Mini-Review: The Reward (1965)
Trying to shake off her earlier ingénue roles, which she described as “frightened fawns,” Yvette Mimieux co-starred in The Reward (1965) from 20th Century-Fox and directed by Serge Bourguignon who also co-wrote the script. The Frenchman was still riding high from his hit movie Sundays and Cybèle that brought him an Academy Award nomination for writing. The actress was so determined to do this picture that she had to negotiate her way out of her contract with MGM. Obviously enamored of her director, she exclaimed, “He finished the screenplay six months before shooting and never changed a word. It’s his concept from beginning` to end and there’s nobody else to take credit or blamed. That’s the way to come up with a good film.” It will come as no surprise to learn that Mimieux and Bourguignon became romantically involved. Alas that was the best thing that emerged from this ambitious failure notable for one of the few westerns of the time to have its Mexican characters speak Spanish with English subtitles.
In this slow-moving modern western, which the critics just did not take to, Yvette is the companion of businessman Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. on the run for the kidnapping and murder of his partner’s young son whom he claims he did not kill. He is spotted by dust cropper pilot Max Von Sydow whose plane crashes in the small Mexican town where the fugitive stops. He convinces malaria-ridden police captain Gilbert Roland to pursue Zimbalist for the $50,000 reward. They do and are accompanied by Roland’s wild-eyed sergeant and two young deputies (Henry Silva and Nino Castelnuovo) none of whom speak English. Cars are traded for horses to traverse the rocky terrain and once the couple is apprehended things go from bad to worse when the sergeant learns of the bounty and the death toll begins to mount.
Yvette seems bewildered throughout always by Zimbalist’s side. At one point, she slips off her horse and viewers cannot tell if the actress fell asleep from the boredom or the character passed out due to the sun. Unfortunately for Mimieux, her role was nothing more than window dressing though she has a few intense moments vouching for Zimbalist’s innocence and pleading for their freedom. Even so, she is always a fave of mine and I like her here.
The ending fails to provide a satisfying wrap up leaving the survivors still lost in the desert. Needless to say, the film was reviled by the critics and bombed at the box office. Despite Mimieux’s high hopes for the picture, it did nothing for her career. In fact, the critic from the New Yorker called her “the poor man’s Carol Lynley.” Ouch! Even so, Yvette said back then that The Reward was one of her two favorites, the other being the lush soap The Light in the Piazza.