DirectorGene Martin (Eugenio Martín)
Release Date(s)1971 (October 6, 2015)
Studio(s)International Apollo Films (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: N/A
Screenwriter Philip Yordan is responsible for some of the greatest, most idiosyncratic Westerns of all time – Johnny Guitar, The Bravados, The Man From Laramie – as well as a series of enormously entertaining epics like El Cid, The Fall of the Roman Empire, and King of Kings. His 1971 spaghetti Western Bad Man’s River is far from one of his finest efforts, but it’s also better – or at least more interesting – than its poor reputation might suggest. There’s no question that the movie is a bit of a mess – convoluted and confusing without being particularly complex or complicated – but its flaws are inextricably bound to its strengths, as both the good and the bad emerge from how downright peculiar the whole thing is.
Lee Van Cleef plays a bandit who marries the beautiful Gina Lollabrigida, only to be double-crossed by her and left in a mental institution after she steals his money. Lee breaks out and reunites with his old colleagues, who (somewhat inexplicably) partner with Gina on a new job: destroying an arsenal that belongs to the Mexican government and bilking them out of a million dollars. Numerous double-crosses ensue involving an ever expanding cast of characters, including Mexican revolutionaries (one of whom is played by James Mason!) and Billy the Kid, all of whom want to get their hands on the dough or the weapons or both. Making the sense of the story is a bit of a task, and one’s enjoyment of the movie is probably enhanced by just sitting back and enjoying it from moment to moment rather than as a coherent whole.
Those moments range from the genuinely hilarious and exciting to the flat-out bizarre, particularly where the music is concerned – the film has a really odd score that includes a mix of dance hall music, ballads, and a completely anachronistic rock song that stops the movie dead in its tracks about midway through. Mason’s performance is simultaneously fascinating and completely distracting; to say that he doesn’t make a particularly convincing Mexican revolutionary would be a bit of an understatement. Yet for fans of the genre this is all pretty entertaining stuff, and it’s decently presented on Kino Lorber’s new Blu-ray. The source material isn’t perfect – the print is marred by occasional scratches, particularly toward the beginning – but the color reproduction is strong and the details are sharp, with minimal noise or artifacts. The DTS-HD 2.0 soundtrack is perfectly balanced and crystal clear, which is saying something given the film’s often chaotic sound design. There are no special features outside of a couple trailers for other Lee Van Cleef movies, but this movie-only edition is worth a look for genre enthusiasts, if not for anyone else.
- Jim Hemphill