Daniel Mann's 1972 western The Revengers introduces us to a rancher named John Benedict (William Holden) who runs a peaceful horse trading operation with his wife (Lorraine Chanel) and his family. He comes home from a business trip one day and sits down to dinner with his family and then heads off on a hunt only to return to find that they've all been murdered by an Indian group led by a white man named Tarp (Warren Vanders). They steal his horses and head off into the sticks but they make a grave mistake in (for reasons never fully explained and that don't subscribe to logic) leaving John alive. He heads after them, but he knows that going at this solo won't work, he'll be easy pickins' for Tarp and his crew.
So Benedict sets out assembling a posse of his own by bringing on a half dozen convicted men from Mexico who agree to help him in exchange for some clothes, some food, and, once their mission is over, their freedom. The men are Hoop (Ernest Borgnine), Job (Woody Strode), Quiberon (Roger Hanin), Chamaco (Jorge Luke), Quiberon (Roger Hanin) and Zweig (Reinhard Kolldehoff) and being criminals, there are a few times where, as criminals are wont to do, they take off and try to cheat Benedict out of the agreement. Inevitably they either individually or collectively have a change or heart or two and wind up back with him, hell-bent on taking out Tarp and his Indian warriors... and maybe, just maybe, Benedict will find love in the arms of a pretty Irish woman named Elizabeth Reilly (Susan Hayward) along the way.
While The Revengers is entertaining enough, it suffers from a serious case of wasted potential. Re-uniting Holden and Borgnine, who really lit up the screen a few years prior in 1969 in Sam Peckinpah's classic The Wild Bunch was a great idea but Borgnine's character is poorly written and at times downright obnoxious. The actor does his best it the role but he's often spouting off ridiculously unrealistic dialogue consisting of equal parts tough guy posturing and faux-patriotic pandering. Strode fares slightly better than Borgnine here but not by much as his character too suffers from bad writing and being thrust into some exceedingly silly situations throughout the movie. Strode had amazing screen presence in his sixties and seventies films and it's wasted here, though it's interesting to see him with hair in the few scenes where his head isn't covered by a cowboy hat.
This leaves Holden, who plays pissed off tough guys exceedingly well, to do most of the heavy lifting and to his credit, he does well here. He brings enough pent up anger to the part that we can buy him as the character and as such, his motivations are solid. He looks the part as well and while he's a bit too old to be completely believable as the instrument of vengeance he is, so be it. If Charles Bronson could pull it off with Death Wish then why not Holden here? While the movie does borrow from The Magnificent Seven and The Dirty Dozen and shares some similarities with Cut Throats Nine made the same year, there's enough here that works to make it worth seeing. The cinematography and location photography is excellent and the score is solid. The script meanders and plays to clichés, afraid to really push the violence as far as it should have gone to give the movie the necessary edge, but if nothing else this is entertaining. It should have ranked up there with the best westerns from the era and it falls short of that, but this is alright, if more than a little bit on the old fashioned side.
The Revengers arrives on DVD framed at 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen and although the transfer is interlaced, aside from that it doesn't look bad. This looks like it was taken from an older master but at least the colors look nice and bright without appearing to be too oversaturated. Black levels are never reference quality and there's a little bit of crush in a few spots but this is definitely more than watchable. The picture is clean and free of any major print damage, skin tones look decent and detail isn't bad at all for a standard definition presentation.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack on the disc is fine. Dialogue stays clear and easy to follow and the levels are properly balanced. There are some scenes that sound a little flat but that's likely got more to do with the limitations of the source material than anything else. The score doesn't ever quite find the depth you want it to but it sounds okay. Optional subtitles are provided in English only.
Extras are slim, just a static menu offering chapter selection and a trailer for the feature.
The Revengers never picks up quite as much steam as you want it to and it suffers from some pacing problems but it does have a few solid set pieces, a reasonably interesting plot and a seriously impressive cast. This should have been a classic and if definitely falls short of that, but it's worth seeing if you're into the cast or seventies westerns. The DVD from CBS doesn't look great but it looks okay and the audio is fine. Recommended for diehard western fans, a perfectly fine rental for everyone else.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.