The life of peaceful rancher John Benedict (William Holden) is torn apart when his family is massacred by a gang of marauding outlaws and his farm is destroyed. He assembles a team of mean, lawless convicts to act as his posse as he pursues the gang responsible for the deaths of his loved ones.
There is an acronym that I think is applicable to a lot of situations in life: KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid. Whether you're going on a date, heading up a big project at work, redesigning your home, or even making a movie - KISS works. In the case of making a film - particularly a Western - you don't want to overcook the goose with too many ideas. That isn't to say your characters should be thin or the situations they find themselves in morally uncomplicated, but when you have a simple story with simple but compellingly drawn characters, a late in the game morality Hail Mary pass just isn't needed. 1972's 'The Revengers' starring William Holden, Woody Strode, and Ernest Borgnine starts out as an earnest 'The Searchers' style revenge Western but then falls apart when too many "ideas" get dropped onto its shoulders in the last act.
Colorado territory may be wild, but it is slowly being tamed by men like John Benedict (William Holden) and his family. As a Civil War veteran who earned the congressional medal of honor - Benedict is a man who shies away from the spotlight and notoriety and would rather lead a peaceful life with his family on his ranch. Because of his medal, his 18-year-old son Morgan (James Daughton) is automatically accepted into West Point should he pass the physical examinations. Reluctantly Benedict gives his son his blessing to go. On the day his son is to leave Benedict heads into the hills to claim the hide of a mountain lion his son wounded the day before. When he's attacked by a band of renegade natives and Comancheros, Benedict returns to his farm to learn that his wife, his two sons and his two daughters had been savagely massacred. As Benedict's ranch hand tells him with his dying breath, the band was lead by whites, one of the men with a pure white eye.
With anger and revenge filling his every thought, Benedict rides out with the Sheriff's posse to catch these men and bring them to justice. Unfortunately, justice rides only so far. When they reach the Texas Territory line, the Sheriff and his men must return leaving Benedict to ride on alone. When he gets into Mexico he learns the whereabouts of the white-eyed man who calls himself Tarp (Warren Vanders). In order to breach the compound and kill the dozens of men under Tarp's command, Benedict is going to need a group of men with nothing left to live for. Under the guise that he's hiring cheap labor for a mine, Benedict hires a team of criminals as his own personal army. With help from Cholo (Jorge Martinez de Hoyos), Benedict finds the men he needs with the runaway slave Job (Woody Strode), the con man Hoop (Ernest Borgnine), the brutish German called Zweig (Reinhard Kolidehoff), the silent but deadly Quiberon (Roger Hanin) and the master assassin gunfighter Chamaco (Jorge Luke).
At first the men are content with their newly found freedom, clothes, and horses and decide to ride off leaving Benedict in the dust. But when a man has nothing to live for, a man's journey for justice seems like a righteous cause worth fighting for. Together the band travels all over the country chasing Tarp and his men. As the days, weeks, and months pass, each man in their own way will question the meaning of justice and the nature of vengeance. For Benedict, what he learns about himself in the process may lead him to a new and frightening understanding of the violent man he has become.
Perhaps the best way to describe 'The Revengers' is as a combination of the best elements of 'The Searchers,' 'The Magnificent Seven,' and 'The Dirty Dozen' only the mixture almost has too much flavor for its own good. While the cast is absolutely fantastic and William Holden does what he's always done well by playing the gruff commander, the movie itself has a tough time figuring out tone. Director Daniel Mann certainly knows how to stage thrilling shootouts and he also has a knack for bringing together some beautiful character moments, but for some reason these two elements never congealed correctly.
On one hand, 'The Revengers' is a serious character-driven Western/Drama, but on the other hand it wants to be a light and playful Action/Comedy. These two dynamics are frequently at odds with each other. As a sonic indicator of the tonal inconsistency is the film's score by Pino Calvi. The music in the film feels like it's going for an Elmer Bernstein 'Magnificent Seven' vibe, but in the process seems to have cribbed too much from Henry Mancini's 'Peter Gunn.' Perhaps the most clear-cut example of this film's struggle is with Susan Hayward and her character as the nurse Elizabeth Reilly. She's here to not only bind Benedict's physical wounds but his mental angst as well. That would have been fine if 'The Revengers' was 'The Searchers' but it's not. This late second act character beat is out of place and is then virtually forgotten for the final act only to come back as part of a very cliched ending.
Taken as a whole, I will say that I did enjoy 'The Revengers', but for the cast involved and how the story was set up, I was more than a bit disappointed with how the film came to a close. Even with its struggles with the ideas and themes surrounding revenge and justice, I found the film to be an overall rousing good bit of entertainment. Had I gone into this one with that in mind I may have come out of it liking it better than I did. It's certainly not the worst Western out there, but I can think of a few other movies from that genre I would watch before taking this one off my shelf, and one of them in particular - 'The Wild Bunch' - stars Holden and Borgnine.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Revengers' makes its Blu-ray debut thanks to Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics line. Pressed onto a BD25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard Blu-ray case and opens directly to the main menu.
Given the 40 year age of the film, 'The Revengers' actually makes for a very pleasing 2.35:1 1080p transfer to Blu-ray. It is a fair estimate that this transfer was minted from an older master, but thankfully the quality doesn't suffer all that badly. The print is in strong shape with only mild speckling here and there. The only notable damage, and where I wonder if this print wasn't assembled from different elements, is towards the end where there are a few brief establishing shots of the army of Native Americans just before they're about to attack. Thankfully these shots are only a second or two long but they're hit with some tough speckling and some very noticeable scratches. With film grain retained, the detail levels and colors for this disc are absolutely fantastic. Each character has a unique look and they come through with wonderful clarity. Black levels are appropriately inky with strong shadow separation offering a notable sense of depth to the image. The only thing really bringing down my score for this transfer is the edge enhancement. It isn't so serious as to cause other anomalies, but there are times that this image looks way too crisp and crunchy.
With an English DTS-HD 2.0 track, 'The Revengers' earns some strong marks in the audio department. Imaging is the real highlight here as this is a film that maintains a feeling of vast space. Whether the men are riding through the desert or over a rocky hillside, the sound feels like it's filling up a lot of wide open space as footfalls, gusts of wind, and the abundant sounds of gunfire echo around. Dialogue is clean and clear ensuring that you never struggle to hear what is happening. Gunshots are appropriately bombastic as are the numerous explosions during the big climactic battle. Levels are pitch perfect so you shouldn't have to monitor your volume levels. All around this is a very strong audio track for a catalogue release.
Trailer: (SD 2:21) A very dated and aged trailer - makes you really appreciate the condition the main feature is in. All around a decent trailer that sets the movie up well enough.
I love a good Western, and 'The Revengers' is a pretty decent one at that, but in the end it really isn't anything special. While it's certainly worth watching, there are better entries in the genre out there that should command your attention. With that, Kino Lorber has done a good job bringing 'The Revengers' to Blu-ray with a solid AV presentation. With only a trailer for an extra feature, I'm left to call this one as being worth a look. It's a fine film but as I said, there are other better flicks you should catch up on first.