Much of its discourse on the state of the Western lies in the casting: Clint Eastwood on horseback swiftly brings Leone to America, vintage Monogram cowboy Bob Steele is part of the hanging party, Ben Johnson (from Ford) cuts down the dangling protagonist, revives him, and takes him to town. Just as the film’s veneer seems about to settle, Dennis Hopper’s fervid, chained prophet introduces a distinct note of ’68 into the Old West. It’s a very analytical take on a genre at a crossroads, dressed up as a TV-sized oater about a wronged rancher’s revenge. Eastwood, with rope burns around his neck, is made deputy and goes about hunting down the bloodthirsty posse, which includes Ed Begley, Bruce Dern, L.Q. Jones, and Alan Hale, Jr. The contrasting sheriffs are Pat Hingle (genially despotic) and Charles McGraw (arthritic, gallant), Inger Stevens is the doleful belle with vengeful wounds of her own ("You hunt your way, I hunt mine," she tells Eastwood). Just as the pre-credits sequence condenses The Ox-Bow Incident to under ten minutes, so does the extended gallows sequence (a major event in the parched frontier town, with visiting crowds and James MacArthur leading the "Shall We Gather at the River?" sing-a-long) dilate a detail from The Bravados into a remarkable mini-study. The blazing white desert Eastwood leads the prisoners through, the prostitute’s (Arlene Golonka) annoyance at being pulled away from the hanging festivities to service the hero, James Westerfield’s sardonic tobacco-chewing before the noose -- Ted Post’s direction is especially adroit at keeping the baroque flurries bubbling under the deceptive surface of old-pro craftsmanship. Afterwards, Peckinpah just had to unleash The Wild Bunch. With Ruth White, Michael O’Sullivan, Joseph Sirola, Bert Freed, Russell Thorson, Ned Romero, and Jonathan Lippe.
--- Fernando F. Croce