Western, Drama, Action | 90 Mins | Released: 1970
Director: Alf Kjellin
Starring: Burl Ives, Brock Peters, David Carradine, Nancy Kwan, Jack Palance, John Carradine, L. Q. Jones
Our Rating: 6
According to the New York Times review of the movie in 1970: The McMasters is a post-Civil War, socially conscious, racial conflict Western at the end of which the Indians arrive, as if in the nick of time, to save a black man from rampaging white settlers. The film concerns Benjie, a former slave (Brock Peters), who returns from the war wearing a Union uniform, to greet his former master (Burl Ives); and to confront an old and powerful enemy (Jack Palance); he also faces a frightened and antagonistic community, and a tribe of unkempt but intellectually advanced Indians who, when they are not stealing cattle (and even when they are), complain a good deal about property-oriented societies. The kindly master sells Benjie a half interest in his ranch, which is where the trouble begins. Jack Palance, a one-armed, tobacco chewing, South-sympathizing, and playing for more madness than usual antagonizer threatens every kind of inconvenience. Nobody will work for Benjie, so he hires the Indians, although they rail against his role as a partial property owner and call him a white man, they are grateful enough to give him a squaw (Nancy Kwan).
With his squaw, Benjie seems undecided between rape and marriage, and so settles for both. However, he wants a deep affection (“You gotta like me—for my—soul.”), and she is willing to give it. “I your woman,” she often reminds him, no matter how rotten things get, and until the Indians arrive (still protesting property capitalism) things get rotten
As the newspaper ads indicated at the time, the film was released in two versions in New York. One version, at the DeMille, was approved by the producer, screenwriter and leading man. The other version, at the Loew’s Orpheum was preferred by the distributor. The second version had eight minutes chopped out of it.
One ending not shown here has the local bad guys, led by Palance: win out. Whereas, the other ending which is presented here, finds Peters defeating Palance with the help of his Indian friends.
According to TV Guide, the producers, who couldn’t decide whether to go for morality or box office gross, undermined what could have been an important statement about racial prejudices.
“The title for this flick is a connotation, and the McMasters is a riveting Western if I ever saw one! Wow hard core to say the least, but the film was professional from Cast Extras to the Director of this post civil war drama. This Western would be way out in outer space by today’s standards for “Political Correctness”. I respect the harsh intones that are portrayed for record of what some men really were like at that time. Nudity and worse are part of the action, not to mention language that is intolerable in today’s public. Barbarism is pervasive throughout this action packed thriller. Jack Palance as always performed wonderfully, but Burl Ives’s immortal abilities carries this movie in support of Brock Peters. Actions and words in this movie shook and shocked me, but not by the actions and words in of themselves, but by the ingenious ways in which they were introduced into this masterpiece. The quality technicalities of this film on DVD were good, color, etc.” - review by monte peterson, March 2008
A guilty pleasure…
28 August 2000 | by gavmaster
“‘The McMasters’ is yet another film that stands as a testament to the changing values of North American society: another case of “There’s no way that could have been made today”.
Brock Peters plays Benji, a former slave and Civil War veteran who is adopted by kindly-old-white-man Burl Ives (‘Mcmasters’), and given title to the old man’s farm. Conflict with the racist locals, led by the chilling Jack Palance as Kolby, ensues, leading to a violent conclusion.
To me the film was almost painfully riveting, and frank in its depictions of violence and racism.The violence in today’s action films is highly stylized, and almost glamorous by comparison: today’s post-Star-Wars escapist fare has no place for the smallest depiction or frank discussion of racism. I found myself getting involved with the characters, cheering them on and yelling advice to the screen. I also loved the western/blacksploitation angle of the film, even though the “showdown” plot is pretty standard western fare.
The film seems old-fashioned when viewed today: does that mean that society has progressed, or regressed since 1969? You be the judge.”