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Released in the U.S. in 1972, this samurai/western turned out better than I thought it might. This type of offering was popular at the time with more than a couple in the spaghetti western era.

The four leads: Charles Bronson(Link Stuart), Toshiro Mifune(Kuroda Jubie), Ursala Andress(Cristina), and Alain Delon(Gotch “Gauche” Kink), a Frenchman. Anthony Dawson(who appeared in a couple of Bond films as well as DIAL M FOR MURDER) plays Hyatt, the only gang member with any sort of weighty role.

Link and Gauche are partners and their gang holds up a train, looting the express car of $200,000 in gold coin and the passengers of all valuables. They get a bonus when they learn the new Japanese ambassador is being transported to Washington. A large amount of cash is with him and a gift for the President, a large, ornate, gold/jewel encrusted sword. When one of the samurai moves to stop him, Gauche kills him.

And then Gauche proceeds to double-cross Link, who spots it in time to dive out of the express car ahead of a couple of sticks of lit dynamite.

Kuroda is charged by his ambassador with retrieving the sword. The samurai also has a revenge motive as the other samurai was his friend. He vows to kill Gauche as soon as he sees him. He also is on a time clock of sorts. The ambassador gives him a hara-kiri knife with a rope of seven knots tied into it. That’s how long he has, a week, before the ambassador comes back through on the train. If he doesn’t have the gift sword…

Link is charged with leading Kuroda to Gauche. He’s not happy. He wants Gauche himself, but alive long enough to find where the gold has been hidden. We’ve already seen a sequence where the Frenchman has had four men bury the gold, then ruthlessly guns them down so only he knows the location.

Here’s where the movie drags a bit. They spend too much time between the two men establishing their priorities. Link wants a promise from Kuroada to let him get the location of the gold first, Kuroda is resolute in his determination to kill his opponent. First one gets the upper hand, then the other, escape attempts on Link’s part and the rebuffs by Kuroda. A little judicious editing wouldn’t have hurt the sequence.

Link leads Kuroda first to a small village where he Cristina resides as a member of the local Cat house. Gauche has a thing for her, and she for him, and Link likes the madam of the establishment, Pepita(Capucine, a beauty close to rivaling Andress). Ursala Andress was one of the great beauties of the time, if not a great actress. Her in a film guaranteed a larger male audience(hey, we’re simple people; we know what we like). I think it’s fair to say her role in the first Bond film, DR. NO, got that franchise off to a good start.

Link and Kuroda get there ahead of Gauche, who instead, sends four men to pick her up. The two men leave only one man alive, Hyatt(Dawson), to send an ultimatum to the Frenchman, Cristina for the sword and the the gold. Hyatt is embarrassed and wants Link for himself.

They take Cristina and head for the meeting point.

Along the way, they find a village hit by Comanches, Cristina escapes(I think purposefully as the pair follow instead of trying to catch up). A small band of Comanches take her and we finally get to see Kuroda’s work with his samurai sword as they rescue her.

The two parties converge on the meeting point, their showdown only to be delayed by a very large band of Comanche’s lead there by the one that escaped the earlier confrontation. Here again a little editing could have been done. The battle goes on a little long, first in the old mission, then the cane field surrounding it.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. Terence Young, director of three Bond films(DR. NO, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, & THUNDERBALL), does the same duty here, with a screenplay by a host of writers, four, I’m not at all familiar with. A subdued score by Maurice Jarre(LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) only helps the film.

Now for a couple of mistakes.

The film is set early after the Civil War. The Union troops accompanying the Japanese ambassador as guards(and doing a piss-poor job of it as half are killed, the rest left on foot as the gang simply moves the train a few miles away before the looting begins) are armed with bolt action rifles, a bit ahead of that form of militaary armament I believe.

The second goof is with the Hyatt(Anthony Dawson) character. As the two parties are about to face off in the old mission, with Hyatt behind Link and ready to shoot him for his embarrassment, The Comanche announce their presence with an arrow through Hyatt’s back. He falls across the table dead. However, in the fire sequence of the cane field battle, we see him with his pistol(taken earlier by Link from his dead hand) in one brief scene.

Check out the trailer below. Below that, for those interested, is a link to the entire film on Youtube. For more overlooked films, go to Todd Mason over at Sweet Freedom.