Obviously influenced by the popularity of the Spaghetti Westerns of the sixties, Buzz Kulick's Villa Rides is an interesting mix of stylish Italian influenced cinematography and the kind of gritty, violent fare that co-writer Sam Peckinpah was known for handling so well. It's a fairly pessimistic film that doesn't paint good and bad in shades of black or white, rather it show both sides of its central conflict as inherently flawed.
An entrepreneurial American pilot named Lee Arnold (Robert Mitchum) conveniently borrows a plane that he uses to smuggle guns into Mexico to sell to the Federales. When he lands, his landing gear gets messed up and while the town blacksmith works his magic on the plane, Lee meets a sexy local lady named Fina (Grazia Buccella). They hit it off and Arnold is understandably upset when a Federale officer named Ramirez (Frank Wolff) rapes the poor girl. To make matters worse, Ramirez follows this up by shooting a handful of men, one of whom is Fina's dear old dad.
Once that nastiness is over with, Poncho Villa (Yul Brenner) and his rebels attack the town. Once they take control they take Arnold's cash and sentence him to death courtesy of Villa's right hand man, Fierro (Charles Bronson). Before Fierro pulls the trigger, however, Arnold convinces Villa to let him live and employ him as a bombardier. Things get even more complicated when an attack goes wrong and Villa decides to marry Fina. Another local general, Huerta (Herbert Lom) aims to take down Villa and his army, President Maedro tries to keep Villa in check, but it's all about to hit the fan and Arnold is stuck in the middle.
It's odd and a bit of a shame that most of Buzz Kulick's work was for television and not the silver screen as he shows a real knack for 'epic' cinema with this film. His experience on shows like Rawhide and Gunsmoke probably helped, as it gave him some familiarity with the western but Villa Rides is a surprisingly neglected film considering the talent attached to the project. The picture isn't a perfect one, the script has pacing problems in the middle part and politics are put in front of character development, but there's enough to like about the film that it should be better known than it is.
Mitchum, Brenner and Bronson all exude fantastic screen presence in this picture, and the latter two actors bring a nice sense of menace to their parts. Likewise, supporting performances from the likes of Herbert Lom and Grazia Bruccella are really strong and help to round out the cast nicely. A bit more background on Arnold would have been nice, we know he's a money hungry American who will do anything for a dollar but that's about it. However Mitchum is good enough in the lead that even if his character isn't that interesting, at least he's enjoyable. That said, Mitchum seems to be playing Mitchum. This isn't one of his stand out performances and its carried more by his natural charisma and charm than his actual performance.
Flawed or not, the film is at least an entertaining and well shot movie. The three leads are great, the action battle scenes are fantastic and the score is fun. The cinematography is nice and the picture plays around with some interesting political themes and ideas even if it never completely exploits them to their fullest extent. Not an unsung classic per se, but definitely a solid entry in the American western filmography of the era.The DVD:
Villa Rides debuts on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 2.35.1 widescreen transfer in 1080p high definition that looks to preserve the film's original aspect ratio. Overall the presentation is okay, if a bit on the soft side. There is some slightly distracting shimmer in the background of some scenes and some noticeable telecine wobble. There isn't any real print damage to complain about. Color reproduction looks appropriately earthy though at times skin tones look a little too red. There's a bit of wear and tear in some spots but for the most part this is a pretty nice looking picture that seems free of overzealous edge enhancement but it is soft in spots and it looks like some noise reduction has sapped some of the grain out of the image resulting in some fairly smooth looking skin and a loss in detail.Sound:
An English language DTS-HD Mon track is provided for the film and it sounds fine. Some very minor hiss is present in a couple of spots but if you're not listening for it you're probably not going to notice it. The score sounds quite solid here and gunshots pack an appropriate punch. At the same time the film's dialogue stays clean and clear and levels are properly balanced throughout the picture. Optional English subtitle are provided but there are no alternate language options available.Extras:
Extras? Just static menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
A solid, gritty western, Villa Rides deserved some supplemental love but even with that strike against it, this release is very welcome. The transfer isn't perfect but it's at least a step up from the previous barebones DVD release that came out some years ago. Recommended more on the strength of the movie than the presentation.