Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Nevada Smith" -- Bullets and Corn

Cleveland Press June 22, 1966

Nevada Smith was one of the better characters in "The Carpetbaggers," a minor virtue this, since that was a story peopled with an assortment of crumbs, heels and cheats.

This new movie, "Nevada Smith," is a spinoff from the previous work, a motion picture in which screen writer John Michael Hayes has dreamed up a story for Smith's mysterious past.

Steve McQueen portrays the Smith who isn't called Smith until the last few minutes of the movie but who is Max Sand, but forget it, it's too complicated.

Anyway, the young man, a half-breed, sets out to track down the three men who tortured and murdered his parents.

The three despicable ones are played to the hilt by Arthur Kennedy, Karl Malden and Martin Landau. Another great nasty is Howard Da Silva as a sadistic prison camp warden.

THE STORY MAKES IT CLEAR that at the beginning McQueen is a wet-behind-the-ears kid who couldn't catch and kill a limping turtle let alone three hardened killers. But McQueen physically does not fit so youthful a role, a problem he tries to solve by adopting an air of bewilderment.

With its theme of triple vengeance, the movie is really three long episodes held together by a single character. Each has its own cast. Thus, McQueen, who is one of the better young screen actors, is required to carry almost the entire burden of the movie. He hasn't quite the stature for it. He's great in the action sequences, otherwise tends to underplay to the point of being overshadowed by lesser characters.

The outcome of the movie holds no surprises and when a priest (Raf Vallone) saves his life you know that the message of forgiveness is forthcoming. It's pat and contrived and when McQueen refuses to kill his final victim, but instead shoots him through the arms and legs you wonder if this is mercy or the ultimate in viciousness.

DIRECTOR HENRY HATHAWAY has turned out a film with all the sweep and action you would expect from the best of the they-went-thataway school of cinema experts and the locales -- several California spots and a Louisiana swamp -- help neatly.

Underneath it all "Nevada Smith" is hack work, with a plot that is not so much unbelievably bad but simply unbelievable.