Written and produced by Andrew Fenady (Chisum) and directed by Gunsmoke veteran Bernard McEveety in 1966, Ride Beyond Vengeance is a horror-tinged Western whose reputation has been building for years. Long a staple of late-night television, this wild journey into sadism is high on the list of “lost treasure” conversations among film buffs.
Coming directly from their collaboration on Branded, Fenady fashioned this Chuck Connors vehicle from the book Night of the Tiger. The story of a buffalo hunter who’s ambushed and branded by a group of town heavies (Michael Rennie, Bill Bixby and Claude Akins) who leave him for dead, Ride’s structure is devoted to the hunter’s violent revenge on the men who wronged him. This is a story about internal and external violence, and we’re treated to vivid examples of both.
The cast is terrific, with standout work by a grizzled and determined Connors, a bitter Gloria Grahame, drunken Akins, and town boss Rennie. Mega-hot Kathryn Hays is the girl caught in the corruption, while Bill Bixby shines as a psycho-sexual pretty boy who plunges a branding iron into his own stomach in a hysterical fit of remorse. Bixby’s laughing/crying jag fits perfectly with the thriller-like tone of the film, as the dramatics are pushed to their highest level. Frank Gorshin has a wonderful cameo as a drunk who finds Bixby and describes the condition of his corpse in lurid detail. What horrors we don’t see in Ride, we hear about.
Despite the hysteria around him, Connors remains a stoic figure of death throughout, closing in on a town that’s losing its grip. He’s a simple man of the plains and all he wants is justice for what’s been done to him. But the townsfolk are too corrupt and too crazy; justice isn’t possible here. But death is.
The film also features an unusual framing device as modern-day government worker James MacArthur hears the tale first hand from bartender Arthur O’Connell. It’s an interesting way to get into a Western tale like this, and is just one of the movie’s little surprises.
The Sony DVD is bare bones with no extras or commentary, but the widescreen transfer is excellent and the film never looked better. Western veteran Lester Shorr’s photography is sharp, but the film is curiously stage-bound in some scenes, which only adds to the unreality. Visually, Ride Beyond Vengeance exists in its own world.
Wildly violent, and with an underlying layer of moral decay for its characters, Ride Beyond Vengeance is one of those flicks that stays with you. Like Don Medford’s The Hunting Party, Ride mixes traditional Western trappings with a thriller sensibility to create something unusual. Ride Beyond Vengeance was long ago banished to the badlands of the late show and left to die. Thanks to this DVD, the banishment is over.