Soon to be released on Blu-ray by Kino-Lorber.
I bought this DVD many years ago, through the Columbia House DVD Club, for around six or seven bucks, without having seen it before. I’d seen the poster for the movie, which I’d never heard of up to that point, and the poster art intrigued me.
When it finally became available on DVD, I figured I’d take a chance and pick it up. With that cast in an R-rated Western from 1971, I though, what could go wrong?
The movie was watchable, but I didn’t really like any of the characters. The catalyst for the plot– Reed’s outlaw kidnaps Bergen’s prairie schoolteacher so she can teach him to read– was a bit too contrived, the sort of disingenuous character motivation that exists only in movies.
I’m not saying a real person wouldn’t commit a violent abduction for such a bizarre reason, but, in real life, that person would still be viewed unfavorably, since they are committing a violent crime against another person, regardless of motivation.
The filmmakers want us to adopt a sympathetic view toward Reed’s brutish, sociopathic character, something I simply couldn’t bring myself to do. His character’s a selfish, delusional creep and his gang of outlaws are mostly filthy, crude and underdeveloped as characters.
I couldn’t exactly root for Hackman as Bergen’s vengeful husband, either, since his character’s revealed as an arrogant sadist who’s cheating on his wife while off on a lavish hunting trip with his less-wealthy buddies.
When Bergen wound up falling in love with Reed, indulging in a bit of Stockholm Syndrome, I lost interest in her character, as well. By the end of the story, nearly every character’s died in the middle of nowhere in a desert, dispatched, mostly, with lots of bloody gunshot wounds in slow-motion.
A nihilistic, pointless, and ultimately forgettable oddity, I would easily categorize this as an anti-audience Western.
Judging by the comments I’ve found online regarding the upcoming Blu-ray release, the picture does appear to have a small number of fans (mostly Oliver Reed completists, I’m guessing).