Here are my thoughts on Land Raiders:
A ‘B’ movie with delusions of grandeur, Land Raiders fails to live up to some opening promise and simply resolves everything in a by-the-numbers exercise in which most of the cast get killed. The main conflict is between two Mexican-American brothers, Vince and Paul, who hate each other. There is a cursory attempt to make this hatred a Vietnam allegory since, at one point, Vince refers to those that oppose his efforts to wipe out the Apache as “bleeding hearts” (thus identifying him with Nixon). Vince, the older brother, has anglicised his name and married a white woman in a bid to ingratiate himself with the Anglo ruling classes. Vince has a huge cattle ranch but, enough never bring enough, Vince incites an Indian war as an excuse to terrify the local small farmers so he can buy up their land at bargain prices. As Vince, Savalas does not attempt to look or act Mexican but instead acts like Telly Savalas. It is fair to say that Savalas gives an entertaining reading which features the actor dominating all of the other performers. One suspects that Savalas just did whatever he liked and director Nathan Juran had little control over the star. Savalas’ performance provides most of the reason for watching Land Raiders despite being somewhat anachronistic for the period. Younger brother Paul (or Pablo) is supposed to be the film’s nominal hero but is nevertheless portrayed as a typical Latino hot-head who has serious issues in his dealings with the female characters. Paul hits his girlfriend, Louisa, when he discovers she is not a virgin and, later, attempts to rape his sister-in-law, Martha, after an argument which reveals an unrequited attraction between the two (Paul does stop the attack before rape occurs). Audiences nowadays are unlikely to view Paul’s violence towards the women in the cast with the same sympathy for him as seems to have been intended back in 1968. Paul hates his brother for seducing Louisa and has fled the family home after rumours that he (Paul) murdered Louisa, discovered dead in a small lake. Conveniently, Paul returns to Forge River just as Vince’s plans are bearing fruition. As Paul, Maharis puts on an exaggerated Mexican accent drawing out words longer than necessary such as ‘leeetal’ (little) and therefore fails to make as much impact as Savalas. Predictably, it transpires that Vince murdered Louisa and it is Paul’s discovery of this which motivates Paul to try and kill his brother rather than Vince’s responsibility for the numerous other deaths in the narrative. Paul’s attempt to kill Vince is curtailed by the arrival of Indians, a plot device possibly used to avoid the film’s hero becoming too unsympathetic.
The first half of the film features a number of clever editorial transitions. Flashbacks, in which the edges of the frame are fogged, are triggered by incidents in similar or identical locations. Several scenes end with an action which starts the subsequent scene (in one example, a scene finishes with a character throwing a rifle out of frame whilst the next scene begins with a character catching a rifle). These transitions tend to be jettisoned in the second half as if Juran simply gave up on this technique as the production gathered pace or ran out of time. The film’s finale gives up its pretensions and concludes that violence is the answer to everything. Trying to speed matters up, Vince murders a government official and blames it on Indians (a trick also used recently in Apache Rifles) thus inciting the inhabitants of Forge River to rise up and conduct a Sand Creek-like massacre of a local Apache village (the dialogue refers to Sand Creek in case audiences have missed the parallel). One assumes that this massacre is also intended as a commentary on Vietnam. In the subsequent Apache reprisal, Forge River is put to the torch and Vince is filled with arrows, his dream of wold domination in tatters. The Apache chief seems to know that Vince is responsible for events and the Indians depart as soon as they kill Vince. How they know this, since there has been no interaction between Vince and the Indians, is not revealed. The Apaches, played by Spanish extras, are literally silent throughout and do nothing except kill and be killed. The ending, with the town in flames, Vince’s ranch also ruined, and Paul and his new squeeze riding away from the devastation, is almost Hammer Horror-esque and a typical piece of nilhilism from the Vietnam War period. Everyone is flawed and corrupt and nothing is worthy of survival and the Nixonian Vince has brought destruction down on himself by his ‘total war’ policy.
Pictorially, the film looks like an American western rather than a Spaghetti western. It lacks the visual flourishes which characterised the post-Leone films made in Spain such as extreme close-ups and also contains a the high number of native English speakers in the cast. Bruno Nicolai’s score is an exception and virtually indistinguishable in places from an Ennio Morricone opus. There is a lot of violence although, apart from a shot in which Indians rip-off a woman’s top exposing her breasts (easy to edit out if local censors insist), it is relatively restrained compared to some other films of the period. Scalpings occur out of frame, the Indian village massacre shows no explicit murders of women and children (unlike in Soldier Blue or Little Big Man made the following year) and Vince and his associate, Carney, are disposed of in a chaste way by arrows rather than by anything more visceral.
The original story, credited to the husband and wife team of Jesse Lasky and Pat Silver, may have been sitting on the shelves at Columbia for some time as the couple were not that active in this period. One suspects that the material was re-worked quite significantly by Ken Pettus. Former Untouchable Paul Picerni plays two roles, a Gringo and a Mexican, and is billed in the credits twice; both under both his own name and as ‘HP Picerni’.