John Benedict (William Holden) is a Civil War veteran and rancher whose family is massacred by a band of Comanches led by two white Comanchero horse thieves. Captured by the sheriff’s posse, one of them informs that the other, Tarp (Warren Vanders) has taken the horses to Mexico to trade them.
Benedict rides alone into Mexico in search of Tarp, who is known to hide out in Pueblo Plata, and, posing as a mine owner in need of labourers, he hires six condemned men from a prison called El Hoyo – Hoop (Ernest Borgnine), Job (Woody Strode), Chamaco (Jorge Luke), Quiberon (Roger Hanin), Zweig (Reinhard Kolldehoff) and Cholo (Jorge Martinez DeHoyos) – with the intention of enlisting their help in finding and killing Tarp.
Eventually, they ride together into the Pueblo Plata stronghold, but in the ensuing gun battle with the Indians, Tarp escapes. Benedict pursues him alone and parts with his men, but they decide to stay with him and for months they ride.
Benedict’s first realisation of his moral degeneration comes when he and his men pay an unwelcomed visit to a Texas town. An old friend, now Marshal Whitcomb (John Kelly), brings home the truth that he’s become as callous as the man he is hunting, and Benedict – confused and bitter – rides to a stage station where, with a bottle of whisky, he broods over photographs of his dead family.
It is here that The Revengers could and should have developed the theme of moral conflict. Benedict started out to avenge his family’s murder because of the love he held for them, but his prime motivation is now hatred rather than love.
Thus he is on a level with Tarp, and his realisation of this could have permitted an in-depth character analysis. Instead, Benedict is shot by one of his men after insulting him, and his moral investigation is reduced to a corny romance with the frontier nurse to whom he owes his life, Elizabeth Reilly (Susan Hayward).
But the chase can’t be left in mid-air, so Benedict resumes his hunt in Mexico, but is recognised by the former warden of El Hoyo and, ironically, is imprisoned there. Even more ironically, it is Benedict’s men, the ex-convicts, who rescue him and once more join with him for the seemingly endless search.
The final, inevitable, confrontation with Tarp comes after they have saved a cavalry post from an Indian attack. Tarp has been captured by the US Army and Benedict finds him cowering in the darkness of a shed, babbling with madness.
Benedict spares him, finally realising that a man’s ability to love is far more important than hatred.
The Revengers was William Holden’s final Western and flopped at the box office.
Jorge Martínez de Hoyos
Raúl Pérez Prieto