Take A Hard Ride (1975)
Director: Antonio Margheriti (as Anthony M. Dawson)
Writers: Eric Bercovici & Jerrold L. Ludwig
Starring: Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly, Lee Van Cleef and Jim Brown

The Plot: Kiefer (Lee Van Cleef) is a bounty hunter who takes his job perhaps a little too serious. We learn this by watching him gun down a good man who committed a crime decades in the past and has since certainly worked off his crime. He’s not a man concerned with justifying his line of work, he’s just concerned with doing it well. When Morgan, a wealthy rancher who is trying to move $86,000 to Mexico, dies of natural causes he leaves his best friend and ranch hand Pike (Jim Brown) in charge of this mission. This makes Pike one of the most wanted men in all of the old west. He soon meets up with the cunning and dangerous Tyree (Fred Williamson) who wants his own shot at the gold, but is willing to help carry the money to Mexico before making his play. Along the way these two stumble upon a family who have been slaughtered by cowboys. Amongst them is Kashtok (Jim Kelly), the Indian raised African American who uses his fists instead of a gun. This strange group of travelers are going to have to contend with every gun in the west, as well as the dangerous Kiefer, as they travel all of these lonely miles.

The Review
Many things can probably be said about director Antonio Margheriti, but I can’t imagine many people claiming him to have ever been a boring director. Like most Italian genre film directors during the seventies, he was a workman who took on whatever project was sent his way and during that time he worked with many of the more popular actors within his native Italy. It was during this time that he met Fred Williamson on the set of the original Inglorious Bastards, and the two seemingly hit it off in a big way. When it came time for the two to pair up yet again it would be in a co-production between American film studios and Italian benefactors with the spaghetti western title Take a Hard Ride, which seems to be the perfect combination of blaxploitation attitude and western archetype reconstruction via the spaghetti western subgenre. A film that is rarely dark, always fun and features some of the most charismatic actors of 1970’s era genre-film, Take a Hard Ride is a film made entirely for the sake of fun.

Margheriti had to be placed under a certain amount of stress, with this being his first American co-production, but you really wouldn’t think it while watching the film. Considering that studios generally hate experimentation since it breaks away from the patterns that have lead to success in the past, and this was true even in the pre-Jaws 1970’s, it’s interesting to see Margheriti do his best to hit all of the weird high notes that make up the Italian system for building a “Western”. Starting the film off with a massive close-up in the fashion that this film does, it almost seems almost like the entire film is intended as a love letter written specifically for Sergio Leone. Starting off on a close-up of Lee Van Cleef playing a harmonica, this long panning shot backs away in a moving fashion and we see that the camera has traveled through a wooden fence. The shot is complex for this sort of production and hardly seems to allude to any nerves on the part of Margheriti, who seems to enjoy playing with the genre while the producer’s backs are turned.

Although not nearly the dark epic that most of Leone’s westerns always turned out to be, Take a Hard Ride is instead much more taken by the comedy side of the business. Taking a page out of the They Call Me Trinity playbook, the movie becomes a much more slapstick affair and rides on the charisma of its two main stars: Fred “The Hammer” Williamson and Jim Brown. Although Jim Kelly receives equal billing and certainly shares a decent amount of screen time, since his character is unable to speak he never really gets to demonstrate his onscreen presence. So instead we saddle up with Williamson and Brown who have never really been better. Jim Brown is quiet and menacing, which probably wouldn’t be hard for any man his size, but he manages to actually craft a real character within this role and stands up well next to the much more outspoken Williamson. The character that Williamson plays, Tyree, is the perfect sort of loudmouth braggart for Williamson to slip into and make lovable, as only he could. Speaking with a really strange southern accent, “The Hammer” is absolutely brilliant here.

Although this is basically the Western version of the “chase movie” (See: Eat My Dust, Grand Theft Auto and Smokey Bites the Dust), the amount of genre veterans who were in their prime while working on this simply made it invulnerable to formula. Although he was a bit past his prime even at this point, Lee Van Cleef does an honorable job in servicing the film as well. At this point in his career he had started to look pretty old, but he had not yet become the pudgy version of himself that would be involved in the Master Ninja series. Still, when you see Cleef you immediately think “spaghetti western” and he is perfect in doing that for the movie. His character, who sports a long black duster, also works as another visual reminder of Sergio Leone’s work. Why it was needed, I certainly can’t say, but I enjoyed its presence.

The Conclusion
Although this isn’t a title that really deserves a lot of concise evaluation, it is still fairly great in its own right. It rides the dusty and well trodden hills of genre-convention, but it doesn’t get bogged down at any one given point. The cast are all spectacular in their roles and the movie on the whole is riddled with excitement. If there’s one thing that boosts this from being a three into the four territory, it has to be the chemistry between Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. These two steal the show and craft some truly great moments as their friendship unfurls before our eyes. Definitely search the Shout! Factory disc out, which is bundled with Rio Conchos, as you really can’t go wrong with this set.

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