The Wild West gets a facelift in these two oaters that were released at a key period in filmmaking as the singing 1960s morphed into the “anything goes” spirit of the 1970s.
The late-1960s saw a ton of changes, as the world dealt with changing attitudes towards war, individual rights and freedom. This turned out to be a boon for the movies, as directors applied new ideas to old formulas. The western genre reeled from the new permissiveness, but films that were made in this period didn’t look like any of the cowboy dramas that preceded them. Here we have two examples of the new western.
“Kill Them All” was made in Spain by an Italian studio, so it’s a “Spaghetti Western.” Many of these flicks were shot in Madrid, with the studio scenes done in Rome, and top-lined American actors. Here, you get Chuck Connors playing a character far removed from the western television series that shot him to stardom (“The Rifleman” and “Branded”). Connors is the leader of a band of outlaws who mesh well due to their varied skill sets. One is a master of knives, another is an ex-strongman, and the youngest member is just plain nuts.
This sagebrush version of “The A-Team” is called upon to steal gold from the Union army. On the sly, Chuck is told to get the gold but then kill his comrades and come back alone. He takes the job and his band manages to take the booty after an exciting sequence, but they blow it when they are forced to ditch the gold in a lake before being captured.
They spend the second half of the movie in a prison camp, where they are beaten and tortured. Eventually, they turn on each other and it all comes to a head during a poorly-planned escape that sees half of the band killed. It all leads to a showdown between two band members and Chuck. The finale is quite brutal, but check the title.
“Raiders” finds Telly Savalas and George Maharis as Mexican-Americans who fall out over a woman. Telly embraces the cattle business and becomes a land baron, who decides to stir up the Apaches and then buy up all the land at a bargain price from the frightened farmers in his community. Maharis winds up back home to visit his ailing father but gets drawn into the conflict and sides with the Indians.
This one climaxes with a grim scene that had never graced a western. The scene involves a planned attack on an Indian village while the warriors are known to be away. It is a cowardly play that comes back to haunt the invaders. The film ends with an excellent sequence that sees Maharis and Savalas settling their differences in the street, until the angry Apaches show up en masse to lay down some payback.
These revisionist westerns are mature in content and not the family entertainment that the genre had been during the 1950s. Here, you get streets of mud and characters who sweat under the desert sun like normal people. The films are not afraid to deal in reality but they both are also adept at delivering the requisite action sequences that will be very familiar to all fans of the Old West. That said, they also don’t shy away from formerly taboo subjects, such as rape, greed and salty language. These films do the genre a great service, however — they let it grow up and tell stories that mean something, while still offering all of the gunplay and thrills of yesteryear’s six-gun sagas.
Best line: “You know, Captain, as a Southerner, you made me sick, but as a Northerner, you make me puke.”