The Deadly Trackers (1973)

PG | 104-106 or 110 mins | Western | December 1973

Director:

Barry Shear

Writer:

Lukas Heller

Producer:

Fouad Said

Cinematographer:

Gabriel Torres

Production Designer:

Javier Torres Torija

Production Company:

Cine Film Productions
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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were Riata and Kill Brand . The film's end credits include the credit “based on the story ‘Riata’ by Samuel Fuller” and the following statement: “Filmed entirely on location in Mexico with the cooperation of Churubusco Studios Mexico City D.F.” The first four minutes of the picture are presented as a series of still photographs with superimposed credits and voice-over narration describing the town of Santa Rosa and its sheriff. Offscreen dialogue also is heard over the photographs. In two early scenes, star Richard Harris refers to the character played by Kelly Jean Peters as “Kathleen,” but calls her “Katherine” in subsequent scenes.
       As noted in various contemporary sources, in addition to the screen story, Fuller wrote a screenplay for the film and was the picture’s original director. According to a HR news item, in Jan 1971, Sassafrass Productions, a newly formed independent company, hired Fuller to direct his script, starting in Mexico that spring. In his autobiography, Fuller made no mention of Sassafrass but claims that early on, M-G-M had expressed interest in the story, which he had begun writing in the mid-1960s. By Sep 1972, Warner Bros. had acquired the property, and as noted in a DV news item, Barry Kulik was hired as producer. In the same item, Nina Von Pallandt was announced as Harris’ probable co-star. Fuller noted in his autobiography that he rejected rock singer Jim Morrison’s request to be cast in the lead and that singer-actor Mick Jagger was considered for the lead heavy role of "Brand." ... More Less

The working titles of this film were Riata and Kill Brand . The film's end credits include the credit “based on the story ‘Riata’ by Samuel Fuller” and the following statement: “Filmed entirely on location in Mexico with the cooperation of Churubusco Studios Mexico City D.F.” The first four minutes of the picture are presented as a series of still photographs with superimposed credits and voice-over narration describing the town of Santa Rosa and its sheriff. Offscreen dialogue also is heard over the photographs. In two early scenes, star Richard Harris refers to the character played by Kelly Jean Peters as “Kathleen,” but calls her “Katherine” in subsequent scenes.
       As noted in various contemporary sources, in addition to the screen story, Fuller wrote a screenplay for the film and was the picture’s original director. According to a HR news item, in Jan 1971, Sassafrass Productions, a newly formed independent company, hired Fuller to direct his script, starting in Mexico that spring. In his autobiography, Fuller made no mention of Sassafrass but claims that early on, M-G-M had expressed interest in the story, which he had begun writing in the mid-1960s. By Sep 1972, Warner Bros. had acquired the property, and as noted in a DV news item, Barry Kulik was hired as producer. In the same item, Nina Von Pallandt was announced as Harris’ probable co-star. Fuller noted in his autobiography that he rejected rock singer Jim Morrison’s request to be cast in the lead and that singer-actor Mick Jagger was considered for the lead heavy role of "Brand." Fuller also stated that he wanted Juliet Berto for the female lead, but Kulik instead hired another French actress, Juliette Mills.
       Fuller began directing the film in Almeria, Spain, in late Oct 1972, according to production charts. In addition to Harris and Mills, the cast at that time included Bo Hopkins as Brand and Alfonso Arau as the Mexican lawman. Crew members included associate producer Bernard Williams; director of photography Gil Taylor; art director Fernando Gonzalez; assistant director Francisco Rodriguez; film editor John Glen; and soundman Bill Daniels. After five weeks of shooting in Almeria, Warner Bros. closed down production of the film. According to trade news items, Warner Bros., which had already spent almost one million dollars on the project, stated officially that Fuller’s departure was due to “production difficulties.”
       In his autobiography, Fuller contended that the studio was in financial difficulty at the time and may have been discouraged by the performance of the inexperienced Mills. A Dec 1972 LAT article reported speculation that Warner Bros. had stopped production either because of arguments between Harris and Kulik, or because studio executives were unhappy with Fuller’s footage. Based on an overheard on-set conversation between Fuller and his wife Christa, the LAT writer conjectured that the film was shut down because Fuller had included scenes showing Harris’ character “Kilpatrick” eating peyote, a narcotic cactus plant, and having hallucinations.
       In Feb 1973, according to a DV article, Warner Bros. took on Cinemobile Film Guarantors as a “partner in resuming production and guaranteeing completion” of the project, to be shot entirely in Mexico. Fouad Said, who had acquired the property from Warner Bros., reportedly arranged a co-production between Mexico City’s National Film Bank and Churubsuco Studios. The DV article noted that, while Harris was scheduled to continue as the film’s star, Fuller’s footage, which according to Fuller’s autobiography was sold to Said, was “likely to be scrapped.” Ralph Serpe was announced as producer in the DV article, and Leslie Caron as Harris’ co-star. Although Arau had been dropped from the production, Bo Hopkins was still listed as a cast member in the article.
       On 7 May 1973, the film, retitled The Deadly Trackers , began shooting in Mexico, with Barry Shear directing for Cine Film Productions. Although a May 1973 DV news item noted that Said had declared The Deadly Trackers a new project and not a “revamping” of Riata , Fuller’s basic storyline was retained. Lukas Heller, however, received credit as the picture’s screenwriter, and all of the principal crew members were replaced. It has not been determined whether any footage shot in Spain was included in the final film. Mexican locations included Durango and Cocoyoc, according to news items.
       According to a 21 Nov 1973 Var article, after a trade screening in mid-Nov 1973, screenwriter Heller requested that his name be removed from the film’s credits but was refused by Warner Bros., which claimed that deleting the credit from existing prints would be too expensive. The studio did agree to remove his name from publicity materials if the excision did not cost the studio anything. Heller, whose contract stipulated that he be allowed to view the picture prior to his name being included in the screen credits, reportedly considered taking legal action against Warner Bros. According to the Var article, Heller protested that the final twenty pages of the script contained “arbitrary and ludicrous” scenes written after he left Mexico, and that most of his dialogue was altered in post-production. The British-born Heller also complained that the post-production dubbing changed the “Gutierrez” character from a “cool, sardonic, intelligent fellow,” into a “pathetic slob.” No information about a lawsuit filed by Heller has been found.
       In addition to Heller, composer Fred Steiner demanded that his name not appear in the film’s credits, according to a 23 Nov 1973 DV news item. The bulk of Steiner’s score was dropped by director Shear and, as noted in the DV article, replaced by excerpts from Jerry Fielding’s score for the Warner Bros. 1969 release The Wild Bunch (See Entry). Because Steiner made his request several months before the picture’s release, the studio agreed not to include his name in the onscreen credits, but it was listed in early trade reviews.
       According to a Feb 1974 DV article, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) union sent Warner Bros. a bill for $25,000, claiming that a 6 Nov 1973 recording session employing AFM members violated its contract with the union. AFM protested that the session, during which portions of Fielding’s The Wild Bunch score were re-recorded, was a “dummy,” as a comparison of the session’s tapes to the film’s final soundtrack indicated that the original 1969 soundtrack was used in the 1973 release. Union rules prohibited studios from reusing soundtracks without permission from AFM and without compensating the original musicians. It is not known whether Warner Bros., which questioned the legality of the bill, paid the additional charges. Modern sources add Bob Hevelone and Antonio Mayans to the cast.
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GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
3 Dec 1973
p. 4646.
Daily Variety
13 Sep 1972.
---
Daily Variety
20 Oct 1972.
---
Daily Variety
20 Feb 1973.
---
Daily Variety
25 May 1973.
---
Daily Variety
23 Nov 1973.
---
Daily Variety
13 Feb 1974
p. 1, 11.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 1971.
---
Hollywood Reporter
20 Oct 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Nov 1972
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Dec 1972
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Dec 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 May 1973
p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter
23 May 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jun 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jul 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
19 Nov 1973.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
23 Nov 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
30 Dec 1972.
---
New York Times
22 Dec 1973
p. 11.
Variety
21 Nov 1973.
---
Variety
28 Nov 1973
p. 14.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir, U.S.
1st asst dir, Mexico
PRODUCERS
Exec prod
Prod
Exec in charge of prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Based on the story "Riata" by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SET DECORATOR
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Mexican prod mgr
Loc mgr
Scr supv
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Riata
Kill Brand
Release Date:
December 1973
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 21 November 1973: New York opening: 21 December 1973
Production Date:
7 May--mid July 1973 at Estudias Churubusco, Mexico City
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros., Inc.
Copyright Date:
16 November 1973
Copyright Number:
LP43118
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
104-106 or 110
Length(in reels):
12
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

When a gang of outlaws robs the bank in Santa Rosa, Texas, and cold-bloodedly kills two bystanders, a posse quickly forms and Sheriff Sean Kilpatrick is summoned. The robbers are trapped before they can flee town, and the gang’s ruthless leader, Frank Brand, takes a young boy hostage in the schoolhouse. Although the Irish-born Kilpatrick, who is widely respected for his firm but nonviolent law enforcement, is startled to see that the boy is his own son Kevin, he agrees to allow the gang to escape, on condition that Kevin be released just outside town. As Brand is riding away, however, Kilpatrick’s wife Katherine runs up and grabs Brand’s horse, pleading for the release of her son. In response, Brand shoots Katherine in the head and throws Kevin to the ground, where he is trampled to death by another horse. The escaping gang crosses into Mexico, forcing the posse to turn back, but Kilpatrick continues his pursuit alone across the border. The next day, Kilpatrick sneaks up on the outlaw’s campsite, where the slow-witted but vicious Schoolboy is stuffing stolen money into his saddlebag. Kilpatrick shoots Schoolboy, then stabs him to death in a fight. Brand and his remaining cohorts, African-American Jacob and Choo Choo, whose amputated hand has been replaced with a block of metal, have witnessed Kilpatrick’s attack from afar and ride off. Although momentarily unnerved by Schoolboy’s killing, Kilpatrick resumes tracking and soon spots the three from a hillside. Before he can fire on them, he is jumped by Mexican federale Gutierrez. After ... +


When a gang of outlaws robs the bank in Santa Rosa, Texas, and cold-bloodedly kills two bystanders, a posse quickly forms and Sheriff Sean Kilpatrick is summoned. The robbers are trapped before they can flee town, and the gang’s ruthless leader, Frank Brand, takes a young boy hostage in the schoolhouse. Although the Irish-born Kilpatrick, who is widely respected for his firm but nonviolent law enforcement, is startled to see that the boy is his own son Kevin, he agrees to allow the gang to escape, on condition that Kevin be released just outside town. As Brand is riding away, however, Kilpatrick’s wife Katherine runs up and grabs Brand’s horse, pleading for the release of her son. In response, Brand shoots Katherine in the head and throws Kevin to the ground, where he is trampled to death by another horse. The escaping gang crosses into Mexico, forcing the posse to turn back, but Kilpatrick continues his pursuit alone across the border. The next day, Kilpatrick sneaks up on the outlaw’s campsite, where the slow-witted but vicious Schoolboy is stuffing stolen money into his saddlebag. Kilpatrick shoots Schoolboy, then stabs him to death in a fight. Brand and his remaining cohorts, African-American Jacob and Choo Choo, whose amputated hand has been replaced with a block of metal, have witnessed Kilpatrick’s attack from afar and ride off. Although momentarily unnerved by Schoolboy’s killing, Kilpatrick resumes tracking and soon spots the three from a hillside. Before he can fire on them, he is jumped by Mexican federale Gutierrez. After subduing Kilpatrick, Gutierrez explains that he plans to arrest Brand for an earlier murder, to which he has a witness. Gutierrez assures Kilpatrick that Brand will be brought to justice, and Kilpatrick pretends to be assuaged long enough to surprise Gutierrez with a disabling blow to the groin. The outlaws, meanwhile, force their way into an elderly couple’s farmhouse and help themselves to food and drink. When Brand spies Kilpatrick approaching in the distance, he decides to rid himself of the persistent sheriff by murdering the couple and, while posing as an American lawman, tell the local villagers that Kilpatrick killed them. As soon as Kilpatrick rides into the village square, he is swarmed by an angry mob and accused by Brand of murder. The villagers drag Kilpatrick to a noose, but Gutierrez rescues him before he strangles. After Gutierrez deposits Kilpatrick in the local jail, he rides off to arrest Brand, but the outlaws anticipate him and hold several villagers, including a blacksmith, at gunpoint. A gunfight ensues, and while Brand and Jacob get away unharmed, Gutierrez captures Choo Choo and entrusts blacksmith Herrero to deliver him to the jail. Using his stolen cash as a distraction, Choo Choo jumps Herrero, killing him with his metal prosthesis. Kilpatrick, meanwhile, lures a visiting priest to his cell, where he attacks him and escapes. In the ruins of a deserted village, Kilpatrick catches up to Choo Choo, who, after a brief gunfight, stumbles into a pool of quicksand. Choo Choo begs for Kilpatrick’s help, telling him that Brand is headed to San Jose to see his girl friend and apologizing for Kevin’s death, but Kilpatrick leaves the outlaw to drown. Riding to San Jose, Kilpatrick sees Gutierrez, who has been shot and wounded by Brand, struggling to climb out of a ravine. At first Kilpatrick refuses to rescue Gutierrez, but finally throws him a rope and pulls him to safety. That night, Brand and Jacob relax in a San Jose cantina, where Brand forces his girl friend Maria to work as a prostitute. Jacob, an educated card sharp, informs Brand that the locals have told him that Kilpatrick is alive and headed their way. Jacob refuses to continue with Brand, arguing that Kilpatrick is after only Brand, and pays his partner $1,000 to become Maria’s new pimp. Soon after Brand’s departure, however, Kilpatrick arrives and sees Jacob’s horse outside the cantina. Having tied up the wounded Gutierrez, Kilpatrick bursts into the cantina and guns down Jacob. He then forces Maria to reveal that Brand has gone to a nearby convent, where their young daughter lives, and insists that she take him there. As Kilpatrick is collecting Jacob’s money in the cantina, an angry customer shoots him, grazing his temple and rendering him sightless. Unbound by Kilpatrick, Gutierrez guides the sheriff toward the convent, along with Maria. Kilpatrick gradually regains his sight but pretends he is still blind in order to take Gutierrez by surprise. Kilpatrick grabs Gutierrez’s rifle and dashes off on foot. On the grounds of the convent, meanwhile, Brand visits with his shy daughter and fills with fatherly pride at her beauty. As she is being led away by a nun, Brand spots Kilpatrick approaching and fires on him. The two men exchange gunfire, but when Kilpatrick finally corners Brand, he cannot bring himself to kill his enemy in front of his daughter. Instead, he ties Brand to his horse and drags him to the next village, where he turns him over to Gutierrez. After Gutierrez announces that his witness has just died and he must now release Brand, Kilpatrick shoots and kills the outlaw as he celebrates his unexpected freedom. Ever dutiful, Gutierrez demands that Kilpatrick turn himself in, and when Kilpatrick instead starts to ride away, fires a bullet into his back. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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