The Bravados (1958)
Peck says Arriba-Derci to Killers
"The Bravados" is a very good western which could have been great if it wasn't for one piece of casting and that is of Joan Collins as a Latino love interest. It's a stereotypical element to a western but Collins just looks out of place as a woman who runs a ranch, too perfect if you know what I mean. Aside from that annoyance, "The Bravados" is a better than average western as whilst it delivers what on the surface is a stereotypical revenge movie it has other levels of intrigue and ambiguity as well as an ending which is particularly surprising. And it is a piece of casting which helps make it better than average as Gregory Peck is brilliant as the mysterious and conflicted Jim Douglas, hell bent on seeing justice done against 4 men.
Having spent 6 months on the trail of 4 men who raped and murdered his wife, Jim Douglas (Gregory Peck - The Million Pound Note) makes the 100 mile trek to Rio Arriba where the 4 men are due to be hung for shooting up the bank. But the night before their execution the men escape and take a woman hostage as they ride through the hills. With the outraged townsfolk forming a posse, Douglas calmly joins them and sets about tracking the escaped men down to answer to his accusations that they killed his wife.
On face value "The Bravados" does play like a stereotypical western, one which is all about justice as we watch Jim Douglas arrive in Rio Arriba to witness 4 men being hung. But at the same time there is a sense of mystery about Douglas because initially we do not know why he is so keen to watch these men hang. Rather than serving the reasons for his interest in their executions up in one hit we are drawn into his story bit by bit. When he meets old flame Josefa Velarde we discover that he was married and has a young daughter but his wife is dead, causing us to second guess what happened to her. And as the movie progresses we discover more about what actually happened to her, confirming our suspicions that he holds these four men responsible.
But here is the thing, when Douglas goes to see them in prison the night before they are due to hang not a single one of them knows him. And when they escape, in what is an obvious twist, we watch as Douglas hunts them down, catching up to them one at a time and each time being told that they didn't know him or his wife. It makes us question what is actually going on, are these 4 men guilty of rape and murder or is Douglas after the wrong men just looking for someone to blame for the loss of his wife. And it is this level of intrigue which makes "The Bravados" more than just another western especially the ending which leads Douglas to become even more conflicted than when he was hunting them down.
Aside from level of intrigue "The Bravados" also serves up all the expected aspects of a good western especially when it focuses on Douglas tracking the prisoners down following their escape from prison. We get the tracking through the mountains, the gun fights and murders as well as a couple of gritty surprises. But whilst delivering these typical western aspects they are made greater because they are delivered with some thought. Instead of just getting gun fights there is a cleverness to them as Douglas outwits the men he is following, using the angry posse from Rio Arriba as cover to get to the men and face them so that he can question them. It makes "The Bravados" so much more than just a western with action and in doing so makes it far more entertaining and interesting.
A big reason why "The Bravados" works is because Gregory Peck is magnificent as Jim Douglas making him a fascinating character. It maybe stereotypical that when we meet Douglas he is tight lipped about his reasons for journeying 100 miles to see 4 men hang but Peck makes it all very intriguing. We want to learn what makes this strong, silent man, obviously emotionally scarred by something, want to see 4 men hang and we can appreciate that he is conflicted by it. And it is because of Peck all of this works delivering a performance which is just short of being captivating.
It's a good thing that everyone else in "The Bravados" ends up being a supporting character because the performances are easily over shadowed by Gregory Peck. Having said that Lee Van Cleef as one of the escaped prisoners that Douglas Hunts down and confronts achieves a sense of squirming when he is out witted without it becoming comical and the final confrontation between Douglas and Lujan is pretty special partly down to Henry Silva who under plays his character quite brilliantly.
But sadly it is the casting of Joan Collins as old flame Josefa Velarde and love interest which leaves a blemish on "The Bravados". You accept the character because you expect a love interest but whilst Collins has a sexiness about her she is just too prim and proper to be believable as a woman who runs a ranch and rides horses. And with her characters name suggesting a Latino heritage Joan Collins just can't convey Latino or at least not in this movie making it a weakness in what otherwise is a very enjoyable western.
What this all boils down to is that "The Bravados" is a surprisingly good western which breathes life into the stereotypical revenge storyline. It serves up a nice level of intrigue which blends perfectly with the expected western elements and bucks the trend when it comes to the ending. The only annoyance is the miscasting of Joan Collins as whilst a fine actress is plainly wrong to be playing a Latino love interest.
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