Tuesday 22 May 2012

Movie Review: Massacre At Grand Canyon (1964)

An American-style western made by Italians and filmed in Yugoslavia, Massacre At Grand Canyon has neither the original earnest spirit of the genre nor the stylistic panache of the soon-to-be-rampant spaghetti westerns. It is just an unfortunately bad film, lost between cultures.

After being away for two years to avenge the death of his father, Wes Evans (James Mitchum) returns home to find a brewing battle between two powerful families. The Whitmores and the Dancers are ready to kill each other over a land dispute, and to make matters worse, Wes' former sweetheart Nancy (Milla Sannoner, billed as Jill Powers) has gone and married Tully (George Ardisson), the meanest of the Dancers.

In anticipation of the killings to come, both families assemble a large number of allies, with the Dancers also hiring mercenaries in the form of the evil Mason brothers. Initially reluctant to become involved, Wes eventually inserts himself into the fracas, but ultimately cannot stop an all-out meat grinder of a battle at a canyon bottleneck.

Co-directed by Sergio Corbucci (credited as Stanley Corbett) and Albert Band, Massacre At Grand Canyon was re-released in 1965 in an to attempt and cash-in on the snowballing interest in Italian-made westerns generated by A Fistful of Dollars. But no amount of re-branding was going to save this self-doubting wreck from deserved oblivion.

The film retains some obscure interest due to Corbucci's subsequent success in delivering some of the better non-Leone spaghetti westerns, but he has claimed that his participation on Massacre At Grand Canyon has been exaggerated, and his contributions were limited to a few scenes. No one can blame him for trying to distance himself from this mess. A horrible script, wooden acting, a dire music score, and several scenes of hilariously inept fist-fighting add up to a dull, cheap experience. The muddled climax features a massive cliff-to-cliff shooting spree between four groups, with scores of horses, hundreds of shooters, and thousands of bullets, but zero flair.

James Mitchum, Robert's son, sleepwalks through the movie with a singular bemused expression on his face, doubtless wondering if this whole acting thing is really for him. As lacking as Mitchum is in talent, he is by far the most interesting thing to watch in the movie, the rest of the actors delivering hopelessly amplified performances worthy of the silent era and barely registering even in the lower reaches of future spaghetti western acting lists.

Massacre At Grand Canyon should have been kept buried in the forests of Yugoslavia, far from the eyes of innocent viewers.

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