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8 Movie Western Pack, Vol. 1 [2 Discs] [DVD]

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Overview

Synopsis

The Over-the-Hill Gang
One of the better and more diverting of ABC's first full season of made-for-television movies, The Over-the-Hill Gang was a low-budget Western with a gimmick: Get a bunch of elderly actors, known either for their leading roles in the 1930s, or for playing comic sidekicks (and Walter Brennan was a lot of both categories) through the 1950s, and put them together in a plot. The result was this enjoyable oater about a quartet of retired Texas Rangers (Pat O'Brien, Walter Brennan, Chill Wills, Edgar Buchanan) who take on the corrupt mayor (Edward Andrews) of a small Nevada town where O'Brien's daughter (Kris Nelson) and newspaper editor son-in-law (Rick Nelson) live. Jack Elam represents the bad guys' muscle with his usual threatening aplomb, and Andy Devine gets a lot of mileage out of his role as a corrupt, inept judge. The other surprise in the cast is Gypsy Rose Lee, looking radiant as ever, portraying an admirer of the former rangers, in what was her final screen appearance, and such familiar old faces as Myron Healey, William Benedict, and Elmira Sessions in supporting roles. When O'Brien and company realize that they're no longer fast enough to do the job with guns, they decide to use their wits instead, outsmarting and outflanking the villains. The pacing by director Jean Yarbrough (whose own career went back to the 1920s, and whose last film this was) is a little leisurely, but the script is fairly clever and it's a lot of fun watching the veteran actors chewing up the scenery, with Devine having the most fun of all in an unusual role as a villain. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

The Decoy
His in-laws brutally murdered and his life-long best friend convicted of committing the unforgivable crime, a conflicted deputy agrees to escort the condemned man to the gallows as a group of ruthless killers attempts to ensure that they never reach their intended destination. As Deputy John Cooper (Justin Kreinbrink) struggles with his desire to exact personal justice against his mute friend Martin Lowery (Kevin Market) during their trip to Lowery's appointment with the hangman, the sudden appearance of some sadistic bandits leads the lawman to suspect that things may not be what they appear. As the truth about the heinous double homicide slowly comes to light, Deputy Cooper gradually begins to realize that Lowery harbors a secret that some believe is worth killing for. ~ Jason Buchanan, Rovi

Kid Vengeance
One of Cannon Films' two 1976 Italian-Israeli co-productions starring Lee Van Cleef and Leif Garrett (Gianfranco Parolini's Pistola di Dio was the other), this spaghetti western was actually shot in the Middle East by American director Joseph Manduke. Pop star Garrett plays Tom, a teenager who teams with a black gunfighter named Isaac (Jim Brown) to avenge his family. The culprit was McClain (Van Cleef), a sadistic outlaw who carried out the brutal rape-massacre, but his role is minor, as most of the film deals with Tom's maturation and coming to terms with his feelings. Omnipresent 1970s character actors Glynnis O'Connor and John Marley co-star. If there is anything remarkable about Kid Vengeance, it is Francesco Masi's fine musical score, but the film is otherwise anemic. ~ Robert Firsching, Rovi

Vengeance Valley
The old "Cain and Abel" plot device is redefined within Western terms in MGM's Vengeance Valley. Burt Lancaster stars as ranch-hand Owen Daybright, who has been raised as a son by rancher Arch Stroble (Ray Collins). Stroble's natural son Lee (Robert Walker) has always been envious of Owen, who in turn has spent most of his life pulling Lee out of trouble and keeping the boy's misdeeds a secret from the elder Stroble. When Lee fathers an illegitimate child, he tries to shift the responsibility on Owen, leading to a life-threatening confrontation with the vengeance-seeking brothers of the baby's mother (Sally Forrest). There's plenty more plot twists before virtue finally triumphs. Joanne Dru co-stars as Lee's long-suffering wife Jen, who harbors a secret yen for Owen. Since lapsing into public domain, Vengeance Valley has shown up with increasing frequency on cable television; it has also been made available in a narrated version for the visually impaired. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Death Rides a Horse
Bill (John Phillip Law) grows up to seek revenge on the gang that killed his parents. He meets up with Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), a veteran gunslinger seeking his own revenge for the ones who put him in prison. The two proceed to shoot everything that moves in this violent spaghetti western. Bill eventually discovers Ryan was there when his parents were killed and is torn between killing Ryan and letting him ride off into the sunset. ~ Dan Pavlides, Rovi

The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again
The Over the Hill Gang Rides Again is a TV-movie sequel to 1969's ratings-grabbing The Over the Hill Gang, which told of a group of retired Texas Rangers rallying to save their small town from criminals. In the sequel, the gang --Walter Brennan, Edgar Buchanan, Andy Devine, and Chill Wills (Pat O'Brien, seen in the first film, is absent this time around) -- team up to rehabilitate Fred Astaire, cast against type as The Baltimore Kid, a one-time ranger who has become a town drunk. Astaire is restored to the job of marshal of Waco, while the other old-timers end up as his deputies. Harmless fun for an undiscerning audience, Over the Hill Gang Rides Again lacks the easygoing charm of the original film. Both Over the Hill Gang entries, by the way, were designed as pilots for an unsold weekly series. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Desert Trail
John Wayne's easy-going charm truly began to manifest itself in this, one of his later "Lone Star" Westerns for Monogram. Falsely accused of killing the paymaster (Henry Hall) of the Rattlesnake Gulch rodeo, John Scott (Wayne) and his girl-chasing partner Kansas Charlie (Eddy Chandler) trail the real killer, Pete (Al Ferguson), and his unwilling underling Jim (Paul Fix) to Poker City. Jim wants to go straight, but Pete blackmails him into robbing the stagecoach. John and Kansas, who are known in town as Jones and the Reverend Smith, are once again accused of the crime, but Jim helps them escape from jail. When the young bandit refuses to commit bank robbery, Pete shoots him in cold blood. The villain is caught by John and Kansas, whom Jim has cleared of all crimes on his deathbed. Besides one of Wayne's better early performances, The Desert Trail -- whose title bears no close scrutiny -- also benefitted from the presence of Frank Capra-regular Eddy Chandler, a rotund comic actor whose sparring here with Wayne is first-rate all the way. Paul Fix is equally good as the outlaw with a conscience and Mary Kornman, of Our Gang fame, is tolerable as the obligatory heroine. The Desert Trail was directed with easy assurance by the veteran Lewis D. Collins, who for some reason billed himself "Cullin Lewis." ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

The Gun and the Pulpit
Former evangelist Marjorie Gortner had a brief flurry of activity as an actor in the early 1970s. Gun and the Pulpit was a made-for-TV movie designed as the pilot for a potential Gortner series. Marjoe plays a gunslinger who disguises himself as a preacher to escape a false murder charge. He finds that his somewhat direct proselytizing technique--wielding a six-gun whenever faced with hostile nonbelievers--makes him popular throughout the west. Gun and the Pulpit was filmed on location at the Old Tucson studios, originally built in 1940 for the Columbia feature Arizona and currently a major Southwestern tourist attraction. The film's premise was workable, but not with Marjoe Gortner; Merlin Olsen came along in 1981 with a more successful variation on the theme, Father Murphy. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Proud and the Damned
Will (Chuck Connors) leads a group of American Civil War veterans into San Carlos, Columbia. The local mayor (Cesar Romero) welcomes the quintet, unaware they are scouting out the town for Columbian General Martinez (Andre Maruis). Soon the visitors are reveling with gypsies Mila (Anita Quinn) and Ramon (Jose Greco). Will and Mila end up making love, much to the dismay of the jealous Ramon. Will shoots and kills the hotheaded Ramon, and the mayor is called on to restore order. The five Americans are held for questioning following the murder. When the scouts fail to return to the General, the storm clouds of war gather over the once-peaceful town. Mila becomes ostracized by the townsfolk for her brazen behavior that resulted in Ramon's death. The mayor considers letting Will and Mila leave town in an effort to avoid further bloodshed. ~ Dan Pavlides, Rovi

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