The Desperados (1969)
Director: Henry Levin
Cast: Vince Edwards, Jack Palance, George Maharis
Synopsis: During the Civil War, Josiah Galt, a former parson, and his sons David, Jacob and Adam, become a gang of bandits who plunder, rob and rape for pleasure.
The Desperados is an ill-advised American/British co-production – which explains the unlikely presence of such quintessentially British actors as Kenneth Cope and Kate O’Mara in the wild, wild west. As such, it suffers from the kind of messiness that is common to many international co-productions. And The Desperados is messy, a very messy movie, with very sloppy editing, gaping holes in the narrative, a leading man who appears to be in the throes of some kind of emotional numbness, and Jack Palance hamming it up for all he’s worth.
The somnolent Vince Edwards plays David Galt, the son of Confederate officer Josiah Galt (Jack Palance). As the American Civil war draws to a close, Josiah leads his sons and a renegade band of misfit soldiers on a series of raids on towns that descend over time into plundering missions during which the gang drunkenly rob banks, shoot townsfolk and rape women. David is growing increasingly uneasy about their actions, but it isn’t until he accidentally kills one of their own men during a raid and is sentenced to death by his own father that he decides to make a run for it.
Six years or so later, David has a wife (Sylvia Syms) and son (Benjamin Edney – Syms’ real-life son), and is leading a law-abiding life under the protection of surrogate father figure Marshal Kilpatrick (Neville Brand). Meanwhile, Josiah and his desperados – including two of David’s brothers – continue their reign of terror. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before their rampage takes them to the peaceful Texas town in which David has made his new life, setting the scene for a violent showdown.
The Desperados contains all the ingredients for a compelling story, and has, in Henry Levin, a reliable if unremarkable director, so it‘s surprising just how bad this movie really is. Part of the blame perhaps lies with writer Walter Brough, whose experience prior to this movie was confined to TV work; the characters are lifeless and one-dimensional, which perhaps paradoxically explains both Edwards’ apathy and Palance’s histrionics. Levin’s direction is workmanlike but adequate, and yet the abrupt narrative shifts suggests that perhaps elements of some scenes didn’t work and were subsequently dropped in post-production. The finale is unexpected, and something of a shock, suggesting that the roots of the story lie in Greek tragedy rather than Western lore, but, to be honest, it’s much too little far too late.
(Reviewed 13th July 2012)