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.

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.

Four of the Apocalypse (1975)

Four of the Apocalypse (1975) movie poster

director Lucio Fulci
viewed: 11/07/2016

Lucio Fulci isn’t known for his Spaghetti Westerns, but wouldn’t you want to see one anyways? Cinematographer Sergio Salvati gives Four of the Apocalypse a classier aesthetic than a lot of Fulci’s films, still operating with a good production budget, one would assume.  Good looking and interesting doesn’t necessarily add up to cinematic greatness.  Cinematic goodness, yes.

Based rather loosely on some Bret Harte short stories, I actually took Four of the Apocaplypse as possibly a semi-psychedelic social critique and play on John Ford’s classic Stagecoach (1939).  The motley crew of our four include a card sharp, a pregnant prostitute, an inveterate drunk, and a somewhat crazy gravedigger.

From the very get-go they meet up in a jail cell and are kicked out of a town that lynched everyone on the street after a certain point of night.  Set adrift with their wagon, they find themselves bonding despite their differences, against a landscape of barren ghost towns and carnage.  That is until they meet up with a consummate villain, Chaco (Tomas Milan), who feeds them peyote, rapes the woman, and maims the drunk.

By the end, two are dead, one is insane, and they’ve managed to literally cannibalize themselves.  Though revenge is wreaked, the havoc reigns and this bloody and morose story can sit with the most pessimistic of the genre.

The cast is strong and the ideas are interesting.  Flashes of Fulci-esque gore underscore the gritty picture.  And yet it’s only SO good.  Definitely worth seeing.

The Great Silence (1968)

The Great Silence (1968) movie poster

director Sergio Corbucci
viewed: 04/13/2016

Considered one of the finest films in the Spaghetti Western grouping, Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence is indeed a very substantial work.  Watching it today, it’s easy to see from whence Quentin Tarantino lifted elements of the first part of his recent film The Hateful Eight (2015) in his eclectic way as both homage and appropriation.  It’s also easy to see why this film would be such a touchstone, a favorite of director Alex Cox (a big fan of Spaghetti Westerns) as well.

It stars Jean-Louis Trintingnant as the titular “Great Silence”, a variation on the “Man with No Name” figure of the style and genre.  Here he’s the Man with No Voice, as his vocal cords were cut by ruthless bounty hunters, to silence him in reporting on the murder of his family.  These heroes are usually “strong and silent” types, but he is absolutely muted, one of the first tips that Corbucci is twisting popular tropes in this film, eventually delivering something potentially utterly inverted.

I don’t know if it’s important to not know the ending before seeing the film, but I throw up a spoiler alert warning here if you haven’t seen the film or haven’t already read about its ending.  It’s always fresher to see it if you don’t know where it’s going or how it’s going to turn out.

Because the ending is something that it’s almost impossible to omit in talking about the film.

The villain is the always eerie and villainous Klaus Kinski, the most ruthless of the bounty hunters in the corrupted system in the Utah mountains.  In collaboration with the local banker, Kinski and his kind hunt the impoverished “outlaws” and bring them in dead for money, profiteering in one of the last moments of the Wild West.  And in this film, the West is won by the criminals.

The ending of the film brings the bloody death of “Silence” and the widow Pauline (Vonetta McGee), shot down in the street, irredeemably murdered, justice tossed aside.  It’s this pessimistic finale that cements the picture, a bleak criticism of Capitalism and the free market. (It was also apparently a reaction to the deaths of Che Guevera and Malcolm X for Cobucci.)

There is a lot more to the film, but I’ll leave it at that.  A “must see” for fans of the genre.