Saturday, May 2, 2015

Take a Hard Ride (1975)

U.S. One Sheet Poster - Style C

Take a Hard Ride, directed by Antonio Margheriti under the moniker Anthony M Dawson, is the story of Pike (Jim Brown), a reformed outlaw, who promises his dying rancher boss that he will deliver $86,000 in payroll money to the boss's ranch in Mexico.  Unfortunately for Pike, everyone in the area knows about the payroll money and would like to take it from him.  At the top of the list of people trying to get the money from him is Kiefer (Lee Van Cleef), a bounty hunter.  A card shark named Tyree (Fred Williamson) saves Pike's life early on and rides with him, although he has eyes for eventually getting at least some of the money himself.  Pike and Tyree encounter a group that has been robbed by a group of bandits.  The husband has been killed, and his wife, Catherine (Catherine Spaak), is about to be raped.  With the help of a mute Indian, Kashtok (Jim Kelly) who is traveling with Catherine's group, Pike and Tyree save Catherine.  Kashtok and Catherine then accompany them as they go forward.

The rest of the movie is a series of encounters where various groups, usually involving Kiefer, try to take the money from Pike and Tyree.  At one point, when they are trapped, Catherine (who we have learned used to be a New Orleans prostitute), appears to try to escape with the saddlebags of money for herself.  As it turns out, she was leading the attackers on a goose chase in order to save her comrades, who found that she had left the bags of money behind for them.  In the process of her diversion, Catherine is gunned down by a gatling gun.  Eventually, Kiefer, in what appears to be a show of respect for their courage and determination, gives up and leaves Pike and Tyree to presumably finish their journey.

Distributed worldwide by 20th Century Fox, this film almost seems like something that American International Pictures would have done, because it tries to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the plot.  With Margheriti, Spaak, Van Cleef, and the filming location, the movie is sort of a Euro/Spaghetti Western.  With Brown and Williamson hamming it up, it is sort of Blaxploitation.  With Jim Kelly doing martial arts, it has a touch of kung fu in the plot.  There are some good action sequences and stunts, with the well known Hal Needham serving as the 2nd unit director/stunt coordinator. 

While the movie has a lot going for it with some quality and/or charismatic actors (including western stalwart Harry Carey, Jr.), somehow it disappoints; it never seems to reach its potential.  The first time that I watched the movie, I thought it was kind of "bla."  On a second and third viewing, I began to appreciate it a bit more, but I would still only rank it as an OK movie in Catherine's filmography.  Catherine appears for 30 minutes in the film, from around the 31 minute mark to the 61 minute mark of the total 103 minute running time.

Catherine looks beautiful, with the reddish hair that she had been sporting for a while, and she got a chance to show off some good horse-riding skills, as well as some falls and other minor stunts.  I do not know if this film was shot with direct sound, or if it was dubbed in typical Italian style.  Regardless, Catherine appears to have voiced her own lines in English, so it's nice to hear her English-speaking voice.  All in all, this is a movie that Catherine fans should view, her only western.  It is probably the closest thing to a "Hollywood" movie that Catherine ever did besides Hotel, because it was widely distributed in the U.S.A. by 20th Century Fox.  With that said, don't expect a classic.

My first two viewings of Take a Hard Ride were of the print shown on the Fox Movie Channel.  My third viewing was of the U.S. blu-ray release from Timeless Media (as part of a 4-western collection) in 2013.  I recommend the blu-ray release.  The print is good, and it includes interviews with Fred Williamson and with Jim Kelly (done before his death in 2013), as well as the U.S. trailer.  Kelly does not mention Catherine in his interview, but Williamson does, briefly.  He said:

"Catherine Spaak, she was afraid of Jim.  He was, for some reason, Jim was too intellectual for her, I think.  She was a little afraid of Jim, and we had to like stroke her all the time.  In that role, she played the scared, defenseless woman, was how she really felt.  I don't think she'd been around two big brothers like us before, protecting her, right.  So, it was a new experience for her, and whatever was bothering her with us worked for the character."   

I'm not really sure what to make of Williamson's comments, but that's what he had to say about Catherine on the film. 

Shot mostly in the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco (where Catherine arrived in the last week of December), filming for Take a Hard Ride commenced on  December 26, 1974.  Filming in the Canary Islands was completed by February of 1975, although it appears that some final shots may have been lensed or re-lensed in Arizona at some point in 1975.  I have seen no indication that Catherine traveled to the U.S. in relation to the production.  Shot on a $2.3 million budget, producers claimed to have saved at least $2.7 million by shooting in the Canary Islands, mostly due to savings on travel costs and time by being able to shoot in a number of locations in a fairly small geographic area. 
  • Several issues of Variety reported a start date of December 26, 1974 for Take a Hard Ride.
  • The December 25, 1974 Variety reported:   "Catherine Spaak planed to the Canary Islands for her role in 'Hard Ride' with Lee Van Cleef, Jim Brown, and Fred Williamson under the direction of Anthony Dawson (ne Antonio Margheriti)."
  • The December 27, 1974 Variety reported:  "Shooting has begun in the Canary Islands on the Berson-Ludwig-Bercovici production of 'Take A Hard Ride,' being produced by Harry Bernsen for 20th-Fox release. Film stars Lee Van Cleef, Jim Brown, Catherine Spaak, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly and is being made in association with Euro General Production Co. under direction of Antonio Margheriti (Antony Dawson) from an original screenplay by Eric Bercovici and Jerry Ludwig.  Leon Chooluck is coproducing with Marisa Alcaraz serving as associate producer.
  • The January 8, 1975 Variety reported:  "Catherine Spaak planed to the Canary Islands for her role in 'Hard Ride' with Lee Van Cleef, Jim Brown and Fred Williamson under the direction of Anthony Dawson."
  • The January 22, 1975 Variety reported:  "Lensing has begun in the Canary Islands on 'Take a Hard Ride' western for 20th-Fox which Harry Bernsen is producing.  Lee Van Cleef, Jim Brown, Catherine Spaak, Fred Williamson and Jim Kelly topline."
  • The February 3, 1975 Variety reported:  "Jim Brown is back in LA after a four month absence, first in Africa, then the Canary Islands, where he costarred in 'Take A Hard Ride,' a western with Lee Van Cleef, Fred Williamson, Catherine Spaak.
  • The September 24, 1975 Variety reported:  "Margheriti recently returned from Phoenix, Arizona where he completed 'Take A Hard Ride' with Jim Brown, Fred Williamson, Jim Kelly, Lee Van Cleef, Dana Andrews, Barry Sullivan and Catherine Spaak." [Note:  It must not have been too recently, because, as shown below, it appears that the film opened in July 1975.]
  • Variety, in the June 25, 1975 edition, published an article called "Lensing 'Ride' in Canarys Meant Savings:  Bernsen."  The article notes that shooting the film "in the Canary Islands instead of the U.S. meant a large financial saving, per producer Harry Bernsen, who claims the $2,300,000 Jim Brown starrer would have cost over $5,000,000 if made here.  Bernsen says the saving came mostly from travel time saved through the availability of a wide variety of locations in the comparatively small area of the islands, situated off the coast of Africa."   
IMDB shows an October 29, 1975 release date in the U.S., but that appears to be incorrect.  The June 25, 1975 Variety reported that the film "bows July 9 at 75 theatres in the Indianapolis area." [Note:  I would think that "75" is a typo.]  The film does not appear to have been a hit with U.S. audiences.  The September 24, 1975 Variety reported that for the week ended September 17, Take a Hard Ride grossed $58,600 (#28) and had grossed $607,629 to date in 13 theatres and 5 cities in its 6th week on the charts.  Through the end of 1975, Variety continued to generally report mediocre box office returns for the film at various theaters in the U.S.  With that said, however, given its fairly modest budget and wide release in the U.S. and abroad, I feel certain that nobody lost money on the film in the long run.

Take a Hard Ride was reviewed in the July 3, 1975 edition of Variety based on a viewing at 20th Century Fox Studios in Los Angeles on July 2.  The tepid review lists a running time of 103 minutes and refers to the film as a "poly-formula period western dual bill item for the popcorn belt," noting that "Catherine Spaak is briefly encountered and dropped on the trail, not before adding a Continental touch."  The reviewer concludes that "Second unit director and stunt boss Hal Needham jazzes up the pace with several offbeat highlights - collapse of a rope bridge, crossing a ravine in a runaway wagon, blowing up an old mine, etc. - which along with the virgin-to-pix Canary Islands environment provide at least some new backbround for the coloring  book plot.  Jerry Goldsmith's score is also above the material.  Other credits are standard, and performances are okay."

Here is the U.S. theatrical trailer that someone posted on youtube:

The U.S. pressbook states that "One 60 second spot and three 30 second spots available" for television, as well as "one 60 second spot and two 30 second spots available" for radio, along with "black radio spots" of 60 seconds and 30 seconds.  I have yet to come across any of those advertising spots.

The front and back covers of the U.S. pressbook:

Ad supplement to the U.S. pressbook:

U.S. One Sheet Poster - Style A (Style C is at the top of this post.  I do not know if there was a Style B one sheet poster. I have not seen one, and the pressbook does not make reference to one):

U.S. 30 x 40, Half Sheet, and Insert Posters (I have yet to see the 40 x 60 poster.  There was also a 24 x 82 title display and a deluxe hi-rise standee, but I have never seen those, either.):

U.S. Mini-Lobby Card set (the Lobby Card set looks exactly the same, only in 11 x 14 size, instead of 8 x 10):

U.S. Stills:

Italian posters and fotobustas:

An Argentinian poster and comic:

A Spanish poster and lobby card set:

French posters:

A Romanian poster:

A Finnish poster:

An Australian Daybill Poster:

A Yugoslavian poster and lobby cards:

A German program:

A Japanese poster:

A soundtrack CD:

Take a Hard Ride has been released in the U.S. on Blu-Ray disc (2013):

It has also been released in the U.S. in both a single DVD edition (2006) and as part of a double feature DVD (2011).  It was previously released in 1988 on VHS:

The film has also seen home video releases in a number of other countries.  Here are a German VHS and a German triple feature DVD:

French DVDs:

Spanish DVDs:

Australian DVDs:

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