Texas, Adios (1966)

Texas, Adios (1966) movie poster

director Ferdinando Baldi
viewed: 04/02/2018

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.

The Grand Duel (1972)

The Grand Duel (1972) movie poster

director Giancarlo Santi
viewed: 03/03/2018

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.

High Plains Drifter (1973)

High Plains Drifter (1973) movie poster

director Clint Eastwood
viewed: 12/25/2017

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.

Joe Kidd (1972)

Joe Kidd (1972) movie poster

director John Sturges
viewed: 12/20/2017

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.

Dead Birds (2004)

Dead Birds (2004) DVD cover

director Alex Turner
viewed: 12/18/2017

After a bloody shootout in a small town Alabama bank, a band of unlikely outlaws holes up in a spooky isolated house in a deserted cornfield in the 2004 Horror-Western Dead Birds.

Why is Michael Shannon dressed as a Cossack in antebellum Alabama?

The commitment to the period seems rather cursory. No one, in the rather decent cast, sounds like they’re from another century, except maybe that late 20th century. But that may be more on the writer and director here.

That said, it’s not utterly dire. There are even elements of eeriness at times.

Ah, well.

The Dirty Outlaws (1967)

The Dirty Outlaws (1967) movie poster

director  Franco Rossetti
viewed: 12/15/2017

The Dirty Outlaws is another of the Quentin Tarantino top 20 Spaghetti Westerns.

It begins in media res, with a horse thief being hung for his crimes, only to be rescued by a fellow outlaw garbed as a priest. This is all before the main plot is established in which near-hangee, Andrea Giordana (billed as Chip Carman) takes the identity of a dead Confederate soldier.

The crucible for the story is a ghost town abandoned in plague and war except for a blind old man and his aide holding out hope for the return of his son from the waning days of the Civil War. Throw in some other escaped soldiers and the titular gang of “dirty outlaws” after a gold shipment, not to mention the lead moll of the gang, an ex-compatriot of our anti-hero, and the tinderbox is lit to explode.

Though not as stylish or bizarre as the best of the genre, the story drives the film. Which may be in part because director Franco Rossetti was known more as a screenwriter than director.

It’s a good yarn. Good movie.

The Ugly Ones (1966)

The Ugly Ones (1966) movie poster

director Eugenio Martín
viewed: 11/24/2017

The Ugly Ones features a lean, deft premise: a bounty hunter is after a popular criminal. Tomas Milian is Jose, the Mexican kid turned storied outlaw, a “Jesse James type”, ensnared by fortune-seeking free agents, not traditionally legitimate lawmen. Richard Wyler is the straight-shooting freelancer, but who is the real villain of this picture?

The Ugly Ones is also known as The Bounty Hunter, which is the name of the Marvin H. Albert novel from which it was adapted. Eugenio Martín’s Spaghetti Western offers a kind of noirish characterization – moral ambivalence, at least initially, on either side. Though, as the film wears on each protagonist starts to show his true colors.

In between the men is Eden, an interesting role for Ella Karin (a.k.a Halina Zalewska). No shrinking violet, she’s reaching for a pistol when we first spot her, hearing an intruder breaking in. She is at the heart of the village’s understanding of Jose, an active participant in the story, and moral barometer as well. Maybe a little too stylish for a Western but an interesting character and good performance.

It’s tight and aesthetically pleasing production. The Ugly Ones makes Quentin Tarantino’s list of top Spaghetti Westerns. As usual, his favorites are worth investigating.

Greaser’s Palace (1972)

Greaser's Palace (1972) movie poster

director Robert Downey
viewed: 11/23/2017

Less avant-garde than Chafed Elbows (the only other Robert Downey film I’ve seen) but absurdist up the you-know-what. Greaser’s Palace is comedy-cum-acid Western, with less head-trip an a little more giggle.

I was like, “Who is that gorgeous, topless Indian girl on horseback?” and the internet was like, “Toni Basil!”

Greaser’s Palace would be an interesting counterpart to El Topo (1970) as they are both bizarro renderings of Christ via whacked-out Western. Perhaps Greaser’s Palace is in some way a response to El Topo ? I’m spit-balling here.

“I was swimming with billions of babies in a rainbow. And they was naked. And then all of a sudden I turned into a perfect smile.” This is said more than once by a revivified dead guy.

A pretty young Hervé Villechaize shows up.

The Christ figure is a zoot-suited Allan Arbus (best known by me as psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Freedman in TV’s M*A*S*H). I have to say, I always kind of liked his mellow humanism. But some dots that I never connected until watching and researching Greaser’s Palace is that he is also the Allan Arbus who was married to Diane Arbus! This fact kind of blows my mind.

How much you might like Greaser’s Palace is apt to be very hard to anticipate. I actually thought it was pretty funny, though in smallish bursts and slow burns, and mostly unconventionally.

“I can crawl again!”

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.”