Cut-Throats Nine (1972)

Cut-Throats Nine (1972) movie poster

director Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent
viewed: 11/13/2017

Cut-Throats Nine arrives as advertised, a pessimistic and violent Western, filmed in the snowy beauty of the Pyrenees. Its delicious premise, a lone lawman and his daughter are marching a chain gang across the snowy mountains, is inherently fraught with tension. The simplicity of this scenario is upended when it turns out that the chains that hold the men together are made of the gold that they had mined. And the intentions of even the lawman are thrown into deep doubt.

Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent uses interesting freeze frame preludes to flashbacks, stylizing further the backstories to the rough-hewn characters. Marchent and cinematographer Luis Cuadrado make the most of the gorgeous, icy landscapes.

It’s probably my second favorite Spaghetti Western I’ve newly seen this year, after Cemetery Without Crosses  (1969). Interesting since these two aren’t purely Italian films and feature directors who were French and Spanish. Not that any grouping or genre needs to be completely neat and clean.

Excellent stuff.

 

The Return of Ringo (1965)

The Return of Ringo (1965) movie poster

director Duccio Tessari
viewed: 11/04/2017

Duccio Tessari’s 1965 Spaghetti Western, The Return of Ringo, reinterprets The Odyssey in a post-Civil War drama of return and revenge. Spaghetti-western.net features a keen analysis of the film, suggesting Tessari (as others in the genre) would use the setting of the aftermath of the American Civil War as a thinly veiled metaphor for post-WWII Italy, the return and rectification of morality in a shattered and invaded landscape.

Interestingly, when Ringo returns to his home post-war, the bandits have taken over the town and the homestead, hold his wife in their clutches, as well as a little daughter he didn’t know he had. These dudes are Mexicans and are very racist against Americans, won’t allow them to own property or firearms.

Thus: “The Return of (G)ringo”

The Return of Ringo is a notable Spaghetti Western, on many lists of the best of the genre. And it’s solid, though it didn’t really overly impress me. Actually, reading the Spaghetti-western.net article gave me further pause to reconsider. Still, some films grab you, while others just wave “hello.”

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968)

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death (1968) movie poster

director Gianfranco Parolini
viewed: 10/24/2017

I’ve been working through a variety of lists of the “best” Spaghetti Westerns that I haven’t seen, something I’m cobbling together from a variety of sources. And I’m finding how many of these are available on Amazon Prime. Happily many.

If You Meet Sartana Pray for Your Death launched another named antihero to the genre, starring Gianni (John) Garko as Sartana, the guy you don’t want to meet.

“You look just like a scarecrow.”
“I am your pallbearer.”

Armed with a cool four barreled Derringer, he strides into what I guess is a story about teams of robbers and other teams of robbers and local gentry robbing themselves for insurance money and a coffin full of gold (or rocks.) Apparently it’s not just me, the story is pretty hard to follow.

Luckily Gianfranco Parolini does better with the action than the story. It’s derivative but also employs other genre elements of giallo and horror, giving it some flavor.

Even with a very inept dub and an abbreviated role on his voice Klaus Kinski is by far the best actor in the film.

The Forgotten Pistolero (1969)

The Forgotten Pistolero (1969) movie poster

director Ferdinando Baldi
viewed: 09/10/2017

Sebastian (Leonard Mann) must return to “Oh-ah-saka” in “Meh-hee-ko” (varying degrees of proper pronunciation — actually thought they said “Osaka” at first) to avenge his father at the bidding of his long lost friend Rafael (Peter Martell).

The Forgotten Pistolero is a Spaghetti Western take on the tale of Orestes. Ferdinando Baldi’s tale of rightful revenge makes lists of the finest Spaghetti Westerns and features an iconic score by Roberto Pregadio, yet seemingly isn’t as well known as many others.

I was reminded again of the Spaghetti Western’s influence on the American revisionist Western (such as Peckinpah), depicting class disparities, outsiders and antiheroes, as well as it’s visual style and editing.

Django the Bastard (1969)

Django the Bastard (1969) movie poster

director  Sergio Garrone
viewed: 08/19/2017

Django the Bastard is one of the many “false” Djangos. The “false” or “onofficial” Djangos way outnumber the official Djangos, with Wikipedia accounting for more than 30 made and marketed (the latter verb being perhaps more key than the former) just between 1966-1971.

Django the Bastard is Anthony Steffen, returning from the near dead (or even further than that) to exact revenge on the Civil War officers who set his troop up for slaughter. His schtick is to make a wooden cross marker for their graves and put the relevant date (today) on it before shooting them down.

It’s solid stuff, though not your top drawer Italian Western.

It did have me thinking that if the human race forsook revenge, we’d have a lot fewer movies, stories, and narratives.

Day of Anger (1967)

Day of Anger (1967) movie poster

director Tonino Valerii
viewed: 08/02/2017

Scott Mary (Giuliano Gemma) is an untouchable in the Old West town of Clifton, AZ. He is a bastard child, born to a prostitute who died in labor, who schleps not just the town garbage but the town sewage and takes shit literally and figuratively from everyone.

When Frank Talby (Lee Van Cleef) rides into town and sticks up for him, even getting into a gunfight over him, Scott Mary thinks he’s found the key to his dreams. The tough and ruthless Talby teaches Scott Mary a series of harsh lessons of being a gunslinger and exposes the hypocrisy of the Clifton elite, who are all tainted by crime and dirty money.

As the moral ambiguities twist and double back on themselves, this tale of class, revenge, and morality leave the young man to come to terms with right and wrong in the settling days of outlaws as the Old West moved into legend and cities became more tame.

It’s a very worthwhile flick from Tonino Valerii, who also made the very good My Name Is Nobody (1973). Giuliano Gemma is a weak point, but Lee Van Cleef is tops.

Cemetery Without Crosses (1969)

Cemetery Without Crosses (1969) movie poster

director Robert Hossein
viewed: 07/29/2017

Spaghetti Westerns are often cynical and sometimes bleak. Some through social criticism and political commentary, some in their reenactments of history. Some just in the brutal worlds the depict.

The taciturn, often nameless, gunslinger anti-hero is typically unknowable, a cipher to the outside world, whose actions though brutal often carry the weight of justice or morality, whichever level of those exist in each film.

Robert Hossein stars in his own take on the genre, Cemetery Without Crosses, an intentional homage to the great Sergio Leone. But Hossein’s gunslinger is cut from a different cloth. His face isn’t the least bit inscrutable, but rather pained and melancholic. He is brought into action not for money or justice or morals, but for the old love of a woman seeking revenge. His actions and their results are decidedly amoral, settling a feud with deceit, cruelty and more and more bullets.

Cemetery Without Crosses is an amazing film, possibly my favorite Spaghetti Western I’ve seen. It’s brutal and perhaps in many ways quite French for an Italian Western. It’s the fatalism of Hossein’s Manuel, acting not out of rightness or justice, but an old alliance to love, knowing the wrongness. It’s spelled out on his face.

The film has a great visual aesthetic. The ghost town in which Manuel lives is perfect and metaphorical. The shots that directly call out Leone are sweet. And the soundtrack, composed by Hossein’s father is classic, as is the theme song crooned by Scott Walker.

One of the best films I’ve seen this year.

Rancho Notorious (1952)

Rancho Notorious (1952) movie poster

director Fritz Lang
viewed: 06/19/2017

Fritz Lang’s Rancho Notorious starts out with a rape and murder of a pretty shop owner by a vicious outlaw. For 1952, this suggestion is hardly detailed and yet more explicit than implicit. This is the event that spurs Vern (Arthur Kennedy) on a long, lonesome road to revenge, tracking through Indian territory on the trail of an outlaw, and finding himself at a secretive ranch run by a former showgirl Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich), who now harbors criminals for 10% of their loot.

The bandits that meet up there range broadly in the crimes and characters, and Vern comes to hide among them but also to identify with some of them, most significantly Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer), Keane’s long-time semi-beau. This is familiar territory for Lang, a criminal underworld, but one with its own ethics, honesty, and sense of fair play.

Really, it’s Vern who is the deceiver, playing a wanted outlaw to get close to the criminals who killed his girl. Though he joins them on a bank robbery, tying himself to the criminals, it’s his betrayal of Keane’s rules that allow him to eke out his revenge.

This is late Lang, a period somewhat disdained by his fans and critics. Produced and re-named by Howard Hughes, this is a cheapie by Hollywood standards. But Rancho Notorious was a film that Lang developed more fully than most, from conception to completion, and it bears the qualities of the work of one of the true auteurs in Hollywood.

It’s also got Dietrich, right at the top, a meta-legend in the story, and an aging movie star still relatively youthful at her age of 51.

I always seem to find Lang’s films sit with me, develop more and more in retrospect, and I sense that Rancho Notorious will as well.

Hard Breed to Kill (1967)

Hard Breed to Kill (1967) image

director Rafael Portillo
viewed: 05/22/2017

Hard Breed to Kill (Un tipo dificil de matar) is a Mexican Western from 1967 whose biggest named star is Slim Pickens. It seems to be a most obscure picture. It’s also a pretty good one.

The film opens on action as a gang of bandits robs a farmer of horses, wounds him when he tries to fight, kills his friend and kidnaps his pretty blonde wife. When the title rolls, you might even think you’re in for some seriously intensive action.

There you would be wrong. Instead, what ensues is a slow journey towards the Mexican border with the husband in pursuit. What is interesting is how humanized the bandits become, with only young tyro (Paul Heslin) as the eager, trigger-happy youth with a chip on his shoulder. Other members of the crew are friendly men, hoping to settle down a set up a farm of their own. Even the lusty bandit who tries to put some moves on the blonde knows that no means no and only cajoles her.

In the end, the rather taciturn hero hunts down and kills the bandits, one by one, and ultimately almost seems the film’s real villain. I also found it interesting how director Rafael Portillo uses moments by watering holes for reflective flashbacks of the kidnapped woman to earlier, happier moments with her husband.

Hard Breed to Kill is ultimately almost meditative in pace and plot. And features some really decent cinematography on the cheap as well.

 

A Knife for the Ladies (1974)

A Knife for the Ladies (1974) movie poster

director Larry G. Spangler
viewed: 02/11/2017

To be fair to Larry G. Spangler and A Knife for the Ladies, what I actually watched was titled Jack the Ripper Goes West, an apparently truncated version of A Knife for the Ladies. And arguably not truncated enough.

Because Jack the Ripper Goes West is a real chore of a film, even at less than an hour in length. The title is great and all, the kind of thing you’d wish was actually the concept of the film. But it’s not.

This is a Western with a sort of mystery plot with Jack Elam as the incompetent sheriff of the town of Mescal where a series of murders of women start taking place. Because Jack the Ripper, if it were him (or any other serial murderer of the day) can hide in the crowds of a big city but in a small town of a finite group of people, would doubtlessly stick out like a sore thumb.

Actually, there is red herring in the form of the barber/undertaker who seems to have a thing against “whores”, but really the best thing is the bizarre twist at the end where Ruth Roman’s hubby turns out to be a syphilis-ridden psycho in a cage while the word “Syphilis!” is shouted once or twice in shock.

A lot of tedium for very little joy.