Santee – 1973
Review by John Rouse Merriott Chard
Make the first shot count Jody
Santee is directed by Gary Nelson and written by Brand Bell. It stars Glenn Ford, Michael Burns, Dana Wynter and Jay Silverheels. Music is scored by Don Rand and photography is by Donald Morgan. Plot finds Ford as seasoned bounty hunter Santee, who after killing the outlaw father of young Jody Deaks (Burns), takes him under his wing at his Three Arrows Ranch. With both of them nursing loses in their lives, they both come to be great for each other, but just as harmony is abundant at the ranch, news comes that the outlaw gang responsible for Santee’s pain is back in town.
No country for empty pockets and a flat stomach.
Primarily shot on location in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Santee is notable for a couple of things. Firstly it was the last time that Western legend Ford would play a lead role in the genre, secondly is that it was filmed on video tape. Some debate exists as to if it was the first film to be shot that way, but certainly the research suggests it was definitely the first Western. Santee is a strange film in many ways, for sure as a film it’s not a great lead role send off for Ford, but he is actually very good in it. The story is a good one from Bell, full of emotional worth and maintaining interest throughout, while there’s plenty of action and blood shed within the plot. The dialogue, too, often has some intelligence about it. But it’s so poorly put together it becomes a frustrating watching experience.
The video tape filming doesn’t work, the colour is often dull and the night interiors are lifeless. While a couple of close ups appear to suddenly become pan and scan! Other problem comes with there being no truly great villain to underpin the destinies of Santee and Jody Deaks. The Banner (John Larch) gang exist, get a couple of small scenes, but that’s about it until the bloody finale. The cast around Ford are OK, Wynter doesn’t quite look right for a ranch gal lover, but makes a mark as a loyal wife and surrogate mother. Burns has the youthful naivety just right, but isn’t helped by the screenplay having him become a killing man too quickly, and Silverheels turns in a good one as the wise ranch hand at Three Arrows. The film is very 70s in look and feel, something that can take you out of the period setting, more so with Rand’s foot tapping music accompaniment. Bonus, though, on the music front, is the feature song in the picture, “Jody,” that is song by Paul Revere and The Raiders, it’s a beautiful ballad and carries with it the requisite emotional heft.
An enjoyable Western with one or two tricks up its sleeve, but the problems are evident and stop it from being a must see for anyone other than Western and Glenn Ford purists. 6/10