Death Sentence (1968)

Death Sentence (1968) movie poster

director Mario Lanfranchi
viewed: 07/25/2018

Death Sentence is an interesting if not essential Spaghetti Western. Notable for it’s four act structure, a quartet of revenge plays set Cash/Django (Robin Clarke) on the trails of his brother’s four killers.

Many agree that the first sequence, starring Richard Conte is the film’s strongest segment as Clarke hounds him in the desert as Conte’s Diaz has a gun but no water and Cash has water but no pistol.

Tomas Milian really chews scenery as the albino O’Hara, or at least tries to. 

Clarke has the rugged looks of late Sixties manliness, but doesn’t exactly exude charisma. When he digs a bullet out of his thigh to get his revenge – that’s pretty rad.

Terrible theme song.

Bandidos (1967)

 Bandidos (1967) movie poster

director  Massimo Dallamano
viewed: 07/15/2018

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.

Good stuff.

One Silver Dollar (1965)

One Silver Dollar (1965) movie poster

director Giorgio Ferroni
viewed: 06/24/2018

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.

Compañeros (1970)

Compañeros (1970) movie poster

director  Sergio Corbucci
viewed: 06/04/2018

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.

Good stuff.

Se sei vivo spara (1967)

Se sei vivo spara (1967) movie poster

director Giulio Questi
viewed: 06/02/2018

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.

Massacre Time (1966)

Massacre Time (1966) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 05/06/2018

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.