At the beginning of the 20th century, a newspaper organizes an endurance horse race: 700 miles to run in a few days. 9 adventurers are competing, among them a woman, Miss Jones, a Mexican, an Englishman, a young cowboy, an old one and two friends, Sam Clayton and Luke Matthews. All those individualists will learn to respect each other.
Perhaps the best Western made in the 1970s.
In my mind this is almost a perfect movie. Writer-Director Richard Brooks delivered in my mind his best work since his 1960 blockbusters ELMER GANTRY and THE PROFESSIONALS. We have Brook’s trademark crisp dialogue driving the epic about an endurance race set in the waning days of the american west. In place of Burt Lancaster and Lee Marvin professionals we have James Coburn and Gene Hackman as the soldiers of fortune thrown into the circumstance of this race. They both give superior performances. Ably supporting them in what should have gotten him a second supporting actor Oscar is Ben Johnson. If there is any quibble at all with the film it is the casting of of Candice Bergen as the prostitute turned contestant. She simply looks too well preserved to have lived the life her character has placed before the audience. One interesting note about the film had the exchange of actors functioning in basically the same part over the course of the film. Paul Stewart who is uncredited starts the film out as the wealthy rancher Parker until about a quarter of the way through the film when with an ingenious use of a looped line Dabney Coleman appears as Parker’s son taking over the character’s function from that point on.I remember seeing this film in it’s initial engagement at Radio City Music Hall and it is still a fresh and rewarding experience. It is a shame that the upcoming DVD release will have no special features. I know Mr Coburn recorded a commentary for THE MAGNIFICENT 7, Ms. Bergen did THE SAND PEBBLES, and Mr. Hackman did the FRENCH CONNECTION discs. It would have been great to hear stories from these fine actors about this shoot. At the very least it would be nice the have Alex North’s Oscar nominated score isolated on the disc.