The Jackals (1967)
This South African western remake of 1948’s Yellow Sky is easily one of the more unlikely credits during the latter part of Vincent Price’s storied career. Here he plays an old prospector hiding out in a deserted ghost town with his granddaughter played by Diana Ivarson. Once introduced the pair will have to deal with five bandits on the run who intend to relieve them of their hidden gold. Subbing in for Gregory Peck and Richard Widmark? The not quite as famous Robert Gunner and Bob Courtney.
In true western fashion six men ride into a frontier town and relieve the local bank of it’s ready cash. Fleeing from a posse, one of the riders is killed and the remaining five are forced into a desert seventy miles across. The chances for survival are minimal and their horses are beginning to fall. One of the riders is soon to learn that whiskey in a canteen is a poor substitute for water and tempers are beginning to flare. As fate is about to seize them, fortune smiles when they encounter a ghost town and a blonde Diana who directs them to the local watering hole while holding a rifle on them just in case they come across as unfriendly.
It’s at the 23 minute mark that Price will make his appearance as Ivarson’s Grandpa. Price plays it up as an old codger who likes his whiskey and takes to giggling when the dialogue calls for it. Gunner and his men are quick to realize that the only reason Price and Ivarson would remain in the territory is if they’ve been successfully turning color in the mine shaft they’ve been working on the mountain above the town. These are greedy men and a gunfight ensues. One that leaves Price with a bullet in his leg forcing him and Ivarson to wave the white flag. Time for a deal to be struck.
It’s at this point that Price will get to act up a storm as he drunkenly reminisces about the past when the town was a boom and there was plenty of gold to be found for all. When the vein ran out, the people moved on but he persisted and now has his own fortune stored away for Ivarson’s future. If the pair are to survive then he’ll have to give it up. Gunner, a thief with an honorable streak agrees on moving out after fifty percent is handed over to the gang. The gang however has other ideas and that’s going to become the central focus of the plot over the latter half of the film that clocks in at 93 minutes. That and a budding romance between the outlaw leader and Price’s blonde haired grand daughter.
It’s rather futile to compare this take on the W.R. Burnett tale to the earlier version directed by the legendary William A. Wellman that saw Anne Baxter in the lead female role. That film stands as one of the better westerns of the 1940’s before the genre really hit it’s stride in the 50’s. This edition is more akin to drive in fair that probably served as a major disappointment to those assuming this was the latest thriller from the reigning king of horror films. The title alone could be used for any number of thrillers. While The Jackals is no classic it’s far better than many other westerns polluting the market by this time including some of the product put out by A.C. Lyles to plenty of the Italian oaters hoping to cash in on the Leone/Eastwood craze.
Price of course needs no introduction to students of film history but how about Robert Gunner as our outlaw leader and third billed star? He looked familiar and so he should. I’ve seen his most famous film at least twenty times in my lifetime thus far. Having said that I’m not sure I know anything more about the actor. Gunner appeared in Planet of The Apes as Charlton Heston’s fellow space traveler, Landon. The unfortunate soul who Dr. Zaius left lobotomized. If anyone knows much more about Gunner, feel free to add a comment below. Following the Apes film, he never appeared in another movie again retiring from the screen at 37 years of age.
Miss Ivarson is another mystery with only a handful of credits to her name. The only interesting thing I discovered about her on the IMDb is she had a son with tough guy Robert Tessier. For those scratching their head over that name, he’s the bald headed big guy who takes on Charlie Bronson in the brawling cage match in 1975’s Hard Times.
Worth a look for the Vincent Price factor and little else, Jackals is easy to find thanks to it’s public domain status. Thankfully the film saw an actual theater run giving yours truly the opportunity to add this original one sheet release poster to the vault here at Mike’s Take.