Villa Rides (US - DVD R1)
Gabe watches three manly men manly man it out for manly man supremacy...
Lee Arnold (Robert Mitchum) is a solo pilot running guns to the Mexican government who finds himself trapped and held captive by Pancho Villa (Yul Brynner), and his lieutenant Rodolfo (Charles Bronson). After days of hesitation Arnold is convinced to help the revolution his weapons quelled.
Villa Rides was made in the post Peckinpah and Spaghetti Western era, when the Western genre was permanently blackened and bloodied. Even the dark soul and flashy photography of The Searchers wasn’t quite dark enough to sustain much interest in the public eye. The Western was a b-genre, which died one death with the onset of Sci-Fi, and another with the onset of hard-core exploitation. There aren’t many non-European filmed Westerns remembered from the ‘60s and ‘70s, and it’s with good reason—the genre dropped further into the b-gutter.
However, sometimes the gutter sweeps up a few tough cockroaches, and the lead cast of Villa Rides will be reason enough for most of us fans of ‘60s cinema, specifically really manly cinema. Robert Mitchum, Yul Brynner, and Charles Bronson in one movie? Too good to be true? No it is not. Factually Mitchum and Brynner are sleepwalking a bit, but even in neutral these guys pretty much hit it out of the park, except in the more outwardly comedic scenes, where the tough guys appear more than a little uncomfortable. Really it’s Bronson that steals the entire picture every time he’s on screen. Though he plays Villa’s most ruthless left hand man, and though he singlehandedly kills more people than anyone else in the picture, this is one of Chuck’s most warm and humorous roles. His performance is at sometimes downright disarming, no pun intended.
The script is the film’s most interesting selling point, and beside the cast really the only reason I wanted to see Villa Rides. The original screenplay was written by the sultan of slow motion death himself, Sam Peckinpah, and the volatile cuss was also scheduled to direct. When Brynner apparently expressed disinterest in the cruelness of the real Villa, script doctor extraordinaire Robert Towne was brought on. Towne and Peckinpah’s work was based on a book by one William Douglas Lansford, who also wrote a lot of television. Attention to historical detail isn’t really high on the list, but the basic facts are maintained to a greater deal that most modern historical epics (cough The Last Samurai cough cough). The story is packed with a lot of unnecessary fat and over simplicity without much allegory, but the narrative does have focus. The advantage of Peckinpah and Towne’s tinkering is of course some smooth, bad ass dialogue, and some really funny running gags, both mostly pertaining to Bronson’s scene stealing Rodolfo Fierro.
Director Buzz Kulik does his best Peckinpah impersonation, but it was pretty clear to me without reading his imdb.com bio that he was a made for TV director first and foremost. The compositions are effective, well structured, characters are correctly, if not extravagantly framed, but there’s a real lack of iconic imagery, and in the post-Peckinpah and Leone world that simply doesn’t fly (unless you’re one of the many other Italian directors that got away with grit over flash). The pacing is lethargic and old fashion, and had I not known that the film was made in 1968, and seen the clear age of some of the actors, I could’ve easily been convinced that the film was made in the 1950s. Even the violence, which gains an R-rating, is rather tame. The set pieces are mostly effective (especially the big siege), and the comedy really hits when needed.
This is the first of these Paramount subsidiary Legend Films I’ve watched, and if this is a good barometer things are looking good. Villa Rides is presented in a 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen. Details aren’t the sharpest, but there aren’t any obvious cases of overt softness and compression and edge enhancement are pretty minimal. Colours are rich, but oddly flat and slightly artificial. Some scenes look like post-colourized black and white features. Some of the brighter reds do bleed, and browns and flesh tones exhibit some noticeable noise. Blacks are rich and deep, whites are flat and clean, and general contrast is effectively balanced. There aren’t a lot of artefacts with the very plain exception of cigarette burns.
This is pretty much your standard Dolby Digital Mono presentation, clean, but flat. Sound effects are artificial and tinny (though not as artificial and tinny as many comparable Spaghetti Western releases), and the overall mix gets pretty muddy when too many elements are introduced. Dialogue is clear and understandable, though one is left wondering why only three or four characters have Mexican accents. Post-Leone means post-Morricone, and Maurice Jarre’s score doesn’t quite cut the mustard, unless you were in search of a 1940s serial. The score is pretty low on the track, but nothing here packs much of a wallop.
Nothing, or as Villa would say, nada.
Villa Rides isn’t particularly memorable, but it is well written, and features three very cool lead actors. A meandering pace, an out of place old fashion feel, and a general case of unoriginality, are equalled by some good action and some surprising humour. This is not a must see, but it’s recommended nonetheless.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 3rd June 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Easter Egg: No
Director: Buzz Kulik
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Charles Bronson, Yul Brynner, Maria Grazia Buccella, Robert Carricart, Jill Ireland
Length: 122 minutes
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