Monday, September 21, 2015
The stars of this United Artists release are Jan-Michael Vincent (WHITE LINE FEVER) and Kris Kristofferson (CONVOY), who play battling brothers. Widower Ben Arnold (Vincent) is a tractor salesman in a rural Southern California community that is overrun by rowdy oil riggers and the violence, drunkenness, disorder, gambling, and murder that comes with them. The cops are ineffectual, so the town enlists Ben to recruit his brother Aaron (Kristofferson), a Vietnam veteran, to keep the peace.
Aaron brings his war buddies, including Viner (Shelly Novack, just off THE FBI), Beal (HALLOWEEN sheriff Charles Cyphers), and Selden (THE HOT BOX’s Carmen Argenziano), back to his home town. And, sure, the crime rate goes down. Sort of. Until Aaron and his boys decide to take over the town for themselves and operate their own crime ring. Can pacifist Ben talk some sense into his brother? In an exploitation movie aimed at drive-ins? What do you think?
VIGILANTE FORCE, despite an original screenplay by Armitage, boasts the exact plot of BUCKTOWN, released the year before by AIP (though probably a dozen B-westerns precede both films). It’s a solid premise that gives both Vincent and Kristofferson plenty to play dramatically and physically. Armitage presents it with great precision (Ben is making the town’s offer to Aaron within the first ten minutes) and an offbeat sensibility. Not only does he take care to create memorable characters and a believable and ultimately tragic relationship between brothers Ben and Aaron, but the violent climax involves an army of bank robbers dressed in colorful high school band uniforms! The stunts and fights are expertly staged throughout, but VIGILANTE FORCE also excels in its sensitive moments, such as Kristofferson’s haunting murder of a sympathetic character — an act that seals Aaron’s dark fate.