Friday, May 20, 2011

The Deadly Trackers (1973)

This brutal Western began life as a project for writer-director Samuel Fuller, but the tough-guy auteur was reportedly canned after butting heads with leading man Richard Harris. Although Harris’ volatility produced his fascinating screen persona, the Irish-born actor’s out-of-control alcoholism and violent temper made him a monster of a collaborator during this era—and also more or less eliminated subtlety as a performance option. In other words, The Deadly Trackers is yet another picture in which Harris screams most of his role. The story concerns a sheriff (Harris) chasing the bank robbers who killed his family. Harris’ character is accompanied on his journey by a Mexican cop (Al Lettieri) who doesn’t share his bloodlust, and there’s quite a bit of chatter about Harris’ character being a pacifist. There’s also some attempt at exploring moral relativism by contrasting the righteous indignation of the Harris character with the rampant greed of the lead bank robber (Rod Taylor). What this thematic material was like in Fuller’s original vision is anybody’s guess, but in the final product, the pacifism element is merely an excuse for cheap slow-burn tension predicated on the question of how far Harris’ character will go for revenge. Since stories about gunfighters who don’t really want to draw their weapons are as old as the Western genre, there’s nothing here that viewers haven’t seen before, and as usually happens when directors are changed partway through production, the film lacks coherence and drive. So while there are a few intense confrontations and the picture has a handful of reliable B-movie supporting players (including the indestructible William Smith as an especially savage crook named “Schoolboy”), everything about this mean-spirited misfire is so trite that the picture disappears from the brain as soon as it’s over.

The Deadly Trackers: SQUARE

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