As in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), three disparate characters are methodically introduced before their paths cross and interests collide. African-American Lyedecker (Jim Brown) is an Arizona deputy who has crossed over the border into Mexico looking for wanted bank robber Joe Herrera (Burt Reynolds), a half-breed of American and Yaqui Indian heritage. Joe meanwhile has used the $6,000 he stole to buy 100 rifles for Mexican Indian rebels fighting General Verdugo (Fernando Lamas), who with German military advisor Lt. Franz Von Klemme (Eric Braeden, in his last film billed under birth name Hans Gudegast) and Southern Pacific Railroad representative Steven Grimes (Dan O'Herlihy), is mulling over genocide as a means to rid Sonora of its indigenous people. One of the rebels, Sarita (Raquel Welch), is captured and her co-conspirator father (Jose Manuel Martin) is hanged but she and Joe manage to escape while Lyedecker, anxious to bring Joe back across the border, tags along.
The deputy is reluctant to join the cause - "It ain't my party," he says - but in a highly-contrived sequence commits himself after Verdugo's men kidnap a bunch of Yaqui children, threatening to kill them unless the heroic trio turns over the weapons.
Filmed in Spain by director Tom Gries (Will Penny) in the same general vicinity as his TV show The Rat Patrol (which also featured Eric Braeden), 100 Rifles is structured like a classic Italian Western and has a Spaghetti-style main title design, but otherwise doesn't try to ape its style the way other Hollywood-made, faux Spaghettis like Hang 'Em High (1968) did. Produced at a moderate cost of $3.9 million, the money's up on the screen, with lots of big-scale shoot-outs and a slam-bang finale that involves the wrecking of a steam locomotive.
To the film's credit, Lyedecker's race is acknowledged but otherwise plays little part in the story, nor does the film back away from the character's sexual relationship with Serita or treat is any differently than if he were white. In other words, as far as the film is concerned, he's simply The Hero. This casualness is refreshing and unexpected; given that it predates the blaxsploitation genre by a few years and its fairly explicit sex scenes between Brown and Welch less than two years into the MPAA newfound permissiveness, it would be interesting to know how the picture fared in the American South, and how much of their romance was cut for network television airings.
All three leads were flirting with major stardom though at this point none could really carry a film on their own. Former NFL star Brown is okay but third-billed Burt Reynolds' flamboyant outlaw, an antecedent to the kind of flippant roles he'd play at the height of his stardom a decade later, is the showier part.
Fox contract player Welch is hard to take seriously: she's tries her best but the role of a fiery, tough-talking rebel is beyond her abilities and the film constantly undermines her sincere efforts to be gritty and believable by sticking her in teasingly skimpy wardrobe (hip-hugging skirts, tops three sizes too small, etc.) and titillating situations, though Welch is undeniably incredibly sexy in this, so few would find this objectionable. (An actress like Linda Cristal would have been better suited to the part.) Still, the film isn't as good as Welch's other Westerns: the much underrated Bandolero! (1968) has a better script and characters, though Welch's part is smaller, while Hannie Caulder (available in Region 2 Japan, 1972), though uneven, is smarter and more entertainingly eccentric, and Welch is pretty sexy in that, too. (Also in the cast of 100 Rifles is beautiful Soledad Miranda, who unlike Welch appears nude.)
The most outrageous of these moments comes when the rebels ambush a trainload of Mexican soldiers, with Serita creating a diversion - and what a diversion it is - by openly showering under a water tower. This precedes an impressively realized battle between the soldiers and rebels, the kind of action director Gries (with an assist from 2nd Unit Director Chuck Roberson) did very well.
Jerry Goldsmith's score is outstanding, with a title tune hard to get out of your head days after watching the film.
Video & Audio
100 Rifles is presented in an impressive 16:9 transfer at 1.77:1 that approximates its original 1.85:1 release. The image is very good, with strong color (original prints by De Luxe) and a singularly sharp image that looks great on big TVs. Audio is offered in the original English mono, as well as an okay stereo remix, along with French and Spanish mono dubs. Optional subtitles in English and Spanish are included.
Supplements include a Production Stills Gallery, a Behind the Scenes Gallery, and a Poster and One-Sheet Gallery, all of which is more extensive than one usually gets from a major studio.
Also included is a 16:9 Theatrical Trailer, complete with text and narration, along with trailers for The Last Wagon (1956), The Culpepper Cattle Co. (1972), and Two Flags West (1950).
100 Rifles is the kind of popcorn Western once popular at the drive-ins. It delivers in terms of action and star power but quickly forgotten. It's not bad, just undistinguished.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes The Emperor and the Wolf - The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and Taschen's forthcoming Cinema Nippon. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.