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.

Keoma (1976)

Keoma (1976) movie poster

director Enzo G. Castellari
viewed: 11/09/2015

I don’t know what I have to add to the general conversation on Enzo G. Castellari’s 1976 Italian Western, Keoma.  It’s considered one of the better “late” Spaghetti Westerns.  It stars Franco Nero, bearded and shaggy (and often shirtless) as the titular Keoma, a “half-breed Indian” who returns to his childhood home after the Civil War, to find it being strangled by a land baron, his own three half-brothers, and a plague of some kind.

He helps to free the oppressed against the bad guys, those brothers who always beat the tar out of him growing up, jealous that he was their father’s favorite.  Keoma’s father and his old friend George (Woody Strode) wind up joining in the fray on his side.

The cinematography is stylish.  The soundtrack is amazingly atrocious.  The two main themes are so bad they actually make your ears whinge.

The overall, I’d say, is pretty good.  I liked it.

The Spaghetti West (2005)

The Spaghetti West (2005) DVD cover

director David Gregory
viewed: 11/04/2015

The Spaghetti West is a 2005 documentary about “Italian Westerns” co-produced by IFC and Netflix.  And I think it’s been sitting in my Netflix queue since 2005.

Featuring interviews with stars like Franco Nero and Clint Eastwood, directors such as Ferdinando Baldi, Enzo Castellari, and Sergio Sollima and featuring historians including director Alex Cox, it’s a pretty reasonable primer on the rise and fall of one of Italy’s great cinematic exports, no matter how high or low you place your brow.

The rise in Westerns is attributed to a glut of pop culture that invaded Italy in the wake of WWII and the slowing down of the Western in American cinema in the 1960’s.  It tackles the reinvention and flair, sometimes political, sometimes more far out, and the genre’s own eventual impact back on world cinema.  It’s not surprising that it was Sergio Leone and the Dollars Trilogy that essentially lit the fuse and ignited the boom.

Overall, though, it’s hard to know how comprehensive the film is.  The numbers of Westerns produced in Italy between 1960 and 1980 was indeed immense.  But I don’t know that I uncovered any new films to watch from this, which I would have been hoping to do.

I will however, queue up some of those Spaghetti Westerns I’ve been meaning to see.

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978)

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978) movie poster

director Monte Hellman
viewed: 06/29/2015

Watching a bad print of a movie can really potentially color your perception of the film.  I’ve been noticing this of late in a few more obscure movies I’ve seen or ones that languish in public domain copies far from pristine.

I became interested in Monte Hellman after watching Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Cockfighter (1974), only furthered when I saw another of his Westerns, The Shooting (1966).  This film, China 9, Liberty 37 intrigued me.  It’s listed as a Spaghetti Western because it was produced and filmed in Italy and Spain, but perhaps despite the fact that it was directed by American Hellman.

It stars Fabio Testi as the hunky hired gun looking to kill Warren Oates, a homesteader who is in the way of the railroad.  Only Testi and Oates become fast friends and the assassination is scuttled.  Only Oates’ beautiful wife, the lovely Jenny Agutter (of Walkabout (1971) and An American Werewolf in London (1981)) falls for Testi, stabs Oates in the back (literally and figuratively) and runs off with the hunk.  And then there is a shootout between Oates’ family and the railroad goons.

It’s a slow, at times potentially lovely, muddle of a movie.  But I have to wonder if the muddle is due in large part to the edited-down version and the entirely crappy copy that was available on Amazon streaming.  It’s definitely not easy to tell.  There are some shots in the film that look like they might be quite impressive in a cleaned-up print.  And of course, you’ve got the inimitable Warren Oates.

I’m reserving judgment on this film.  I hope that some time a better print of the film becomes available, maybe one that is refurbished, perhaps?

Django

 

Django (1966) movie poster

(1966) dir. Sergio Corbucci
viewed: 12/05/08

Like many of the topics upon which I write here, I hardly consider myself an expert.  The Spaghetti Western is a definant interest of mine, but not something that I have delved into in great depth in my years of film watching.  Django, however, is one exception.  I happened to catch it on video in 1995, the year I was living in England, and while having whetted my appetite with the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood trilogy, I was duly impressed by the film of which I had never heard.  And so it’s sat in my mind all these years to revisit.

Django is nearly as iconic as A Fistful of Dollars (1964), the film that heavily influenced it.  It’s just that Django was not released in the United States.  In Europe, it’s probably as well known as the Eastwood films.  Stylistically, it borrows heavily from Leone, but it has a lot of its own that it brings to the table.

Django, as played by Franco Nero, is a good stand-in for Eastwood’s “Man with No Name”, but he has more of a story, he has his name of course, and he drags a coffin behind him through the would-be Texas desert.  The surprises inside the coffin, I leave for the uninitiated, though it’s easy enough through web research to have the surprises foiled.  The film involves a scene with mudwrestling prosititutes, a bloody severing of an ear (which is then “fed” to the victim), and a graveyard showdown as surprising and iconic as you can imagine.

Django is one of the biggies of the genre, and on second viewing, definitely stands up.  The shots are framed in clever and aesthetically atuned ways, playing up the action and the narrative with the kind of grit and ingenuity one might hope for.  The wet, muddy town which is the center of much of the story really stands out in contrast to the dry, arid heat of most Westerns, Spaghetti or otherwise.  And it didn’t fail to remind me, or reckon of Sukiyaki Western Django (2007), the awful Takashi Miike re-take on the genre.

It is interesting the way that the Spaghetti Western adapted the Samurai film, much as A Fistful of Dollars (1964) so notably adapted Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), which had adapted itself further from Dashiell Hammett and questionably the Western in general as well.  Perhaps, in a way, it’s one of the earliest instances of Post-Modernism, some mixing and remixing of styles, techniques, tropes, character, narrative, everything and evoking something new.  I’ll have to look into that.

But for the uninitiated, Django is certainly (badly dubbed) but brilliant.  If you like or even think you like the Spaghetti Western and have not yet seen Django, you really, truly should.  It is the shit.  And I do mean that in a good way.