Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of making my own 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.
Week Sixty Three: The Undefeated
What an odd film this is. The tone and narrative are all over the place. From the set up, it feels destined for more serious territory but tends to steer into humor, sometimes into silliness. The scene that best illustrates this comes when Wayne and Hudson first get to know each other, measuring up the costs of war on both sides. Right when you think they’re going to be at each other’s throats, a goofy tune is queued on the soundtrack and Hudson reaches for his sergeant’s stash of bourbon. “If I ever have the time, I’ll write a social history of bourbon,” he claims, cutting right through any sense of reality the film might have had up that the point. This continues throughout the movie as director Andrew McLaglen does an awful job of balancing drama and comedy while somehow squeezing out a Western that is at least entertaining.
From a narrative perspective, the shifting antagonist never worked for me. The French are shown to be trustworthy and reliable. The Mexican revolutionaries are portrayed as ruthless killers. However, Wayne and his posse turn on the former and kill a bunch of Frenchmen, while surrendering all of their fortune to the revolutionaries. I was waiting for some kind of double-cross but no… it never comes. It’s a misguided story with no internal logic.
The only consistent thing about The Undefeated that works is spectacle. From shots of hundreds of horses being driven across the land to some spectacularly staged action, it’s a visual feast. It’s just too bad the rest of it is no more nourishing than a pop tart.
Seen on DVD.