(director/writer: Tom Gries; screenwriters: Clair Huffaker/from the book The Californio by Robert MacLeod; cinematographer: Cecilio Paniagua; editor: Robert Simpson; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Jim Brown (Lyedecker), Raquel Welch (Sarita), Burt Reynolds (Yaqui Joe), Fernando Lamas (Verdugo), Dan O’Herlihy (Grimes), Michael Forest (Humara), Hans Gudegast (Von Klemme), Soledad Miranda (Nude Girl In Hotel); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Marvin Schwartz; 20th Century Fox; 1969)

“It fizzles instead of sizzles.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A muddled action-packed western that missed its opportunity to be a solid buddy film. It was filmed in Spain for a modest budget of close to four million dollars. It’s cowritten with Clair Huffaker and director Tom Gries (“Will Penny”), and adapted from the book The Californio by Robert MacLeod. It fizzles instead of sizzles because Gries doesn’t know how to make an action film come alive, the routine formulaic story is tiresome and the whole venture seemed pointless.

It’s set around 1900. Lyedecker (Jim Brown, former NFL football great) is a straightshooter black Arizona deputy who has crossed over the border into Old Mexico pursuing wanted Phoenix bank robber Joe Herrera (Burt Reynolds), a half-breed from a white Alabama father and a Yaqui Indian mom (though he takes mom’s last name, which makes about as much sense as everything else in the film). Joe has used the $6,000 he stole to buy 100 rifles for Mexican Indian rebels fighting the meanie General Verdugo (Fernando Lamas), who with German military adviser Lt. Franz Von Klemme (Hans Gudegast) and effete Southern Pacific Railroad white-suited gringo executive Steven Grimes (Dan O’Herlihy), is getting rid the old-fashioned way–by genocide–of Sonora’s entire oppressed peasant Yaqui population who sabotage the railroad because it’s on their land. Every lull in the story line leads to some Yaqui getting executed by gun or hanged from a telegraph pole. The other running theme is that Lyedecker insists on taking Joe back for the $200 reward and a permanent job, but Joe keeps trying to unsuccessfully talk him into staying and helping the Indians. The deputy says such things as “It ain’t my party.” Into the mix comes fiery Indian guerrilla leader Sarita (Raquel Welch), who tempts Lyedecker with her knockout bod and makes love to him the night her Indian rebels free the two Americans from the militia’s firing squad and then go on a whiskey binge with good ole Joe in the railroad agent’s fancy house. After a few skirmishes between the sombrero wearing peasants and the ruthless starchy uniformed militia, Lydecker fights for the Indians after the militia takes the Yaqui children hostage and threatens to kill them unless the rifles are returned. After the children are freed we come to the last skirmish–involving a steam locomotive deceptively carrying the rebel fighters to have a shootout with the militia in the town square. The climax packed little excitement but lots of confusion since it was so clumsily shot that one couldn’t tell what the hell was happening (not that I really cared, but that’s not the point!).

The film is not hurt or helped in any great way by a thumping score from Jerry Goldsmith. Reynolds didn’t reach stardom until the 1972 Deliverance, but his role as the impertinent smart aleck was the only one that registered as comically endearing and was ominous of how he would act in the future. Fox contract actress Welch was not required to act and got by on her looks, like she does in all her films. While Brown played it low-key cool and was adequate as the principled hero, getting over with a sweet smile and some charm.

REVIEWED ON 6/12/2006 GRADE: C     https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/