Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Take a Hard Ride (1975)

          Despite featuring several interesting B-movie personalities and despite having a solid story premise, the European-made Western Take a Hard Ride never realizes its potential. Part of the problem has to do with audience expectations. Since the movie features blaxploitation stars Jim Brown, Jim Kelly, and Fred Williamson—as well as spaghetti-Western stalwart Lee Van Cleef—the obvious approach would have been to combine the actors into a fighting unit for a Magnificent Seven-style flick. Alas, Take a Hard Ride is essentially a Brown-Williamson buddy picture in which Kelly and Van Cleef, among others, play supporting roles. Worse, director Antonio Margheriti employs a hacky visual style that makes every scene feel haphazard and rushed. The picture is watchable, but it gets awfully dull after a while, especially because Brown and Williamson end up playing repetitive variations on the exact same scene for most of the film’s middle hour.
          The story hook is simple enough. Black gunslinger Pike (Brown) accompanies his white boss, rancher Bob Morgan (Dana Andrews), to the end of a cattle drive, where Morgan gets paid $86,000 in cash. After Morgan has a fatal heart attack, the sterling Pike vows to return the money to Morgan’s widow. Unfortunately, once Pike sets off on his journey, various criminals get wind of his cargo and conspire to ambush him. One such outlaw, slick gambler Tyree (Williamson), saves Pike from an attacker and subsequently accompanies Pike on the trail—even though Tyree says outright that he plans to rob Pike once they reach the Mexican border. Another pursuer is Kiefer (Van Cleef), a bounty hunter who eventually gathers a small army of money-hungry varmints to chase after Pike. There’s also a subplot involving an ex-hooker, Catherine (Catherine Spaak), whom Pike and Tyree rescue from rapists—she joins Pike’s group, as does her mute Indian sidekick, Kashtok (Kelly).
          Considering that Take a Hard Ride is basically a chase movie, it’s amazing how little excitement the narrative generates. The script is filled with dull scenes of Pike and Tyree challenging each other, and the supporting characters are under-utilized; for instance, Kiefer spends most of the picture standing on ridges and squinting while other people get into fights. And speaking of the movie’s numerous battles, none is novel or surprising—think standard fire-and-duck shootouts, with the minor exception of quick bits during which Kelly takes down attackers with karate and throwing knives. If one struggles for a compliment, it could be noted that Take a Hard Ride has better production values that most movies starring Van Cleef or Williamson—but that’s not saying much.

Take a Hard Ride: FUNKY

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