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  Deadly Trackers, The Hunter Killer
Year: 1973
Director: Barry Shear
Stars: Richard Harris, Rod Taylor, Al Lettieri, Neville Brand, William Smith, Paul Benjamin, Pedro Armendáriz Jr, Isela Vega, Kelly Jean Peters, William Bryant, Sean Marshall, Read Morgan, Joan Swift, Ray Moyer, Armando Acosta, Pepe Chavez, Federico González
Genre: WesternBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: This is the small town of Santa Rosa, whose Sheriff Sean Kilpatrick (Richard Harris) was a pacifist proud of never having used a gun on anyone, setting an example for his young son. However, that was before the outlaw Frank Brand (Rod Taylor) and his gang of three criminals rode into town, setting their sights on the bank and looting the establishment; it was only when they made the mistake of murdering the manager that the townsfolk surrounded them, rifles trained on their heads. Unfortunately, Frank would not back down, for he had Kilpatrick's son as a hostage...

The Deadly Trackers had a troubled production history, having been started as a Samuel Fuller project: his name only remained as a credit for the storyline, although there was some dispute about just how much of his footage made it to the end result. Probably not a lot, as television director Barry Shear, who made occasional big screen efforts such as Across 110th Street, was brought in to salvage proceedings which thanks to him not having the critical cachet of Fuller had him judged as a poor substitute from the moment he stepped into his shoes.

Whether this would have been a great film if Fuller had completed it is doubtful, as his friction with his cast among other things didn't see everyone seeming terribly enthusiastic about the project, and for all its moves towards making grand statements about the pursuit of revenge and how to deal with violence in a supposed civilised society, it didn't have the courage of its convictions once the behind the scenes issues had been ironed out. In one of his surprisingly numerous Westerns, Harris went through one of his usual ordeals, as if this was A Man Called Horse without the Indians, with both son and wife (Kelly Jean Peters) lost to Brand's schemes.

Therefore he regards himself as judge, jury and executioner, making this yet another seventies movie where a lead character sets out to avenge himself after his loved ones are attacked, though by this stage audiences were getting to like seeing these in a modern day setting rather than a Western one, with even the Spaghetti Westerns which might ordinarily have taken this plot beginning to pall. The biggest bonus this had was Taylor's charismatic yet smarmy villain, the sort you would genuinely enjoy seeing receiving their commeuppance after all their bad behaviour; though he wasn't actually in this as much as you would expect, what scenes he was in he made count.

Brand's gang were interesting too, composed of William Smith as a musclebound simpleton, Paul Benjamin as the sole black character of any note, an intelligent man whose link with Brand is never explained unless he didn't have alternative options, and finally and perhaps most memorably Neville Brand as Choo-Choo. Why was he called that? It wasn't for his love of Hornby models, it was thanks to his missing hand having been replaced by a section of railway track, which must have given him terrible posture problems, though he doesn't seem to be bothered when he can smash heads (and watermelons) with it. As to the themes, they dwindled the further The Deadly Trackers went on, with supposed conscience Al Lettieri making a late appearance as a Mexican lawman hunting Brand both aiding and hampering Kilpatrick, but not doing enough in what remained of Fuller's script to convey the futility of getting your own back with bloodlust. The role reversal finale was too pat. Music by Fred Steiner, with some of Jerry Fielding's The Wild Bunch score.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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