Entertainment Magazine

The Undefeated

Posted on the 27 April 2014 by Christopher Saunders
The UndefeatedAfter his Oscar-winning turn in True Grit, John Wayne coasted in lazy vehicles ranging from mediocre to terrible. Andrew McLaglen's The Undefeated (1969) sets the template well: familiar stars floundering in a derivative story. At least this one gets mileage out of its leads.
Union Colonel John Henry Thomas (John Wayne) resigns after the Civil War, hoping to make a killing selling horses. He runs into Confederate Colonel Langdon (Rock Hudson), leading Southern refugees into Mexico. Langdon and Thomas consider siding with Emperor Maximilian, but Juaristas led by the crafty General Rojas (Antonio Aguilar) checkmate their plans. The two form an uneasy friendship while seeking to outwit the rebels.
The Undefeated borrows the setting of Vera Cruz and Major Dundee without their coherence. James Lee Barrett's script forsakes coherence for tedious digressions. Much time's squandered on a mopey love triangle between Thomas's Indian son (Roman Gabriel), a dopey southerner (Jan-Michael Vincent) and Langdon's daughter (Melissa S. Newman), while a massive brawl just wastes time. The story doesn't build anywhere and fizzles out in a head-scratching anticlimax. Not to mention the screwy politics; this might be the only Western casting Juaristas as villains!
But Undefeated's target audience doesn't care about storytelling; they want the Duke in action. There at least McLaglen delivers. The curtain-raising Civil War battle works well, as does a big-scale bandit shootout halfway through. Undefeated benefits from William Clothier's photography, providing Durango locations with pictorial handsomeness. Hugo Montenegro's rousing score is another highlight.
John Wayne's his usual boisterous self, still energetic at 62. Rock Hudson makes for odd casting, yet he's charismatic enough to overcome any objections. Duke and Hudson show surprising chemistry that redeems the lazy story. They're backed by an odd mix of character talent and stunt casting. John Ford Stock Company refugees John Agar, Harry Carey Jr. and Ben Johnson mix with NFL players Roman Gabriel and Merlin Olsen, Batman star Lee Meriwether and a young Jan-Michael Vincent. Paul Fix and Dub Taylor contribute brief bits.
The Undefeated should please undemanding Duke fans. By Andy McLaglen standards it's practically a masterpiece.

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