Sunday, January 22, 2012

Cult Movie Trash/Margheriti Madness: TAKE A HARD RIDE (1975)

(US/Spain - 1975) 

Directed by Anthony M. Dawson (Antonio Margheriti).  Written by Eric Bercovici and Jerry Ludwig.  Cast: Jim Brown, Lee Van Cleef, Fred Williamson, Catherine Spaak, Jim Kelly, Barry Sullivan, Dana Andrews, Harry Carey Jr, Robert Donner, Ricardo Palacios, Buddy Joe Hooker, Paul Costello. (PG, 103 mins)

For this US/Spanish co-production, though for all intents and purposes a major studio American film, Italian journeyman Antonio Margheriti somehow found himself at the helm of a blaxploitation/spaghetti western hybrid that reunited the stars (Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, and Jim Kelly), screenwriters (Eric Bercovici and Jerry Ludwig) and producer (Harry Bernsen) of the 1974 hit THREE THE HARD WAY, which might be my all-time favorite blaxploitation flick.  TAKE A HARD RIDE is a more serious film, and as a result, it's not nearly as much fun, but it's not deserving of the harsh words it's gotten over the years.

Jim Brown as Pike

When his employer Morgan (Dana Andrews) drops dead from a heart attack, trail boss Pike (Brown) has to get Morgan's $86,000 fortune down to Mexico, where Morgan's wife and their new business await.  It doesn't take long for word to spread throughout the region that a black man is traveling with $86,000, and every gunslinger and bandit in the vicinity tries to ambush the honorable Pike.  Foremost among them is ruthless bounty hunter Kiefer (Lee Van Cleef), but Pike gets some help when he's joined by fast-talking card cheat Tyree (Williamson), and later, by widowed ex-prostitute Catherine (Catherine Spaak) and mute martial-arts zen dude Kashtok (Kelly).

Fred Williamson as Tyree

TAKE A HARD RIDE is entertaining but unexceptional.  It never really takes advantage of the blaxploitation element, and it never feels like a spaghetti western, despite being directed by an Italian.  Margheriti brought along Riccardo Pallotini, his favorite cinematographer, but even with beautiful locations in Spain and the Canary Islands, the film is made in the bland, TV-movie style that many 1970s American studio films exhibited.  That's not to say it's badly-directed.  There's some nicely-done action sequences, which were always a Margheriti specialty particularly in his later jungle action pictures of the 1980s, but the film just has the workmanlike, personality-free sense of clock-punching, hired-gun professionalism that an Andrew V. McLaglen or a Burt Kennedy would've brought to the table.  Take out the African-American stars, the PG-level profanity, and a thoroughly unnecessary Harry Carey, Jr. ass shot, and this could've been made 20 years earlier with Randolph Scott and Dan Duryea with no discernible difference.  In an era of blaxploitation, Sergio Leone, and Sam Peckinpah, TAKE A HARD RIDE probably seemed like a dated relic the moment it was released.  With the exception of an unsettlingly ominous, synthy Morricone-styled cue for Van Cleef, even Jerry Goldsmith's score sounds like it belongs in a 1950s western.

Lee Van Cleef as Lee Van Cleef

As a follow-up to the insane THREE THE HARD WAY, TAKE A HARD RIDE is a disappointment.  But taken on its own terms, it's a decent-enough western that could've been a lot better but is still enjoyable nonetheless.  Brown and Van Cleef would reunite in 1977 for KID VENGEANCE, which was also released as TAKE ANOTHER HARD RIDE.  Van Cleef had already worked with Margheriti on 1974's kung-fu/spaghetti hybrid THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER (released in the US in 1976), and would reteam on several European films throughout the rest of the 1970s and the 1980s, most notably the superb 1978 NYC-shot heist thriller THE SQUEEZE.


  1. I agree with your take on this one: perfectly watchable, but disappointingly ordinary. The film's stunt coordinator, Hal Needham, has a small role at the beginning of the movie (his voice is badly dubbed) and is killed by Lee Van Cleef.

  2. The potential was there for some THREE THE HARD WAY craziness, and I wish the filmmakers would've cut loose a little more. How do you put Jim Kelly in a movie and make his character mute, thereby depriving us of Kelly's trademark howl of kung-fu constipation? It's a missed opportunity.