Mexican Indian Sarita (Raquel Welch) has just seen her father hanged at the behest of General Verdugo (Fernando Lamas), and is understandably bearing a grudge as she is escorted to the nearest town so the troops can execute yet more of the rebellious Yaqui tribe they have taken prisoner. Into that town rides Lydecker (Jim Brown), an American police officer from over the border who is tracking down a halfbreed bankrobber by the name of Yaqui Joe (Burt Reynolds). He is not especially welcome there, but he has the right place as Joe is currently in a hotel room nearby surveying the scene, with the woman (Soledad Miranda) he has spent the night with by his side...
Although Burt calls his character's sympathy into question almost immediately by whacking Soledad across the face, but apparently you can get away with that sort of if you're a loveable rogue, as he plays here. The only other significant female role in 100 Rifles is essayed by Raquel, and she gets a pretty raw deal too, only being the co-star she gets more of it to endure, starting with watching her parent executed, and ending with a rather cruel twist of fate. This was made in Spain, which has led some to describe it as a Spaghetti Western, but don't be fooled, as you can tell right away that this was made with American money by Americans.
No matter how callous the plot gets, it never quite achieves the particular quality of your typical European production in this genre, but it did feature an interesting cast who would not normally have been seen collected together in one place if the Italians had financed it. Jim Brown, fresh from his football career, was staking his claim on being an actual proper black film star, not in the Sidney Poitier mould but in something more muscular: this did land him in blaxploitation efforts for years afterwards, but moviegoers did notice him, and it was clear that a revolution was in the air. Which is more than can be said for 100 Rifles, which in spite of its backdrop of a Mexican uprising, could have just as easily have been made in the fifties.
Two things prevent that from being wholly the case, the first one being the amount of violence. Obviously the filmakers felt that they should be presenting the adult audience with stronger stuff than your average John Wayne outing, so there was a more bloodthirsty tone to this than you might have seen before. The other thing was that in a groundbreaking, and controversial in its day, love scene between Brown and Welch, which was refreshing to see no matter how much scandal it spawned at the time, depicted as it was as nothing unhealthy but drawn from a genuine affection between two characters in extraordinary circumstances.
Which naturally makes what happens to Sarita at the end look like some kind of punishment, and needlessly reactionary in light of the open mindedness of what had gone before. What had gone before was the tale of those hundred firearms, which Joe has spent his loot on so as to fund the Yaqui revolt, and the General is keen to nip that in the bud, so not only arrests Joe but Lydecker as well, who he sees as a threat to his own brand of justice. Luckily, Sarita and her army are there to save the day, and the plot amounts to a tit for tat exchange between the two sides as they try to get one up on each other, with Lydecker grumbling about being caught up in the middle. Along the way, there are plenty of efficient but empty action sequences where many people and objects are gunned down or blown up, but there's a shapelessness to the film that needed a stronger narrative direction, or even a thematic one. We do get to see Raquel take a shower with her shirt on, though. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.