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Using a 'borrowed' airplane, American Lee Arnold (Robert Mitchum) runs guns to the Federales. A local blacksmith repairs the plane's landing gear, allowing Lee to meet the lovely Fina (Grazia Buccella). Federale officer Ramirez (Frank Wolff) rapes Fina and executes eight men including her father before Pancho Villa (Yul Brynner) counterattacks. Relieved of his money, Lee is prepared for execution by Villa's second in command, Fierro (Charles Bronson). But Villa bargains with Lee for his services as an aerial spotter and bombardier in a major battle. When Arnold complains that Villa delayed attacking the village to give the people more reason to hate the Federales, the General compensates by marrying Fina, restoring her honor. Unfortunately, Villa has married many women in the same way. More problems come from Villa's political rival General Huerta (Herbert Lom), who plots to ensure that Villa's army is wiped out in battle. The naïve President Madero (Alexander Knox) orders Villa not to cause trouble. Pancho takes a town without firing a shot, only to be arrested and put before a firing squad. Villa is convinced that his beloved President will intervene, but Madero is hundreds of miles away in Mexico City. […]
All of this is told through the experience of Robert Mitchum's Yankee aviator Lee Arnold, who wants a fast buck but keeps getting sucked into Pancho's idealistic battles. Like a fly on the wall, Arnold witnesses mass hangings and executions while never being particularly important to the plot. His girlfriend is raped and his money stolen, and he spends more than a little of his time hoping that Charles Bronson's trigger happy General Fierro won't use him for target practice.
The impressive production musters hundreds of costumed extras, an armed battle train and exciting aerial sequences with Arnold's WW1 pursuit plane. The pyrotechnics and stunt horse falls are expertly done. Top talent like ace British cinematographer Jack Hildyard put a gloss on all technical aspects, and the cast is quite capable. […] An unexpected casting success is Alexander Knox, a specialist in stuffy English authority figures. Knox is a compelling President Madero, and has a fine time play-acting in a black beard, mustache and wig.
Legend Films' DVD of Paramount's Villa Rides! is a very good enhanced transfer of elements in fine shape. The only funky shots are the barely-adequate blue screen composites that insert Mitchum into the airplane in flight. Another highlight is Maurice Jarre's spirited, classy score. It's not as lively as his work on The Professionals and some of the more lyrical passages clash with the violent subject matter, but Jarre's music is a definite plus. No extras are included. Unlike most of the other Legend releases, the cover graphic uses original poster art. --Glenn Erickson of DVDSavant.com
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