1969 saw the release of two westerns that featured Americans dabbling in the Mexican revolution. Both pictures involved hijacked arms shipments, trains, advancing technology, European military advisers and elaborately staged shootouts with the Federales. One, of course, was Sam Peckinpah’s seminal, genre-defining masterpiece The Wild Bunch - the other was Tom Gries’ popcorn entertainment 100 Rifles. Since copious amounts of scholarly writing has already been devoted to the former, I’m going to look at the latter.
A year before, Tom Gries had directed the thoughtful and elegiac Will Penny - his next project was a distinct departure. 100 Rifles tells of Lyedecker, an American lawman (Jim Brown), who ventures south of the border in pursuit of Yaqui Joe (Burt Reynolds) who has stolen a consignment of weapons – the hundred rifles of the title. The guns are to be presented to the Yaqui Indians to assist them in their struggle against the Mexican authorities. Naturally, the Federales – led by a thoroughly sadistic Fernando Lamas – are keen to acquire these rifles for themselves. And there you have it. Will Lyedecker carry out his sworn duty and bring Joe back for trial? Will he be seduced by the plight of the Yaqui? Will the Federales beat them all to the chase? By the time the movie hurtles along to its grandstand climax all those questions have been resolved.
All the main players give amiable performances here with likable heroes and hissable villains. Burt Reynolds may not be the greatest actor in the world, but it’s hard not to like him on screen. Jim Brown is merely passable and Fernando Lamas is suitably vile. Dan O’Herlihy is always watchable as the railroad boss with shifting allegiances. But the real standout here is Raquel Welch as the revolutionary, Sarita. The scene where she stops a whole trainload of Federales as she takes a shower under a water tower is reason enough to see this film on its own!
OK, so this isn’t the best western you’ll ever see but its heart is in the right place, there’s more than enough action to satisfy, and Jerry Goldsmith’s score suits the mood of the piece perfectly. Available in a great looking anamorphic transfer from Fox in R1.