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The Deadly Trackers" (1973)

Rod Taylor plays murderous bank robber Frank Brand in this brutally violent film set in the 1870s southwest.

Richard Harris plays embittered Sheriff Sean Kilpatrick, who is bent on vengeance after Brand and his band of bank robbers slaughter the sheriff's wife and young son. As the sheriff pursues the outlaws into Mexico, however, he becomes as cruel and hateful as the men he's hunting.

"I don't know what this role's going to do for my public image," Rod said in the press materials for the movie. "I've always played the suave leading man or the indomitable hero who does battle against the forces of evil. Now here I am playing the scourge of the countryside."

Director Barry Shear confirmed Rod's sentiment, saying, "It hasn't been easy for him. Rod's an excellent, creative actor who found himself thrust into unchartered territory. He's played the positive upbeat characters so long, he actually has been uptight about this part. It's not that he finds it hard to play the bad guy so much as his instincts have always been with the romantic lead or hero."

In "Richard Harris: A Sporting Life," author Michael Feeney Callan describes Rod Taylor's role on- and off-screen:

Taylor had stumbled on to the movie ... when the production, with a different cast, collapsed in Spain. ... Sam Manners, the production manager, suggested his pal Rod Taylor as the perfect screen enemy for sheriff Harris. ...

The "near disaster" of "The Deadly Trackers" was taken in hand by both actors, who flew to Mexico City and then to the Cuernavaca location and worked "religiously" to reconstruct an original chase Western.

Taylor thought the script was "awful in parts" ... and was quick to contribute new scenes to invigorate the hatred between hero and villain: "I think that's what the story lacked -- a decent account of the villain's villainy. So I wrote in these scenes, with Richard's blessing." ...

Harris was, says Taylor, "like myself off the [booze] from Monday to Friday. ... But ... on those weekends, whether we were enjoying the locals or the tequila or not, we worked. On that script. It was the only time we got really, because the locations were grueling enough and we had a lot to get done." ...

Harris went on to supervise a tricky, cost-restricted post-production that had clips and out-takes from existing movie soundtracks glued on ... [giving] the movie a cobbled-together, fragmented aura that Taylor and Harris did their best to ignore. "Considering what we started with, and the project's history," says Taylor, "I liked the end result. Richard should have been proud of himself too."

Because I'm not a huge fan of Westerns and was put off by accounts of the violence in this movie, I delayed watching "The Deadly Trackers" for a long time. In that frame of mind, when I finally did see it, I was pleasantly surprised on two main counts. One is that there is some thematic depth to the film -- the struggle between law and lawlessness, cropping up in unexpected places. The other was Rod's performance (although I suppose I shouldn't be surprised).

It takes some getting used to him being such a nasty character -- he's evil, filthy, ugly. That he can carry off such a role after a history of being the good guy is a real credit to his talent. During the climactic confrontation with Harris' character, he raises his performance further with a scene of searing emotion.

"He's a pretty dark guy," Taylor said of his character. "But like any human being, he also shows compassion. His biggest concern is his own child, who he protects to his dying breath."

By Rod's account, he worked hard on this movie. It's flawed, and it's not for every taste, but the actor's craft comes through.

BEHIND THE SCENES

On one particular day of filming, the stuntman needed for various scenes was sick. There was no time to bring another stunt double to the Mexico location, so the three stars -- Rod Taylor, Richard Harris and Al Lettieri -- convinced director Barry Shear they could perform the action themselves.

Harris wound up scraping off several inches of skin while making a tackle and Lettieri broke a finger by smashing through a door. As for Rod, the press guide says:

Riding at a full gallop, Taylor was required to fall off his horse, which he did in a thrilling manner for the camera. It was lucky that director Shear got it in one take because Rod suffered a dislocated shoulder. 

 
 

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LINKS

IMDb

William Smith in The Deadly Trackers: Plot description and images (including the one above).

Smith appears with Taylor several times over the years -- playing villains in "Darker Than Amber" and "The Deadly Trackers" and guest starring on TV series "Masquerade," "Bearcats!" and "The Oregon Trail."

William Smith: A Tribute Site contains a review of "The Deadly Trackers," noting that "Rod Taylor playing psychotic is an interesting casting choice." 

 

VIEWER'S GUIDE

DVD on Amazon.com

Trailer on YouTube

 

 

 

 

         
   

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