Sunday, October 25, 2015


"Four Guns to the Border" director Richard Carlson helmed this thoroughly lackluster Louis L'Amour western "Kid Rodelo,"(** OUT OF ****) with Don Murray, Janet Leigh, and Oscar-winner Broderick Crawford.  This straightforward, humorless horse opera concerns survival of the fittest on the frontier.  Appropriately enough, lean, handsome Murray is cast as the virtuous hero, while burly, gravel-voiced Crawford plays a treacherous outlaw with an itchy trigger finger.  Eventually, these two wind up on a rugged desert trail transporting $50-thousand in gold with remorseless Yaqui Indians shadowing them like vultures. The prison hires Yaquis to bring back the escaped prisoners, and the Yaquis usually bring them back face down across their horses.  Unlike the Rangers, the Yaquis need not bother with the same pesky jurisdictional issues that the Rangers must contend with when crossing the border into Mexico.  These Yaquis are particularly proficient at what they do, and their leader, Cavalry Hat (José Villasante of “Django the Condemned”), covets the hero's boots.  The only thing that distinguishes this western is the eponymous hero’s knowledge of desert plants, specifically cholla cactus with their poisonous spines which can lame a horse.

Kid Rodelo (Don Murray of "From Hell to Texas") has been released after serving a year inside Yuma Territorial Prison, while villainous Joe Harbin (Broderick Crawford of "All the King's Men") sweats out a life sentence because he shot his partner. Meantime, Harbin's accomplice, Thomas Reese (José Nieto of "Dr. Zhivago"), hatches a plan to break out of Yuma. He has stolen two wooden matches from the kitchen. Harbin and he toil in the stone quarry where they hammer holes into the rocks with a drill to insert dynamite to blast the formation. They plant some extra sticks of dynamite and all hell cuts loose. In the novel, Joe's accomplice is named Tom Badger and he survives until the finale, whereas Reese dies not long after they break out of prison. Anyway, Harbin and Reese take the Warden (Emilio Rodríguez) as a hostage to make good their escape. They shoot their way out of Yuma using the Warden as a shield and dump him once they have gotten away.

Now, they light out in hot pursuit of the Kid who has caught a ride with another some other suspicious characters who are conveniently watching for him to show up.  Link (Richard Carlson of "Creature from the Black Lagoon") and his girlfriend Nora (Janet Leigh of "Psycho") are waiting for the Kid as he trudges on foot along the trail from the prison.  Link wants the money, too, and he has hired another gunslinger, sleazy Balas (Julio Peña), to help him.  After they reach a largely abandoned town, Link and Balas enter a house and find a box concealed beneath the wooden floorboards.  They get into an argument over Balas' percentage of the loot.  The greedy Balas insists on a greater share and guns down Link without a qualm.  Later, Balas joins Joe after he guns down Reese, but they don’t trust each other.  Gopher (Alfonso Sanfélix) dies later after they have crossed the border.  Balas takes the gold piece that Joe gave Gopher after he made him a partner.  Balas suggests that they flip for the coin, and Joe grabs the coin before it hits the ground and appropriates it as his coin.  Eventually, Cavalry Hat picks off Joe as he is about to gun down Rodelo.

This threadbare oater was lensed on location in rugged Spain.  Strangely enough, the pinch-penny producers filmed this outdoors yarn in black & white.  This Paramount Pictures release seems unusual because most westerns by that time were photographed in color, even those old timer oaters that producer A.C. Lyles made.  "Badman's Territory" scenarist Jack Natteford departs drastically from the source material in at least one crucial respect, and this change might upset hardcore, morally rigidly, L’Amour fans.  For example, Link is named Jake, and Balas is named Clint.  Nevertheless, this is nothing compared with the outcome of the action and the disposal of the gold.  The characters amount largely to stereotypes as they did in the novel.  Like most L'Amour heroes, Kid Rodelo knows his way around the desert like an expert, particularly the whereabouts of water holes.  Carlson and Natteford exploit Rodelo’s environmental familiarity, such as knowing about the flora and fauna to keep them alive.  The performances are okay, while Leigh appears as little more than window dressing.  She does do one important thing at the end. This gritty western tries to imitate the Spaghetti westerns, but Carlson imparts little color or charisma.  The villains are cutthroat dastards, willing to kill anybody to keep from sharing the loot.  The simple Johnny Douglas orchestral score represents an exercise in minimalism.  The finale on the shore of the Gulf of Baja differs from most westerns because you don’t often see the action end on a beach.  Altogether, as a film, “Kid Rodelo” doesn’t surpass the L’Amour novel despite the scenic splendor of the Spanish landscape and the obvious amoral Spaghetti western influence on the ending.  The chief difference between the novel and the film is Rodelo planned to return the gold to the authorities to clear his name for his supposed part in the robbery.  In the novel, he was arrested because he was caught riding with Joe, but Rodelo didn’t know anything about the robbery. The film concludes with Rodelo and Nora bathing in the surf then walking off as permanent partners.

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