Monday, September 12, 2022

William Holden Seeks Revenge!

William Holden as Mr. Benedict.
Between 1969 and 1972, William Holden made three Westerns: the first was a bona fide classic (Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch); the second was taken out of the director's control and became a notorious flop (Wild Rovers), and the third was a conventional revenge tale that borrowed its premise from The Dirty Dozen (1967). That last film, creatively titled The Revengers, is the subject of today's review.

Holden plays John Benedict, a former Cavalry officer who has settled down to raise horses and a family. His idyllic existence is shattered when a band of ruffians kill his wife and children while he's hunting a wounded cougar. Consumed with vengeance, he tracks down one of the murderers and learns that their leader has retreated to a well-protected hideout in Mexico.

Knowing that he will be outnumbered, Benedict visits a prison camp where the crooked commandant "sells" prisoners to work in mines. Benedict agrees to pay a premium if he can select his laborers--which he intends to use for his personal posse.

Ernest Borgnine looking grubby.
The relationship between Benedict and his men is the most interesting aspect of The Revengers. When he frees them, most of the former convicts abandon him...only to return the next day. Having spent their money, they have nothing more interesting to do! But as time passes, they develop respect and loyalty to Mr. Benedict and his quest becomes their quest.

The youngest rider, a Mexican named Chamaco, imagines that he is Benedict's son (conceived when the older man visited his birth town as a Cavalry officer). When he mentions this unlikely possibility to Benedict, the older man--who is still grieving the loss of his son--angrily rejects Chamaco. The young Mexican then shoots Benedict, apparently killing him. This paves the way for a much-too-long rehabilitation sequence with Susan Hayward, which supposedly causes Benedict to reevaluate his motives.

Woody Strode looking stoic.
William Holden lacks fire as Benedict, displaying none of the intensity that he captured so well in The Wild Bunch. Most of the supporting cast makes little impact, although Ernest Borgnine (Holden's brilliant co-star in The Wild Bunch) is colorful and Woody Strode exudes a powerfully calm screen presence. Mexican actor Jorge Luke is also convincing as the young Chamaco.

The Revengers marked Susan Hayward's return to the screen after a five-year absence following 1967's Valley of the Dolls. Alas, she has little to do as a lonely nurse who becomes attracted to Benedict.

I saw The Revengers with my parents when it was released theatrically. If it seems like an odd choice for a family film, I can explain. My mother would go see any movie with William Holden! Although Dad didn't say it, I'm sure he was disappointed. This Holden movie didn't have Kim Novak.


  1. Ernest Borgnine was always good at perking up a film, I think. Do you think William Holden "phoned in" his performance here?

    1. He "phoned in" all his performances after Stalag 17, as he was unfortunately so incredibly drunk all the time. What a waste...