Gunslinger 50 Movie Pack Disc 5

The Day of the Wolves, 1971, color. Ferde Grofé (dir.), Richard Egan, Martha Hyer, Rick Jason, Jan Murray, Frankie Randall. 1:35 [1:31]

I guess you can call any movie a “gunslinger” movie if guns are involved—and they certainly are in this odd movie about a sort-of perfect crime. Here’s the setup: Jan Murray with a beard—who looks exactly like Jan Murray with a beard—recruits six men of low morals (all of whom have beards), flies them all to LA where they’re variously met by “Acme Construction” station wagons (but no Roadrunner!) and told by tape recorder not to ask questions, not to talk, to put on gloves, a blindfold and dark glasses and that the trip will take about 2.5 hours.

They all wind up in this deserted structure somewhere in the desert, where Number One (Murray) introduces them as Numbers 2 through 7 and explains that no names are to be used, nobody is to discuss where they’re from or take of the gloves, and they’ll all find out why. Oh, and as per the letter, they’ll get a minimum of $50,000 for three days of their time. (That’s roughly a quarter million in 2013 terms.)

The gig: A perfect crime. They’re going to take over an isolated town on payday—knock out the roads out of town, blow the power and knock out the phone company, lock up all the cops, then rob the two banks, the two supermarkets and the major businesses in town. All very neat, over in three hours—and since nobody but the leader knows who any of them are, and they’re all disguised with beards and don’t leave fingerprints, voila.

This assumes, of course, that none of the locals is armed and chooses to be a hero. Like, say, the upstanding police chief (Egan) who’s just been fired the day before because the town council thought he was too upstanding, or something like that. Who, of course, has a few shotguns at home.

Without giving too much away, four of the crooks do manage to fly out of town, and the getaway’s also designed to be perfect. Which it would be, even though one of the three crooks shot by the ex-chief didn’t survive to be questioned. Unless, say, Jan Murray’s regular gig is as a clown hosting a kid’s TV show who takes off his clown suit to tell stories, chooses (ahem) seven kids to help him, calls them by number and both looks and sounds exactly like Number One without his beard…

This “perfect crime” would be a lot tougher these days—you’d also have to knock out every cell tower within a fairly wide radius, and you could probably assume that every third resident of an Arizona town would be armed. (The flick was filmed in Lake Havasu City, with credits, and although they give the town a different name, “Havasu” can be spotted in at least one business sign.)

Oddly enough, it’s a fairly entertaining if somewhat implausible flick. Given the costs incurred by Number One for plane tickets, the airplane to fly them in and out of the town, weaponry, the pilot, etc., etc., I’m not sure this would be a big enough heist to be worthwhile, but never mind. The print has vertical scratches at times. I’ll give it $1.25.

This Man Can’t Die, (orig. I lunghi giorni dell’odio), 1967, color. Gianfranco Baldanello (dir.), Guy Madison, Lucienne Bridou, Rik Battaglia, Anna Liotti, Steve Merrick, Rosalba Meri. 1:30.

I saw this flick three years ago as part of the 20-movie Spaghetti Westerns pack—and of course it’s also in the 44-movie Spaghetti Western megapack. I remembered it as being reasonably well done, and I watched it again—all the way through. It’s an excellent print—no apparent flaws in video or sound.

Here’s my writeup from the June 2010 Cites & Insights:

On one hand, this one has English-language credits and no language oddities—and it’s fair to assume this doesn’t come from a videotape used for American TV showings, given bare breasts in a couple of scenes. On the other, there’s an unfortunate amount of sadism (the villains in this one are really villainous) and a lot of shootings—but after all, it is a spaghetti Western.

Martin Benson’s a mercenary on a government mission to find out who’s sending guns and booze to a renegade tribe (in 1870—the location’s not clear, but the date is). Meanwhile, marauders have gone to the ranch where his parents and siblings live, killed the parents and ravaged one daughter (so badly that she may never speak again!), and ridden off.

Little by little, the plots intersect. It’s not quite clear whether the title refers to Martin or to Tony Guy, presumed to be a wounded member of the marauders but, as it turns out, actually a government undercover agent. If you’ve seen many cowboy B films, you’ll guess who the primary villain is long before it’s made clear.

Lots of scenery. Pretty good score. Some very strange secondary parts and dialogue, par for the course. Beautiful women (with remarkably well-tailored clothes for 1870) and the handsome loner hero, Martin. Long, complex shootouts with no false nobility. A ballad for the opening and closing titles that makes no sense at all (also par for the course). Google translates the original title as “I hate long days,” but the alternate U.S. title “Long days of hate” seems a little more plausible… Not great, not terrible. What the heck: $1.25.

I didn’t see a lot of on-camera sadism as I watched it this time; maybe I’m inured to spaghetti westerns? One of the gang subleaders is clearly a sadist, however. Apart from that, I’ll stick with the review—but it seemed to hang together better the second time around. I’ll up the rating to $1.50.

Dan Candy’s Law (orig. Alien Thunder), 1974, color. Claude Fournier (dir. & cinematography), Donald Sutherland, Gordon Tootoosis, Chief Dan George, Kevin McCarthy. 1:33.

I could just say “couldn’t finish, didn’t rate,” since at about 1:21 there was a disc flaw that froze the movie. But that’s not quite true. As I suspected, the flick is available (albeit in the shorter 1:15 version) on the Internet Archive; I watched the last 10-11 minutes there, so certainly didn’t miss more than a minute or any significant plot points. And this is, with rare exceptions, a slow, slow movie—and one where the “pan & scan” consisted of using the center portion of the flick regardless of content. Either that, or the direction and cinematography (by the same person!) were incompetent: There are frequent cases where the person speaking is invisible, and some where you see a table with a hand at either edge of the frame because both participants are off to the sides. It’s also a grainy scan, and portions are almost unwatchable. (The original was full Cinemascope ratio, 2.35:1. Cutting that down to 4:3 or 1.33:1 without paying any attention to what you’re doing, as is clearly the case here, means throwing away 56% of the image—I was seeing less than half the picture.)

I looked this up (by the original title) after writing this review. Apparently you can now buy the movie in wide-screen, but the box copy may give you some sense of how incoherent this actually is: “He hunted his best friend’s killer—while he hunted him.” He him who wha?

Regardless of print quality, portions of this Canadian movie are almost unwatchable because of the acting, the directing, the cinematography and the plot, even if the plot is supposedly based on a true story. If you buy the Internet Archive synopsis, the true story is of the 1885 attempt by Dan Candy, Northwest Mounted Police Constable, to bring Almighty Voice (Tootoosis), a Cree who killed his partner, in for a fair trial after he’s been a fugitive for a year. But it comes off as a manhunt—with both sides being hunter and hunted, until a huge mass of NMP (later RCMP) troops overwhelm the situation (after losing three or four men) by sheer force. The original crime? The Cree slaughtered a cow that was part of Her Majesty’s Herd because his people were starving. He surrendered, and it was clear that he was going to be hung in the morning as an object lesson. Apparently (it’s hard to tell from the movie) Candy removes the Cree’s chains, making it possible for him to escape—and kill Candy’s partner.

The partner, not there for that long, is long-time actor Kevin McCarthy doing a fine job as the Noble Mountie. Sutherland as Candy comes off as…I dunno. Crazed? Strange? Obsessive, even before the hunt? (Yes, he was young—but this was four years after he played Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H, so I’ll blame the director. I’ve now read that Sutherland considers this the worst movie he ever made.) Maybe I’m just not the target audience. (Chief Dan George is OK, but has very little to do. In fact, that’s true of everybody…this is a slow movie that could readily be cut down to less than an hour.) I’d be hard-pressed to give this more than $0.25.

Seven Alone, 1974, color. Earl Bellamy (dir.), Dewey Martin, Aldo Ray, Anne Collings, Dean Smith, James Griffith, Stewart Petersen, Dehl Berti. 1:37.

A heart-wrenching story of courage, as the disobient eldest son in a seven-sibling family, on its way to Oregon in a wagon train, keeps the family together after both parents die and the train leaders say the kids should go back East—oh, and the rest of them should go to California because it’s too late in the Fall to make Oregon. The kids sneak off (with Kit Carson’s assistance), sneak along a day or so behind the small group who insist on going to Oregon, lose them…but of course it all eventually turns out all right, even with an infant with no mother’s milk, several days in untracked winter wilderness, etc., etc.

Apparently based on the true story of the Sager family, which should make me feel bad about calling this “family entertainment” a pile of crap. But…let’s see. It’s made clear that the appropriate way for the kid’s father to deal with his pranks is to take off his belt and whup the kid. The kid helps make clear that a wife’s place is to obey her husband (choosing carefully-selected never-wrong Bible verses). Thus it’s clearly appropriate that immediately after the wife says they’d leave their pleasant Midwestern farm to go west “Over my dead body,” the very next scene has her smiling alongside her husband driving their wagon, because, you know, he’s the boss. (And she’s pregnant again.) The kid continually ignores good advice, clear through to the end. We have “thieving Redskins.” “Gunslingers”? Well, the kid’s carrying a rifle and there is one gun battle between settlers and natives at one point… Pat Boone does the opening and closing theme, and it was sappy even for Boone (this is before Boone became a religion writer for an extreme-right website). This is Family entertainment with a capital-F. Badly written, badly acted, badly directed. One review says this is great because you’ll learn the history of the Oregon Trail. Really?

I see the phrase “politically correct” turns up in several of the favorable reviews. It appears that I should love the movie because it Promotes Family Values. Sorry, but that’s not enough, especially given the selective set of values it seems to espouse. Maybe the Sager story’s worth telling—but not in such an awful movie. I guess the scenery merits $0.50.

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