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An Eye for an Eye

An Eye for an Eye(1966)

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An Eye for an Eye (1966)

"One man's eyes...another man's hands...between them they held the strangest gun in the West!"
Tagline for An Eye for an Eye

Although Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964) had yet to open in the U.S., this low-budget Western almost seems to be inspired by it with its tough, brutal plot and background music by Raoul Kraushaar that strongly resembles the work of Ennio Morricone, whose spaghetti Western scores would revolutionize the genre. Add the unique plot twist highlighted in its tagline, strong supporting performances and excellent cinematography and you have a B Western ripe for rediscovery.

Robert Lansing stars as a retired gunslinger out for revenge on the villain (Slim Pickens) who murdered his wife and child. He teams up with young bounty hunter Pat Wayne to bring Pickens in, but during their first confrontation with his gang, Lansing's gun hand is smashed while Wayne is blinded. The two retreat to learn how to work together to overcome their disabilities, eventually becoming a two-man killing machine. Along the way, they meet a young widow (Gloria Talbot) and her precocious son (Clint Howard), who takes a shine to Lansing.

The plot is reminiscent of two of the characters in Ben-Hur (1959), Sam Jaffe's Simonides, who cannot walk, and his friend Malluch (Ady Berber), whose tongue was cut out by the Romans. Together, Jaffe suggests, "we make a considerable man." A similar device would appear in the 1973 spaghetti Western Deaf Smith & Johnny Ears, with Franco Nero doing the hearing for partner Anthony Quinn who wants to conceal his deafness. In 1979, the kung fu film Crippled Masters would feature fighting partners, one of whom had lost his arms and the other his legs.

The film was produced by Embassy Pictures, a company formed by Joseph E. Levine to import foreign films to the U.S. They had their first big hits with exploitation films like Godzilla, King of Monsters! (1956) and Hercules (1958), starring Steve Reeves. But they also picked up more serious films like Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954), Vittorio de Sica's Two Women (1961) and Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 (1963). In 1963, Paramount Pictures invested $30 million in the company, allowing Levine to turn to independent production, starting with the hit adaptation of Harold Robbins' The Carpetbaggers (1964). In 1966, the company released 14 films, ranging from exploitation pictures like Billy the Kid Versus Dracula to the Arthur Rankin/Jules Bass animated film The Daydreamer and the big-budget, all-star The Oscar. The studio would enjoy its greatest success in 1967 with The Graduate and The Producers, but after a series of expensive flops like A Chorus Line (1985) would discontinue theatrical production in the 1980s.

Leading man Lansing was primarily a television actor, best-known as the star of the series 87th Precinct and Twelve O'Clock High. This was only his third feature, following The 4D Man (1959) and The Pusher (1960). Co-star Wayne had made his film debut with an uncredited bit in father John Wayne's Rio Grande (1950). In An Eye for an Eye, his character turns out to be the son of the man who shot Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, a role he would play in Young Guns (1988), starring Emilio Estevez. Pickens was also a Western veteran, although he's probably best known as the gung-ho flyer who rides a hydrogen bomb into the Soviet Union in Dr. Strangelove (1964). His sidekick, Strother Martin, is best known as the chain gang head who had a "failure to communicate" with Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967). Leading lady Talbott has a cult following thanks to horror films like Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957) and I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1958), but she had also appeared in major features like We're No Angels, with Humphrey Bogart, and All That Heaven Allows (both 1955), with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. An Eye for an Eye was her last film before she gave up film and TV work to focus on raising her second child.

An Eye for an Eye is distinguished from other low-budget Westerns by its tight editing and beautiful cinematography. This was only the second directing credit for Michael D. Moore, a Canadian-born filmmaker best known for his work as a second-unit director. He had graduated from the art department at Paramount to do second unit work on California (1947) and learned his craft working with directors like Cecil B. DeMille, Anthony Mann and Henry Hathaway. He would return to second-unit work in later years, most notably on the Indiana Jones films. Lucien Ballard was already one of the screen's master cinematographers, having trained under Josef von Sternberg on Morocco (1930) and The Devil Is a Woman (1935). With Sam Peckinpah's Ride the High Country (1962) he proved himself one of the screen's premier photographers of Western landscapes. He shot An Eye for an Eye in Lone Pine, CA, at the Olancha Dunes and along the Owens River in the early spring, capturing the beauty of Mount Whitney in the background. He would go on to do distinguished work on Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch and Henry Hathaway's True Grit (both 1969).

Director: Michael D. Moore
Producer: Carroll Case, Henry Hathaway
Screenplay: Bing Russell, Sumner Williams
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Score: Raoul Kraushaar, Ruby Raksin
Cast: Robert Lansing (Talion), Patrick Wayne (Benny Wallace), Slim Pickens (Ike Slant), Gloria Talbot (Bri Quince), Paul Fix (Brian Quince), Strother Martin (Trumbull), Clint Howard (Jo-Hi Quince), Rance Howard (Harry)

By Frank Miller

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