NEVADA SMITH is supposed to be a prequel to Harold Robbins’ THE CARPETBAGGERS, based on one of the characters from that novel. Never read any Robbins, so I don’t really know. A western doesn’t seem like his milieu, though I’m probably wrong. I see Alan Ladd played a Nevada Smith in the 1964 film based on the novel. It apparently isn’t a western from the plot I’ve read.
Steve McQueen plays the character in this movie. He’s actually Max Sand, the half breed son of an Native American woman and a white man. The character is supposed to be very young, just a kid, though McQueen was thirty-six at the time. That aside, this was a pretty decent little tale of revenge.
Three men, Tom Fitch(Karl Malden), Jesse Coe(Martin Landau), and Bill Bowdre(Arthur Kennedy) rob, torture, and kill his parents looking for some non-existent gold taken from a played out mine. He got a good look at them when they stopped to ask for directions a few miles from the mine. They weren’t concerned about him because he was just a “boy.”
Max begins his long hunt for the three men. Being a naive young man, he jumps three men and starts a fight with the trio before realizing they are not the ones he wants. They take him in and feed him, encouraging him to sleep overnight at their camp.he wakes to discover them gone, along with his horse, rifle, everything he owned.
Afoot, he’s lucky with the next man he jumps, attempting to rob him of a horse and food with a rusty old gun he’d found. Jonas Cord(Brian Keith) is a gunsmith who takes a liking to the boy. Though reluctant to do so, he becomes a mentor, teaching the boy the use, and skill, of a handgun, then supplying him when he takes out looking again for the murderers of his family.
His hatred sustains him for years as he works jobs while on his eternal hunt. People help him along the way as he finds the three, now split up, even going so far as to commit a crime to get thrown into a Louisiana prison in the swamps to get at one. Along the way, he adopts the moniker of Nevada Smith as he gets a reputation, on both sides of the law, under his real name.
As I said, a nice little film with a stellar cast. In addition to the ones already mentioned, some other actors popping in with parts of varying sizes are Suzanne Pleshette, Paul Fix, Pat Hingle, Howard Da Silva, Janet Margolin, and Iron Eyes Cody.