Sunday, October 5, 2008


Everything gets taken for a ride in director Antonio Margheriti's action-packed but tedious horse opera "Take a Hard Ride." No, this isn't one of Margheriti's memorable efforts. The movie opens with cattle owner Morgan (Dana Andrews of "The Ox-Bow Incident") and his trail boss Pike (Jim Brown of "El Condor") selling their herd of steers for a whopping $86-thousand dollars. Morgan tells Pike about all of that prosperity that this money is going to bring to their ranch in Sonora. Unfortunately, Morgan dies from a heart attack before he can hit the trail. Before he dies, however, he has to good sense to entrust the loot to Pike. Once word gets out that a lone African-American is lugging around that bundle of money, every thief and cutthroat tries to separate our hero from his dough. The chief villain is a harmonica-playing bounty hunter Kiefer (Lee Van Cleef of "For A Few Dollars More") who goes after Brown with a small army, including a crazy gunman named Halsey (Ronald Howard of the 1950s "Sherlock Holmes" TV series) who has a Gatling gun mounted in the bed of a covered wagon. Just as Kiefer has his horde of hardcases, Pike picks up a snake-handling gambler, Tyree (Fred Williamson of "Hell up in Harlem"), a half-breed Indian Kashtok (Jim Kelly of "Enter the Dragon"), and an attractive pioneer woman (Catharine Spaak of "Downhill Racer") whose allegiance lie more with her own interests than our heroes.

"Hell in the Pacific" scenarist Eric Bercovici and TV writer Jerrold L. Ludwig of 'Three the Hard Way" have contrived a meandering saga that wears out its welcome early on during its action There are a couple of amusing moments that only die-hard western fans will recognize. First, the long-time character actor Harry Carey, Jr., who starred in a number of John Ford westerns, has a scene that would make the legendary helmer spin in his grave. The unsavory villain Dumper (Harry Carey, Jr. of "Rio Grande") sings the title song to Ford's classic Henry Fonda oater "My Darling Clementine" as he voids his bowels. Second, "Take a Hard Ride" lacks drama. Neither Pike nor Kiefer get around to shooting it out with each other. Along the way, just about everybody else does. For example, Halsey and his gunmen fall prey to Pike and company. Eventually, Pike and Tyree wind up at an abandoned mine where they stand off an army of bandits lead by Calvera (Ricardo Palacios of "Bad Man's River") who agree to do Kiefer's dirty work for a hundred dollars each. By the time that Calvera catches up to Pike and Tyree, our African-Americans heroes have found a cache of dynamite in the mine and make mincemeat of Calvera and company. Just before the fight breaks out, Pike hands the loot to a small Mexican boy and gives him the directions to the Morgan Ranch.

"Take a Hard Ride" (** out of ****) was lensed on location--not in Spain--but in the Canary Islands. You would never guess that a western could be staged in such surroundings, but the rugged, craggy, inhospitable scenery substitutes well for the old West. The photography is good in the way that it thrusts us into the action. A line-up of western veterans comprises the cast. Aside from Brown and Van Cleef, we get to see Barry Sullivan, Dana Andrews, and Ronald Howard slap leather. The action and the stunt work is superb, thanks largely to Hal Needham during his second-unit directing days before "Smokey and the Bandit" made him famous in his own right as a director. Jerry Goldsmith contributes a flavorful score rather like his theme to the James Stewart & Dean Martin oater "Bandolero." The problem with "Take a Hard Ride" is that the characters aren't very interesting and the dramatic situations kindle little intensity. The scene where Robert Donnor and Carey try to kill Van Cleef is wrong-headed and gratituous Antonio Margheriti does the best that he could with the substandard script has more giddy-yap than giddy-up.

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