Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:          

THE PLUNDERERS. Allied Artists, 1960. Jeff Chandler, John Saxon, Dolores Hart, Marsha Hunt, Jay C. Flippen. Director: Joseph Pevney.

   The Plunderers appeared on the scene at the tail end of a great decade for Westerns when the genre was beginning to show moderate signs of fatigue. It wasn’t necessarily that Westerns in the early 1960s were necessarily bad films or sub-par Westerns, not at all. It’s just that after the 1950s – a truly golden era for the Western – there wasn’t much new, in terms of plot or structure, under the sun.

   Not yet anyway.

   The genre, of course, would be reinvigorated soon enough, thanks in large part to (love ‘em or hate ‘em) Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah, and Monte Hellman, auteurs willing to take Westerns into cinematic realms more daring, violent, or, downright quirkier, than those great late 1950s Ranown cycle films of Budd Boetticher and the first films of Howard Hawks’s Rio Bravo trilogy. These directors who came to the fore in the 1960s built on the groundwork laid before them by directors such as William Castle, Andre De Toth, and Jacques Tourneur, among others.

   The TV Western in the early 1960s, of course, was another story altogether. There were still plenty to choose from on the air; many of them were quite good and stand the test of time.

   The Plunderers is best understood as a product of its historical context, coming as it did between the end of the 1950s Western and the dawn of the revisionist and Spaghetti Westerns. Directed by Joseph Pevney (Star Trek), The Plunderers, which feels more like an above average TV episode more than a feature film, stars Jeff Chandler as Sam Christy, a rancher wracked by doubt and self-loathing. Severely wounded during the Civil War, Sam was left with only one good arm and a chip on his shoulder the size of the West Texas.

   So it’s perhaps no surprise that when four marauding youngsters roll into Trail City and proceed to ravage the place, Sam’s natural response is to revert his gaze and pretend it’s not of his business. That, of course changes, when Sam realizes how much the townsfolk, particularly the lovely Ellie Walters (Dolores Hart), need him to take a stand.

    And take a stand he does. With a knife and with a gun, Sam decides it’s time to fight back against the four hooligans. Among the criminals is, Rondo (John Saxon), a cunning Mexican with some historical baggage on his mind. He has his eye, and occasionally his hands, on Ellie, including in one particularly brutal attempted sexual assault scene.

   Despite the semi-tired plot of townsfolk banding together to face down a threat, The Plunderers does have one great thing going for it. And that’s Jeff Chandler, whose acting skills are on full display here. Without much seeming effort, Chandler is able to vividly express the emotions of a man haunted by wartime trauma. He’s a man alone, but one who desperately wants human connection. He’s a fighter afraid to fight, and a lover afraid to love.

   When all is said and done, when Sam Christy decides to fight back, he’s not afraid to fight dirty. In an otherwise slow, but steady, paced movie, that’s when the action really begins. The Plunderers may not be the best Western out there, but it’s an solid film with very little working against it, apart from the fact that the cinematography is overall forgettable and the natural scenery all but not existent. But it’s nevertheless a good little morality play about courage and manhood.