A prequel (in little more than name) to 1964's top-grossing THE CARPETBAGGERS, director Henry Hathaway trades in that film’s pulpy Hollywood glitz for something considerably darker. Only scripter John Michael Hayes (in one of his last credits) gets held over, fully on board for a switch in tone closer to THE SEARCHERS/’56. Indeed, the prologue is right out the John Ford classic as Steve McQueen races home to find his family savaged, not by Indians, but by a trio of cut-throat thieves (Karl Malden, Marin Landau, Arthur Kennedy). Half-Indian himself, McQueen spends the rest of the film methodically tracking them down, one after the other. Filmed with clear-as-a-bell action & lensing (Lucien Ballard), the eventful storyline starts to feel a bit force-fed (especially when Raf Vallone's priest comes on the scene), but you’ll be too caught up by old-fashioned craftsmanship and new-fangled graphic violence (still shocking at times) to mind.* (McQueen either gets away with, or simply allows a remarkable amount of death & destruction to play out while he single-mindedly seeks his revenge.) But the film is a significant (and influential) achievement that would undoubtedly have a higher critical rep had it not been sired by such a tawdry (if fun) Harold Robbins bodice-ripper.
DOUBLE-BILL: Oh heck, CARPETBAGGERS is just too fun to skip. And note that film's typically glossy, over-lit ‘60s look which Hathaway & Ballard successfully avoid.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *According to IMDb, the initial running time was pared by a full reel, so it’s possible that some motivation & continuity got lost in those ten missing minutes.