Take a Hard Ride (1975) – By Duane L. Martin

Jim Brown plays a trail boss named Pike who just finished a cattle drive with the owner of the ranch he works for and their hired hands. You can see right away that the ranch owner is having issues, and once all the men are paid off, he ends up having a heart attack. Pike is his most trusted friend and employee, so with his dying words, he begs him to take the money they made from the drive and make sure it gets back to the ranch safely. Pike swears to it, and starts on a quest to get the money back home. Along the way, he meets up with a gambler and slick talker named Tyree (Fred Williamson), who offers to help him protect the money for a cut of it. The two pair up, but as word spreads that just two men are transporting over $80,000 in cash, greed takes over, and outlaws start lining up for the chance to steal it. That’s where a bounty hunter named Kiefer (Lee Van Cleef) comes into it. He’s sick of killing dine a dozen outlaws just to collect reward money, and this is the big payoff he’s been looking for. Unfortunately for Keifer and all the other outlaws, Pike and Tyree don’t plan on giving up that money without a fight.

Take a Hard Ride is the second feature on Shout Factory’s Wild West Collection release, and while not as good as its companion film on the disc, Rio Conchos, this actually was a surprisingly good film. This one was made eleven years after Rio Conchos, and by this time Jim Brown had gained a lot of experience in the industry and moved on from being football player turned actor, to full on lead actor status. The chemistry between he and Fred Williamson works quite well, and the way Williamson’s slick gambler character plays off of Brown’s more straight laced character, really creates an interesting dynamic between the two. Williamson also does a good job of making you feel like his character could at any time betray Pike, which only added to the dynamic.

Jim Kelly plays a black kid named Kashtok who was raised by Indians and is mute because his tongue had been cut out. For some reason, he’s really good at martial arts, and while he was doing ok job at fighting the outlaws that had attacked former prostitute Catherine and her husband (who they had killed), he was fighting a losing battle until Pike and Tyree show up to help. It’s at this point that the four begin traveling together, with countless numbers of outlaws on their trail. I found Catherine to be a rather unsympathetic character, but I think that had a lot to do with the fact that she was a former prostitute and unable to really feel love for anyone. Jim Kelly playing Kashtok was just kind of weird. The character, while played well, felt out of place in the story. Giving the character a different background would have gone a long way to alleviate that issue.

Lee Van Cleef was…well…Lee Van Cleef. He’s one of those people, much like Clint Eastwood in his westerns, that always feels like they’re playing the same character. He’s basically a scumbag bounty hunter who never read past "Wanted Dead…" on the wanted posters. Once he realizes that it’s going to be harder to get his hands on the money than he had originally thought, he starts organizing the outlaws into an army and promises each of them a cut. Eventually, he gets a huge Mexican gang involved, and they double cross him, going after the money themselves and cutting him out completely, which didn’t work out so well for them since Pike and Tyree had other plans for them.

One person in particular I was really happy to see in this film was Harry Carey Jr.. Why? Because I absolutely LOVE the movies They Call Me Trinity and Trinity is Still My Name, and he played Trinity and Bambino’s father in the latter. He didn’t have a large part in this film though. He and his partner had been on the cattle drive, and once they found out that Pike was going to be transporting all the money, they decided to try to steal it for themselves, but ultimately enlisted on with Keifer’s group.

The story in this film, while not as good as the story in Rio Conchos, is engaging and entertaining. You’ll have a good time watching both films, and I highly recommend this great release from Shout Factory. Even if you don’t normally like westerns all that much, you’ll probably really enjoy both of the films on this double feature.

If you’d like to find out more about this release or to pick up a copy for yourself, you can visit its page on the Shout Factory website here.