor scene. His decision to use still shots from the movie in the opening credits might have people checking the pause button on their VCR, and I am not sure why he did this. His actions scenes are good, with good stuntwork, but again, be forewarned of the violence, especially directed toward children.

Despite an awkward title, "The Deadly Trackers" is good adult western fare that probably should have received more praise than it has- especially for Taylor and Harris. I highly recommend it. (* * * * *) out of five stars.