Released by: Kino Lorber
Released on: November 22nd, 2016.
Director: Tom Gries
Cast: Burt Reynolds, Raquel Welch, Jim Brown
Year: 1969 Purchase From Amazon
Released at the height of the Spaghetti Western boom that was sweeping cinemas around the world in the late sixties, it's clear from the opening credits of Tom Gries' 1969 picture 100 Rifles that he's not even trying to hide the influence that the Italians had on this film. The opening credits, done in bright and colorful animation, are clearly intended to replicate the same vibe that Sergio Leone managed to conjure up and Jerry Goldsmith’s score, while stopping short of aping Morricone and Ortolani, has a more exotic jangle to it than you might expect given his other work.
100 Rifles is, however, a very American film.
The story take place in Arizona and introduces us to a deputy named Lyedecker (Jim Brown) as he heads south of the border to Mexico hoping to bring back a wanted man named Joe Herrera (Burt Reynolds), a storied bank robber of mixed Caucasian and native Indian birth. What Lyedecker doesn’t know is that Joe’s spent the six grand that he stole from his latest mark on one hundred rifles which he’s donated to the rebels standing up to the fascist General Verdugo (Fernando Lamas). Verdugo has teamed up with a German military man named Lieutenant Franz Von Klemme (Eric Braeden) and a robber baron type named Steven Grimes (Dan O'Herlihy) who works for the Southern Pacific Railroad. They’re completely okay with whipping out all the natives in the area if it helps them make a few bucks and get what they want.
So maybe Joe isn’t so bad after all, right? Things get a bit more complicated when one of the rebels, a gorgeous woman named Sarita (Raquel Welch), is captured by Verdug and his cronies. She and her father are charged with conspiracy and the old man is put to death – but Joe shows up at the right place and at the right time. As such, she’s sprung. Lyedecker is still hanging about, however, and he hasn’t forgotten that he was sent to Mexico for one reason – and that reason is to bring Joe back and see that justice is served.
The cast are fun in this picture. Jim Brown makes a really solid good guy. We know he doesn’t want to get mixed up in Mexican revolutionary politics, but we know that he will – particularly once he and Welch’s character hook up. Reynolds doesn’t really stretch here as an actor but he does what he does here well, he’s the rascally type with a good sense of humor and he’s all full of charm and smile. Welch is a stunner to look at here, a really beautiful woman, though she’s miscast in her part. She gives it her all but she’s just not really all that believable in the role, no matter how fun to look at she might be. There are some interesting supporting players here as well, like Fernando Lamas, Eric Braeden (credited under his real name of Hans Gudegast) and Michael Forest. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the late Soledad Miranda, star of some of Jess Franco’s finest efforts, has a small supporting role, sans clothes, in this picture as a ‘hotel girl.’
The action scenes are the main draw here. They’re well staged and exciting, lots of shoot outs and fights and brawling – it fits the story well. The revolutionary angle of the story is underplayed but the plot moves at a good pace. The Spanish locations stand in for Mexico well enough and are nicely photographed and Goldsmith’s score is a good one.
100 Rilfes debuts on Blu-ray from Kino in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 widescreen. This isn’t a reference quality HD transfer by any stretch but it’s decent and the detail is there more often than not. Sometimes the grain is heavier and thicker in certain scenes than others and color reproduction can vary as well, which is a bit odd. This probably comes down to the source material available. Print damage is present throughout but it’s not severe nor particularly distracting. Black levels are good and there aren’t any compression artifacts to note, nor are there any obvious instances of noise reduction or edge enhancement. Some restoration work would probably have helped here but we didn’t get that. This is still considerably better than what DVD could provide, however.
The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, in English. There are no alternate language options or subtitles provided. The dialogue sounds fine and although the gunshots don’t pack as much punch as they probably should, the score absolutely benefits from the lossless audio format. Those caterwauling vocals sound really good here and help to draw you into the film quite a bit.
Lee Pfeiffer joins film historians Eddy Friedfeld and Paul Scrabo for the best extra on the disc with a genuinely interesting commentary track. Here they talk about the influence of the Spaghetti Western boom that was happening around the time this picture was made, the tensions that arose on set between cast members, Gries’ directing style, the locations, the score and more.
Outside of that we get an animated still gallery, a trailer for the feature, menus and chapter selection.
The Final Word:
100 Rifles is a bit tough to take seriously but it has a great cast and some memorable action set pieces to complement a few scenes of overwrought drama. Throw in some surprising moments of sexual tension, a few great action scenes, a fantastic Jerry Goldsmith score and decent production values and this one makes for great entertainment. Kino’s Blu-ray presents the movie in very nice shape with a fine commentary as its chief extra feature.
Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!