Three Westerns from MGM
Escort West (May 9/05)
Set immediately after the Civil War, Escort West follows a Confederate solider named Ben (Victor Mature) as he travels West with his young daughter. But when a band of ruthless Indians attack and kill several Union officers, Ben must escort the only two survivors - Beth (Elaine Stewart) and Martha (Faith Domergue) - to safety. Despite the fact that it's exceedingly predictable and unevenly paced, Escort West is strangely compelling - though even at a running time of 76 minutes, the film does occasionally drag. That being said, Mature gives a forceful and engaging performance, while the inclusion of several surprisingly thrilling action sequences generally ensures that the movie is never entirely boring.
The Hunting Party
With its superb performances and admittedly stellar premise, The Hunting Party - by all rights - should've come off a whole lot better than it ultimately does. The film's failure can be attributed primarily to the unreasonably slow pace and surfeit of ridiculous plot twists, although there's no denying the effectiveness of certain elements within the storyline (the impressively downbeat conclusion, for one). Starring Oliver Reed as notorious bandit Frank Calder, The Hunting Party revolves around the pursuit that unfolds after Frank kidnaps the wife of brutal rancher Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman). Brandt, armed with the 18th century equivalent of a sniper rifle, tracks down Frank and his cronies and begins picking them off one by one - despite the fact that his wife has clearly fallen for her captor. It's apparent almost immediately that The Hunting Party's running time has been padded out with a substantial amount of needless sequences, with the end result a movie that's much longer than it needs to be and feels it. The screenplay, by Gilbert Alexander, William Norton, and Lou Morheim, contains more than a few laughably overwrought moments, and there's little doubt that the speed with which Brandt's wife devotes herself to Frank ranks as the most obvious example of this. Director Don Medford has clearly been inspired by The Wild Bunch (which was released only a couple of years earlier), as evidenced by the slow-motion cinematography and extensive use of squibs during the gun battles. The bottom line is that The Hunting Party just never quite takes off, though one can't help but admire Hackman's unabashedly villainous performance.
Invitation to a Gunfighter
Featuring an expectedly stiff performance from star Yul Brynner, Invitation to a Gunfighter is a slow-moving, almost unbearably talky Western that has little to offer even the most ardent fan of the genre. Set a few years after the end of the Civil War, the film casts Brynner as Jules Gaspard d'Estaing - an expert gunfighter who's commissioned to kill a former Confederate soldier (George Segal) by the shady mayor (Pat Hingle) of a small town. There's really not a whole lot worth recommending within Invitation to a Gunfighter, as the film suffers from an overlong running time and a curiously melodramatic vibe (something that's particularly true of the would-be romance that forms between Segal's character and a former sweetheart). The flawed premise - why can't the townspeople band together and kill this guy themselves? - only exacerbates matters, while Richard Wilson's bland directorial choices (coupled with the uniformly underwhelming performances) cements the movie's status as a thoroughly forgettable piece of work.