director Massimo Dallamano
A cool title sequence opens Bandidos, a very solid, though lesser-known and seen Spaghetti Western.
This was Massimo Dallamano’s first film as director, having served as cinematographer for at least 15 years prior. He was fresh off of shooting A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965) for Sergio Leone. According to spaghetti-western.net, Dallamano was disappointed with not being brought back for the finale of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), and infused Bandidos with themes of betrayal, apparently pointed at Leone.
“Hurry up and die, will you?”
Bandidos is packed with lots of action, nearly brimming with it, and the cinematographer turned director shoots the whole thing teaming with style and panache. It all starts with a train robbery, the brutal killing of all of the passengers, save one, a sharpshooter who has his hands maimed. Revenge percolates, a young man comes into play, student to the damaged gunslinger, but it doesn’t turn out quite the way one might think.
director Giorgio Ferroni
Not as stylish or cinematic as the best of Spaghetti Westerns, One Silver Dollar still boasts a solid scenario.
In the aftermath of the American Civil War, two brothers emerge from a prison camp with emasculated pistols, but unbroken spirits, ready to begin life anew. The brothers part ways to try to make a go of things. Post-war America is still the Wild West, and Southerners are still held in contempt. When Gary O’Hara (Giuliano Gemma) finally gets an opportunity with a land baron for a dangerous job, it turns out to be a set-up, brother is poised against brother and both are shot down in a flurry of bullets.
Certainly, One Silver Dollar has some nice flourishes, but as others have noted, it bears less of the Italian Western than its Hollywood prototype.
I can’t help but continue to find it weird how Western narratives so often feature Southerners as the beaten and disenfranchised class and become the heroes. It’s easy to see where the sympathies lie, with the class that has lost its pride and power. Underdogs make for good rooting.
But to ignore the real reasons for the Civil War, the significance of Slavery and deep racism, it’s something quite common throughout the genre that I’ve always found gobsmacking.
director Sergio Corbucci
After watching Compañeros, I realize how I’ve really got to get around to watching all of Sergio Corbucci’s Westerns.
Compañeros is a Zapata western, Corbucci’s second, after 1968’s The Mercenary. Stories set against the Mexican Revolution proved keen metaphorical landscapes for the more political Italian filmmakers, and they really deserve closer reading. I recommend Simon Gelton’s write-up on Compañeros at Spaghetti-Western.net.
On the surface, Compañeros seems more lightweight, as the Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960’s moved towards more comedy in the 1970’s. Thomas Milian and Franco Nero are good, but as almost everyone has noted, Jack Palance steals the show, in what is definitely my favorite Jack Palance role. He seemed to be having a very good time, smoking weed with his prosthetic hand and vengeful raptor.
director Giulio Questi
The title Django, Kill…If You Live, Shoot! is an inappropriate misnomer to what is definitely one of the most crazy, violent, and fascinating Westerns to come out of Italy in the heyday of the genre there. Since the Django piece of the title was tacked on for marketing abroad, I think it would be better to refer to it as the literal translation of the Italian original Se sei vivo spara (If You Live, Shoot!)
The whole thing starts with our protagonist, “half-breed” Thomas Milian reaching out from his shallow grave. Betrayed by gringos who ripped off a load of Wells Fargo gold, he tracks them only to find them lynched by the most villainous town in the West.
There is so much going on in this film: visual play in the camera work and editing, the bizarre deconstructed revenge story, four sets of villains, the gay caballeros, fingers digging into the patient’s wounds for gold bullets, that final shot of the children playing and distorting their faces. A sense of horror pervades the whole.
People just ain’t no good.
director Penelope Spheeris
Jon Cryer makes a cute punk.
Penelope Spheeris’s Dudes is very 1987, a transition between between early and late Eighties. It’s also a then present day revenge Western featuring punks versus thugs (also played in part by punks).
It exists between light-toned comdey and a darker sense of drama, also between pure Indie film and something more commercial.
A decent oddity, fitting well in the center of Spheeris’s oeuvre.
director Lucio Fulci
Fulci’s first Western has requisite grit, perversity, and blood, the stuff that set the Spaghetti Western apart from the Hollywood ones and revitalized the genre. Also Massacre Time is a pretty badass title and that poster is killer too.
Massacre Time itself is not all meat, but it is pretty toothsome featuring Franco Nero and George Hilton as brothers, reunited to inflict some vengeance on a clan of nogoodniks who have taken over their small town.
There is a similar, if less effective, half-brother twist as in Adios, Texas (also 1966 — released in the same month, no less). There is also a foppish Sadist archetype (played here by Nino Castelnuovo – how old is this archetype, I wonder).
Fulci pulls off some stylish shots and sequences, but it’s the violence that elevates the film, from the more pointed cruelty of the whipping scene to the somewhat elegant shootout towards the end.
I also liked the scene with the kid playing the diegetic harmonica.
director Ferdinando Baldi
Texas, Adios isn’t necessarily a vital Spaghetti Western. It’s an adequate one.
It does have prime age Franco Nero going for it. But this is no Django.
It does, as others have noted, feel at times more Hollywood than other Italian Westerns. But it shifts around in vibe, at times more typical of its Spaghetti brethren. But that shifting also denudes it of feeling particularly compelling as well.
I don’t know what else to say.
director Giancarlo Santi
Giancarlo Santi’s The Grand Duel isn’t itself quite grand. It features some excellent sequences, stylishly shot, but it shifts back and forth between more dramatic scenes and comic ones, giving an odd, unsettled tone.
Apparently, it suffers the impact of They Call Me Trinity (1970), a watershed of sorts for the Spaghetti Western, in which a successfully comic tone was then forced upon many other comers, signalling the beginning of the fade of the genre.
This was Santi’s first film as head director, having worked alongside Sergio Leone and other notable Italian filmmakers. The comedy is particularly odd in its placement, coming right after some very serious dramatic sequences, really throwing off the vibe.
The cast is good, in particular Klaus Grünberg, who plays a pockmarked pretty boy sadist (also clearly meant to be read as homosexual and not in a progressive way). Grünberg exhibits the malice of a good villain.
The Duel itself comes at the end, and even as the dramatic climax happens, the music breaks into a more jovial tune, a final punctuation of the film’s mixed-up sensibility.
director Clint Eastwood
High Plains Drifter has a serious problem with women. This struck me years ago when I first saw it and was less familiar with Clint Eastwood’s oeuvre and the Western in general. Having the “hero” blow into town and rape a woman, apparently for her pleasure, was distasteful to me 20 years ago and has not improved with age. She then becomes the butt of a joke when she tries to shoot him, saying she was probably mad he didn’t “come back for more.”
Seriously, the sexual politics of High Plains Drifter are abject, objectionable, and highly problematic, especially as in other ways is perhaps Eastwood’s best directorial picture.
Shot near Mono Lake, it’s Eastwood’s first Western as director, only his second film as director. And whether he’s paying homages to Sergio Leone or Don Siegel, this semi-supernatural revenge film has a pitch-dark heart and ripe visual poetry.
The more that I’ve considered it, I find the misogyny too much to get over.
I did find it interesting that Ernest Tidyman’s inspiration for the story rose from the Kitty Genovese crime.
director John Sturges
Joe Kidd opens with a weak pseudo Spaghetti score. The Italian Westerns were having an influence their American counterparts at this point, but to a varying degree. Joe Kidd is still quite Hollywood with maybe the least bit of Italian seasoning. It’s John Sturges so what do you expect.
More than aesthetics, Revisionist Westerns handled themes sympathetic to classes heretofore portrayed mostly villainous. Here, we have a group of Mexicans protesting the land grab that has robbed them of their ancestral homes in New Mexico. Revisionist, but with John Saxon as the populist Mexican leader.
It’s also a bit interesting where in Western history this takes place. It’s meant to be the early 20th century, by which time law and order had settled the Wild West largely. Though here the landowners are still free to make their own justice, hunting down the Mexican gang (and anyone else) to resolve their disputes.
And the villains feature some pretty good thugs, a little more gangster-like (and citified) than Old West. Robert Duvall is such a bad hombre that Donald Trump might try to deport him (just kidding, he’s white).
Meanwhile, Joe Kidd himself isn’t so well-drawn. He’s a man without a backstory who seems like he should have one.
Driving the train through the saloon, though, that was pretty funny.