Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Deserter (1971)

AKA: The Devil's Backbone

Director: Burt Kennedy

Writers: Stuart J. Byrne, William H. James, Massimo D'Avak, Clair Huffaker

Composer: Piero Piccioni

Starring: Bekim Fehmiu, Richard Crenna, Chuck Connors, Ricardo Montalban, Ian Bannen, Brandon De Wilde, Slim Pickens, Woody Strode, Albert Salmi, Patrick Wayne, Fausto Tozzi, John Huston

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The Deserter and his blood bath brigade -- they drenched the west with terror!

Plot: Army deserter Capt. Viktor Kaleb is offered a pardon and reinstatement in the cavalry if he agrees to lead a special forces group in a raid against an Apache stronghold into Mexico.

My Rating:

Will I watch it again?  No.

Watch this just for the cast alone.  It's a great mix of known actors and it's a hoot seeing them all in one picture.  Huston has such a commanding presence that he owns every scene he's in, and when he's given some badass lines, he delivers them with the conviction of a man who's used to getting what he wants.  I really dig that almost everyone hates Kaleb (Fehmiu), who couldn't care less except that he expects everyone to do their job and to keep away from endangering the group.  The story is OK to a point until you realize that the bad guy, Apache Chief Mangus Durango (Palmara), is nothing more than a reason for these men to go on their mission.  Durango is seen briefly and he doesn't even have any lines.  He's the McGuffin.  The movie is all about Kaleb and his men on their journey.  There are some really neat set pieces where good men die and it's not something that's taken lightly (not always) and some of the deaths have weight.  It's nice to see something so harsh taken seriously by the filmmakers.  Piccioni's score even echoes that by keeping the music grounded in reality.  It's not typical Western music and it's very dramatic and brooding.  The print I saw was a decent widescreen image but it's not close to what you'd see in a proper DVD release.  If I came across one then I'd be inclined to give this one another go in a few years but then there are thousands of movies I've yet to get to.

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