From the unimaginative title on down, this is a thoroughly forgettable American Western from the tail end of the period when you could get away with making thoroughly forgettable American westerns.
Released in 1966, while Clint and Sergio and the boys were overseas re-writing the rules of the genre, and just before US-based filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah and Arthur Penn would usher in a new era in dusty realism, this tiny budget revenge fantasy marked one of the last of a long series of low brow, cliché-ridden cowboy flicks. Slow, intellectually empty, and as predictable as the chime on the hour, everything about this film is tired.
A simple payback scenario – as the title subtly suggests – the movie opens with the offscreen rape and murder of a screaming woman, along with her infant. The culprit, a guffawing psychopath played with unintentional comic zeal by Slim Pickens, lights their isolated cottage ablaze, and runs off.
For the next hour or so, we follow the widower (a bored Robert Lansing) as he rides out onto the plain in a quest to avenge their deaths. Along the way, he meets up with a bounty hunter (played by John Wayne’s son, Patrick, about whose performance the less said the better, but the word to bear in mind is “plywood”) who is on the trail of the same bad guy.
They join forces and manage to track down and confront Slim Pickens. However, they suck at their job, apparently, because Pickens shoots Lansing in the gun hand, and shoots Wayne in the head in such a way as to blind him (which, incidentally, seems both medically and logically impossible, given that bullets don’t actually have magic powers, the JFK assassination aside). Pickens then runs off, leaving the two protagonists in a quandary: one of them can’t see, and the other can’t shoot.
This being the West, and all, they still have to confront the bad guy, but HOW?
(If you guessed that they decide to work together, and the blind guy will do the shooting while the injured-hand guy will do the seeing, then you’re right! You see how the title is not just a biblical reference, but is almost foreshadowing? Or, at least, it would have been foreshadowing had Wayne’s character actually been in this for revenge, which he wasn’t, since he was a bounty hunter. Also, he is the only one who loses an eye, so there’s no real eye-trading going on. But still: “eye” in the title!)
These two protagonists are drawn from the most basic of archetypes (one is a dark, brooding hunk with a broken heart and a fast draw, while the other is a quick-tempered young man with something to prove). The bad guy is absurdly one-dimensional – he rapes, murders, and is generally hateful, but he’s also barely ever onscreen, so we can’t pretend he’s anything other than a shell of a character. The film even uses both a woman and a child as props, and then suggests (rather uncomfortably) that the child is the cleverer of the two.
Even for a Western, the plot is just about completely non-existent. An Eye for an Eye is, ultimately, in terms of entertainment value, unbelievably slow – in 90 minutes there are exactly two shootouts, and neither lasts longer than 20-seconds. So, imagine: that leaves almost 89-and-a-half minutes of Patrick Wayne’s impression of a fresh piece of writing paper!
On the positive side, the landscapes are pretty. And, horsies!