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Film / Nevada Smith

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Nevada Smith is a 1966 American Western film directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Steve McQueen. The movie was a prequel to the novel The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins, which had been made into a film earlier that featured McQueen's character as an older man, but besides that and Nevada Smith depicting Smith's first meeting with another Carpetbaggers character, Jonas Cord Sr., the two films' stories are otherwise unrelated. The cast is rounded out by Karl Malden, Brian Keith, Arthur Kennedy, Suzanne Pleshette, and Martin Landau.

In the West of the 1890s, a trio of outlaws robs, tortures and brutally kills the white father and Indian mother of young Max Sand (McQueen). He later sets out to avenge their deaths, assuming the name "Nevada Smith".

This film features examples of:

  • Coming of Age Story: In the beginning, Max is a naive teenager. Over the course of the film, he experiences the death of his parents, he learns to fight, he drinks alcohol for the first time, he learns to read, he kills two men, he becomes a dreaded outlaw, and finally he learns to show mercy.
  • Cruel Mercy: In the end, Max decides to spare Tom Fitch. Tom Fitch is badly wounded and he begs Max to finish him off. Max does not change his mind.
  • Easily Forgiven:
    • Max bumps into three men. He thinks that they are the murderers of his parents, so he chases their horses away. The men catch him and Max fights them. When Max is finally defeated, the men forgive him quickly and even share a meal with him.
    • Later, in the desert, Max holds a man at gunpoint to force him to give him a horse and some food. The man does not give in, since he noticed that Max's gun is an old one which does not work any more. Then he forgives Max, he gives him food and he teaches him how to use a gun.
  • Firing in the Air a Lot: At the start of the film, Max is asked by three men for directions to his parents' farm. He tells them, then has an Oh, Crap! moment when they ride off hollering in joy and firing their pistols in the air. By the time he gets back, his parents have been murdered, setting him on his Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
  • Get into Jail Free: During his Roaring Rampage of Revenge, Max Sand discovers that Bowdre, one of the three men who murdered his parents, is in prison. Smith commits a robbery and allows himself to get caught. They escape the prison together, whereupon Smith murders Bowdre after revealing his identity.
  • Get It Over With: Fitch ends up pleading to Smith to finish him off, after Smith shoots him several times non-fatally. Smith just rides off, saying he's not worth it.
  • Good Samaritan:
    • When he tracks the murderers of his parents, Max bumps into a group of three men. Initially, he thinks that they are the murderers and he attacks them. He soon realizes that he is wrong. The three men share their meal with Max.
    • When Max is lost in the desert, the gunsmith gives him food, then he teaches him how to use a gun.
    • Neesa, the Kiowa dance hall girl, treats Max when he is wounded after the fight with Jesse Coe.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Max's father is white and his mother is a Kiowa woman. Many characters insult Max because he is "half-breed".
  • Heartbroken Badass: Smith takes some time to mourn the death of Pilar after she dies from her snakebite wound.
  • Heel Realization: Smith, when he realizes that Father Zaccardi was right and Fitch isn't worth killing.
  • Hellhole Prison: The labor camp in Louisiana. When Max Sand arrives there, the warden tells him that the place is really terrible. A bit later, a prisoner who tried to escape is whipped. Somewhat Downplayed because women sleep with the inmates once a weak.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: In the beginning, the gunsmith advises Max to give up the hunt for the murderers, because he could become as evil as them. Near the end, the priest gives him the same piece of advice. Nevertheless, over the course of the film, Max becomes a ruthless avenger and he coldly kills Jesse Coe and Bill Bowdre. Subverted in the end because he decides to spare Tom Fitch.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Neesa, the Kiowa dance hall girl, treats Max when he is wounded after the fight with Jesse Coe.
  • It Works Better with Bullets: Max tries to rob a passing traveler using a rusty abandoned revolver. The man turns out to be a gunsmith, and readily identifies several faults with the gun that makes it unlikely to fire, not least being the chambers are empty.
  • Not Worth Killing: Smith shoots Fitch several times non-fatally until he pleads to Smith to be finished off. Smith just rides off, saying he's not worth it.
  • The Only One Allowed to Defeat You: Max Sand saves Bowdre when he is going to drown himself after being whipped. This is because Max thinks that he is the only one allowed to kill Bowdre, the murderer of his parents.
  • Quick Draw: Max Sand is taught skill with firearms by a gunsmith he's travelling with, so he can carry out his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. One scene has them riding together with Sand suddenly drawing his pistol and pointing it back at an imaginary enemy, showing he's practicing this trope.
  • Prequel: The film is a prequel to The Carpetbaggers, which is odd considering that this film is a western and The Carpetbaggers is a film about the movie industry.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Max Sand decides to track the murderers of his parents to kill them one by one. So he kills Jesse Coe and Bill Bowdre. Subverted in the end when he decides to spare Tom Fitch.
  • A Taste of the Lash: After trying to escape from the labor camp, Bowdre is whipped.
  • Teach Me How To Fight: The gunsmith tries to persuade Max to stop hunting the murderers of his parents. He demonstrates that Max's gunfighting skills are inadequate. So Max asks him to teach him how to fight.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Max, who is a naive teenager in the beginning, becomes a dreaded outlaw over the course of the film.
  • You Killed My Father: The eponymous character systematically tries to find and kill the men who murdered his parents.