THE GLORY GUYS
stumbled charged across the screen in 1965, but it had been written as screenplay five years earlier by new poke on the block Sam Peckinpah. His first movie directorial gigs, the dismal The Deadly Companions and the masterful but ignored Ride The High Country didn’t snare him the pilot seat on this cavalry epic: that job went to Arnold Laven, who was a much better producer than director, and while there are a few swipes of Sam in the script, there’s darn little of his flair with actors or atmosphere.
Basically a refashioning of the Little Big Horn fiasco, chiefly the Reno Hill part of the fight, the slow build to the action finale goes through a leaden array of stock military and western cliches, most of which are ridiculous, especially when the two leading men engage in a corny fight over the main gal. In a movie that erstwhile poses at being a tough drama, the stupid low-comedy demolishing of Senta Berger’s home by suitors Tom Tryon and Harve Presnell wheezes out film hijinks done fifteen years earlier.
Those leads are weak and miscast, and there is awful hamboning from a 25-year-old clod named James Caan, murdering an Irish accent badly enough to turn the sound down. Also on board is everywhere-that-year kid Michael Anderson Jr.*
While there is decent work from Andrew Duggan, playing against his usual good-guyness as the messianic Custer-figure, and typical meanie Adam Williams being amiable for a change, the best acting in the movie, in the best role, is belted from Slim Pickens as the tough-but-fair sergeant who whips the recruits into enough shape to get decimated by the acres of Mexican extras playing Indians.
There are a lot of those riders, in cavalry blue or feathers & war paint during the big, noisy, and fairly effective wipeout that decides who will get the girl and the last lines of dialogue.
Photographed by James Wong Howe, the broad vistas (around Durango, Mexico) and swarming action are eye-filling. Booming gunshot effects add their measure. Offbeat title tune by the prolific (229 credits) Italian composer Riz Ortolani starts the 112 minutes off with a roar. Ortolani was in vogue at the time, thanks to his memorable Oscar-nominated theme from Mondo Cane, and recent gigs scoring The 7th Dawn and The Yellow Rolls Royce. His music has no traditional western feel, but like more famous fellow Italian Ennio Morricone he exhibited a flair for the outsized dramatic that brought some fresh sound to the prairie.
On view in the cast are Peter Breck (about to start The Big Valley ), Wayne Rogers, Jeanne Cooper and Paul Birch.
*The critical and financial failure of this western didn’t help the big-screen paths of Tryon or Presnell, but gamecock Caan kept clutching away until he found his gear seven years later with Brian’s Song and The Godfather. Anderson was on view during 1965 as one of the disciples in The Greatest Story Ever Told, as John Wayne’s mouthy kid brother in The Sons Of Katie Elder and in the very good cavalry western that Sam Peckinpah directed just ahead of & instead of this—Major Dundee: also in Mexico, and also featuring Ms. Berger and Mr. Pickens. Peckinpah pretty much disowned this movie, harping on the lead players, and he no doubt had some scabs raked by its direction being awarded to Arnold Laven, with whom he’d helped conceive Laven’s hit series The Rifleman. Ticked over what he saw as a bungle of his Custer script, the mercurial Sam was further wounded by studio interference on Dundee, and the double whammy was then compounded by getting fired from The Cincinnati Kid, resulting in being ostracized from the business. The mad and maddening Senor Peckinpah would eventually return to “Mexico lindo” and “play his string right out to the end” four years down the pike(Bishop) with The Wild Bunch.