"100 Rifles" is one of those films that has been pretty much forgotten today, except for lovers of 60's and 70's cinema who were raised on that stuff - like me. It was a huge deal when it came out for one particular reason which I'll get into later. But I have a soft spot in my heart for the movie, since it was the first R-rated film I ever saw when my father took me to see it. That was one of the great things about him, my father. He went to the movies all the time and didn't care how violent and sex-laden a film was. If he saw it, then it was more than OK for me to see it too. You went in to see a movie as a boy, and you came out a man.
But the film is more important in another way. It really heralded the emergence of the black male action hero. Up until then, there really weren't any black male action heroes on film. Yes, there was Sidney Poitier, but he was a dramatic actor. But when Jim Brown came along, he was a revelation.
The former football legend made his movie debut in the supporting role of an army cavalry solider on the trail of an ex-Confederate officer planning to start a new Civil War, in the solid 1964 Fox western "Rio Conchos"; but he wound up getting killed off in that film. Then there was the WWII classic 1967 Robert Aldrich film "The Dirty Dozen" but (you guessed it) he was killed in that too. Bummer. Can't brother get a break?
But a year later, in 1968, he toplined the heist film "The Split", the first film ever to get an R rating from the MPAA, which was established just two weeks before the film came out. The good news was that he didn't get killed in that movie, although his wife, played by Diahann Carroll, was shot to death.
But there hadn't been anyone like Brown before on the screen. A hardcore, masculine, serious black man who didn't acquiesce to anybody. Paul Robeson maybe came the closest before Brown, but was let down by the films he made. The same goes for Woody Strode, who, with the exception of his lead role in John Ford's "Sergeant Rutledge", was never really given a shot.
Jim Brown's characters weren't polite and decent like Poitier's. He was pissed off most of the time and rarely smiled. He was the perfect reflection of militant 1960's and 70's. For a lot of people, it was a big deal when Poitier slapped an old racist white guy in "In the Heat of the Night". For fans of Brown, that was a joke. Our hero was stomping and shooting white guys to death by the dozens in his movies. No comparisons.
So when "100 Rifles" came along, it firmly established Brown as a major box office draw. The film plays to all his strengths. No one could claim that Brown was a great actor - especially Brown himself - but his overpowering presence on the screen was enough. He commanded the screen. He dominated it and never shrunk into the background.
Set in 1912, in "100 Rifles," Brown plays a sheriff who ventures into Mexico to arrest an outlaw on the run (Burt Reynolds, who was just on the verge of a A list stardom in the 70's) after robbing a bank. It turns out that Reynolds used the stolen money to buy 100 rifles to arm Mexican Yaqui guerrillas who are fighting against the local governors for freedom - led by Raquel Welch, who admittedly is spectacularly awful in the film. Ironically she's totally unconvincing playing a Latina, considering she is actually Hispanic herself, born Raquel Tejada, the daughter of a Bolivian immigrant.
Needless to say, circumstances lead the three of them to join forces, resulting in all sort of gunfights, other kinds of battles and explosions, as well as spectacular stunts, until our heroes are victorious.
The film received notice for two scenes: First, Welch's supposedly "hot" showering scene, as she tries to distract a train full of Mexican soldiers. Welch had a "no nudity' clause in her film contracts, and, in the movie, she showers wearing a shirt, which makes no sense.
But the really big controversy was the highly publicized, "super hot" interracial sex scene between Brown and Welsh, which, looking at it today, is PG-13 tame; and thanks to Welch's no nudity clause, they don't take their clothes off at all. But at the time, back on 1969, it was a huge deal for obvious reasons.
Brown had this aggressive, unabashed sexuality. It must have been included in his contract that he essentially "gets some" in almost every move he made. African American women, white women, Hispanic, Asian... it didn't matter He was getting his, unlike most black male movie stars (even still today), who are like monks in comparison. With the exception of a few scenes, like his performance with Lisa Nicole Carson in "Devil in Blue Dress", Denzel Washington has been practically chaste.
Brown followed "100 Rifles" the very next year, in 1970, with another violent western, "El Condor", in which he played a prison escapee who hatches a plan to steal a fortune in gold bullion from a military fort in Mexico. And in the film, he has a big sex scene with the white wife of the commander of the fort (again, practically taboo back then), convincing her to join in with him. In the end he gets both the gold and the woman. Never underestimate the persuasive powers of Jim Brown on screen.
So if you're curious to see "100 Rifles", the film that started it all so or speak, Kino Lorber has released it on Blu-ray (pick up a copy on Amazon here). It comes with a new commentary track; however, it doesn't have any commentary from both Brown and Welch. One would have loved to hear their reflections on the film after all these decades later, since, reportedly, it was rumored that they didn't get along during shooting. But time heals old wounds as they say.
Check out a trailer for "100 Rifles" below, as well as a poster.