Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Well, this western's title is flavorful, which is perhaps where this review should end. Shot with a total lack of finesse and terribly acted, this tepid revenge tale has a script of equal vapidity. The medium budget American western went completely to seed in the middle 1960s, and about all there is to admire in Ride Beyond Vengeance is the name cast.
A complicated plot: A modern day census taker (James MacArthur) is told the history of "The Night of the Tiger" generations before when Coldiron was a wild west town. Local poor kid Jonas Trapp (Chuck Connors) marries pampered beauty Jessie (Kathryn Hays) but rebels when she expects him to live off the wealth of her Aunt Gussie (Ruth Warrick). Jonas instead deserts Jessie, returning eleven years later laden with $17,000 to "make it up to her." He's unfortunately waylaid by three men under the pretense that he's a cattle thief: Con man Johnsy Boy Hood (Bill Bixby), crooked ranch foreman Elwood Coates (Claude Akins) and respectable banker Brooks Durham (Michael Rennie). They brand Jonas and leave him to die; when Jonas recovers, he has only one thing on his mind - kill all three and get his money back.
The cast certainly sounds promising, and I haven't mentioned the all-star supporting lineup - Joan Blondell, Paul Fix, Gloria Grahame, Arthur O'Connell, Gary Merrill, Buddy Baer, Frank Gorshin and Robert Q. Lewis. Unfortunately none of them has been given a developed character to play and most could have been hired for a day or two each. Gloria Grahame is in for one fragment of one scene and is then shown sitting in a hotel lobby for all of five seconds, two reels later.
Ride Beyond Vengeance fails in both story and production departments, as we never for a moment believe what we're seeing is a worthy drama. The movie half-heartedly begins with an extended and meaningless census-taking sequence on an obvious studio backlot. When we flashback to the wild-west past, Arthur O'Connell's narration mixes with direction from Bernard McEveety that's only a couple of notches above Ed Wood quality: We hear, "Jonas had the seventeen thousand dollars in his saddlebags" and Chuck Connors checks his saddlebags, as if reminded by the voiceover.
Just about everything that happens is both unconvincing and badly conceived. Star Connors looks rugged but is incapable of fleshing out a character deeply in need of interpretation. Why Jonas Trapp would expect to find his wife still waiting for him after eleven years is completely fumbled. He's beaten half to death and branded but after a bath bounces back in top shape, with just a bruise on his chin. His wife Jessie has been given a crudely- applied white streak in her hair as the only mark of the passing of time. Jason takes liquor without paying and beats the club bouncer (Buddy Baer) half to death, yet the sheriff (Gary Merrill) tells him he's broken no laws.
Most dramatic scenes are a complete embarrassment, including heavy turns by Gloria Grahame and a woefully inadequate Bill Bixby. Marissa Mathes is Bixby's unconvincing stock Mexican girlfriend, to give Connors somebody to kiss for advertising purposes. The talented Kathryn Hays (excellent in Ladybug, Ladybug) is defeated by a script that has her raving in anger in scene after scene. Yet the key moment where she finds out the truth about Michael Rennie is ellipsed. The credits incorrectly give her an "introducing" billing.
Miscast Michael Rennie starts off as a potentially evil banker and then surprises us by turning out to be an okay guy, but the story is still left completely off-balance. In this movie about integrity, money seems to be everything. Jonas can't stand not supporting his wife Jessie, so he ditches her. He spends a decade earning a fortune but never explains what he expects to do with the money. Jessie is enamored of Rennie's banker, who promises to keep her financially secure. After almost getting killed over the lost boodle, Jonas then refuses it and walks away, his reasons still unexplained. Perhaps he's discovered that all his dreams were an illusion, or he's decided that nobody in Coldiron is worthy of him. Either way Ride Beyond Vengeance is laughably trite. We expect the assembled citizens to wave and cheer, saying "Thanks for showing us the error of our ways! And thanks for the money!"
The production is pitiful, making one long for the old days in Hollywood when it seemed that every standing western set was teeming with wranglers, cowboy actors and extras. A few shots are taken in the desert but the majority of the film happens before barely-dressed backlot facades. The lighting is flat and dull. Even the costumes look completely wrong, as if they had to be returned to the rental house in perfect condition to get a good rate. To make a movie on such a compressed shooting schedule one has to be a genius, or the story has to be so strong that production finesse doesn't matter. This is one movie where rampant continuity mismatching is difficult to ignore ... there's little else to keep our attention.
The writing works in a lot of too-tough-for-TV description of gore and wrongdoing, but the Hollywood actors (Frank Gorshin, Bill Bixby) delivering it have no credibility. For some reason Fenady works in a flashback-within-a-flashback that only serves to further distance us from investing in the material. At 101 minutes, Ride Beyond Vengeance would be much better if the lame Census Taker framing story were dropped entirely.
Sony's DVD of Ride Beyond Vengeance is an almost perfect enhanced transfer of clean elements. The only dirt to be seen is in the cheap titles. There are no extras. Glenn Yarborough warbles a forgettable title tune. Unless one likes grotesquely bad westerns, or is a Chuck Connors completist, the only reason I can see for watching Ride Beyond Vengeance is to wonder if better production values or a more talented director could have saved it. I think it needed big helpings of both.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Ride Beyond Vengeance rates:
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 10, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson