The Deadly Trackers (1973)
I decided to watch this on the basis that Richard Harris as odd as the actor may sound next to the word Western actually works together quite well (when he’s not returning to the Sioux Ogla in The Return of a Man Called Horse (1976) A lead who isn’t American in a Western begins to stretch the boundaries of what the genre can be. More realistic as an Irish sheriff as he is appears in The Deadly Trackers (1973) which at first showed real promise of being something rather good. I was first struck by the use of stills and dialogue to introduce us to the town where Sheriff Sean Kilpatrick operates a tightly run town that is safe and organised. He has put down roots with a wife and child aswell, he’s living the American dream.
The dream soon turns sour with the arrival of a gang of 4 outlaws ride into town, ignoring all the warnings that Kilpatrick runs a tough town, a man not to be messed with. We have only seen this film through stills and audio so far and a dated canvas painting filter, trying to pull us back into a long-gone time that has been painted. I could have watch the film in still form (inspiring current work) before breaking with a gunshot at a bank-robbery that would change the course of the sheriffs life forever. The man who single handedly orchestrates the town to pick up their guns, barricade the town, ready to spring upon the gunfighter’s. He has power, respect and love in his life all up until this point until gang leader Frank Brand (Rod Taylor) who inadvertently holds Kilpatrick’s son at gunpoint. Will he shoot or wont he? There are moments when you think we’ll see this child fall to the floor covered in blood.
So far we are off to a good start, the law is like an army, the town comes alive to surround and pacify the unwanted bank-robbers before the tables are turned upon them. Taking the money and even child in the dust, before Kilpatrick’s wife Katherine (Kelly Jean Peters) who runs alongside, in a dramatic moment that causes both their deaths. It’s grim stuff to watch, even more so when you next see the now shattered sheriff who begins to lose all sense of reason as a posse sets off to track down the four men who both robbed the town of their money and the sheriff his family, he has to act to have revenge and see justice done.
Turning to the gang of outlaws they are all pretty much 2 dimensional characters, there are attempts to make them more so are laughable really. The only one we see more of is Brand played by Taylor is an ex-confederate officer who uses his uniform as a badge of honor. An ex soldier who has gone rogue, Taylor just really doesn’t sell the role of a dangerous man to me, it feels forced like the Southern accent. Turning to his band of men starting with School Boy (William Smith) who is basically illiterate and stupid, they leave him to his death, believing he will follow him. Next we have the token black guy Jacob (Paul Benjamin) who is the most educated of the men, his ideas do show real thinking compared to the leader whose driven mostly by greed. The dumbest of the characters in name and back story is Choo Choo (Neville Brand) who lost both his father and hand on the rail-road, strapping a section of sleeper in its place. It’s really laughable.
Ok with all the idiots in place we have one guy who tries to hold this film together, a Mexican sheriff Gutierrez (Al Lettieri) the only one with the law on his side, there’s no jurisdiction for Kilpatrick in the country who will not give up on his now murderous rampage. The law that was once on his side, has left him, living by his own as renegade, practically a criminal. Gutierrez is the law in the country and has ultimate power if the others choose to accept it is another thing. Its hard for Kilpatrick who becomes literally blinded for a time during his journey which shows how literal this film becomes. Visually it makes the film more interesting, he becomes dependent on the law that he has left to help save him. However it all goes wrong, the longer he spends in Mexico, the deeper he sleeps into the shoes of the gunfighter/criminal the harder it is for him to get out of them. Now I’m getting literally almost.
The film has good intentions that gets carried away with itself. You think you’re going to get a good strong film with Harris in the lead you’d think so at least. It goes down hill fast with silly characters that attempt to make a dark film gripping that actually becomes sloppy. The heart of the film is mushy not strong and rigid enough to withstand the action, its blurred by an idea which you see get knocked about which is a shame really. I don’t think I’ve wasted my time though, it does have a story (of sorts) which has Harris at the heart which you feel, just a shame on the execution.
- The Deadly Trackers (1973) (westernsontheblog.blogspot.co.uk)