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Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Fistful of Spaghetti: Mini Reviews of European Western Films

This is a new section on This column will cover the good, the average and the mediocre in the spaghetti western genre.


Robert Woods (Chris Tanner/Jeremiah Grant), John Ireland (Tarpas)

Directed by Paolo Bianchini

Chris Tanner is arrested for treason and condemned to the gallows after the only other individuals that knew of a new weapon (the Gatling gun) created by Richard Gatling are killed. He is sent to Las Cruzas to find out what has happened to Gatling, whom has disappeared. Gatling had offered the device to President Lincoln, but was kidnapped and his three escorts killed by ruthless confederates in league with a Mexican half breed named Tarpas. Tanner has 30 days to bring Gatling back alive or else another man will hang in Tanner's place.

This movie had quite a bit of potential. There's a good storyline here although there's a bit too many characters to keep up with. However, those seeking action will be woefully disappointed as there's virtually none till 47 minutes into the film and even then, it's nothing special. There's a pretty laughable fist fight and a decent night time gun battle in a graveyard.

The ending features the title mechanism in action. John Ireland as the Mexican half breed bandit, Tarpas, looks more like the Devil than a Mexican bad guy. Robert Woods was much better in SEVEN GUNS FOR THE MACGREGORS (1965). George Rigaud, who plays one of the villains, was one of the oldsters in the MacGregor movies. Woods reminds me a lot of George Hilton in this movie.

There's also a racist slant in the mix that could have elevated this movie had it been explored more. Tarpas desires one of the female characters in the film (all these Italian westerns feature at least one or multiple doomed women roles) but she will have nothing to do with him specifying his race (or mix of races) and inferiority as her reasons. Tanner makes mention of this to the lady at one point citing his skin color as being her sole reason for detesting Tarpas. At the end, Tarpas charges at Tanner screaming "I'll kill you, white bastard!" The translated English title (from the Italian original) is also a line of dialog uttered by Tanner near the beginning.

There is a bit of gore here in one scene where Tanner is shot in the hand and he pulls the bullet (in bloody close up) out. Oddly, the sound goes silent when the close up shot of Tanner pulling the bullet out begins and returns when the camera cuts away after he removes the bullet. The score is nothing to write home about and is an odd jazz-like concoction from composer Piero Piccioni. 93 minutes.

Next up is the 1967 mystery western...


Peter Lee Lawrence (Mr. Silver), Hélène Chanel (Doll), Alberto Dell'Acqua (Spot), Andrea Bosic (Mr. Averell), Nello Pazzafini (Fitch)

Directed by Alfonso Brescia (as Al Bradley)

After repeated stagecoach robberies and murders, suave bounty killer, Mr. Silver, is hired by banker, Mr. Averell, to find the gang responsible. Doing so will be difficult as the gang all wear masks. Much subterfuge follows as Silver gets closer to learning the identities of the robbers.

Peter Lee Lawrence (THE DAYS OF VIOLENCE) is really good here. His character is the epitome of cool. He has a partner named Spot (Alberto Dell'Acqua) that tags along with him. The character of Spot also wishes Mr. Silver to teach him to be a shootist. This plot point is similar to the 'aging gunfighter takes on younger student' conceit seen in DAY OF ANGER the same year although it's forgotten about almost as soon as it's mentioned.

Mr. Silver also reminds one of Silence from THE GREAT SILENCE (1968) in that he only attacks when provoked. Silver always remains calm seemingly assured of his every step. With every meticulous move, he's constantly one step ahead of the bad guys. Dell'Acqua was also in Giraldi's two MACGREGOR movies in addition to acting and stunt work in various Italian genres.

Like the above reviewed movie, this film is a mystery western albeit one with a lot of action. The fist fights are good this time out (although there's one shot where a punch misses by a long shot). With that said, the action scenes themselves are pretty well put together for the most part. The movie begins on a serious note, yet approximately 25 minutes in, there's a TRINITY style saloon scuffle. Pazzafini as Fitch, beats the hell out of everybody in the place till he dirties up Silver's clothes. Of course, Fitch is no match for Mr. Silver. The comedy is present throughout but it's not dominating, only subtle.

Andrea Bosic, who was the sidekick to Sandokan played by Steve Reeves in SANDOKAN, THE GREAT (1963), plays the banker, Mr. Averell. His presence here will clue you in on his role in the movie if you've seen some of his other performances. The gorgeous Hélène Chanel I remember from a handful of sword & sandal productions. She's not in the movie all that much, but she plays an important role during the conclusion.

I liked this one a lot and it straddles the line of receiving the full review treatment. It has lots going for it from the action to the confident and altruistic, yet somewhat fiercely assured performance by Lawrence. This is the best role I've seen of his yet. The music from Robert Poitevin is in the typical Euroater style. A cue from Morricone's score for BULLETS DON'T ARGUE (1964) is heard. 89 minutes.

The third helping of our Euroater special is the unusual 1965 German western...


Lex Barker (Dr. Karl Sternau), Rik Battaglia (Captain Verdona)

Directed by Robert Siodmak

Dr. Karl Sternau, a diplomatic courier, is given an important letter by President Lincoln to deliver to Mexican President Benito Juarez regarding assistance against the French occupation. With no money to fund retaliation, Sternau and Juarez seek the location of the legendary Aztecan treasure. The wealthy landowner, Count Don Fernando assists Sternau and his group in finding the fabled riches, the whereabouts of which are known by a beautiful Aztec princess.

An interesting German western film adapted from a novel by popular writer Karl May whose 'Winnetou' series was filmed as a long running series of pictures. Lex Barker starred in some of those and he stars in this movie and also the sequel, PYRAMID OF THE SUN GOD the same year. There's a character named Hasenfeffer (a traveling salesman of cuckoo clocks) that provides some humorous comedy relief. American actor, Jeff Corey plays Abraham Lincoln in a brief role.

This film has a certain sense of adventure about it that transcends the typical western style. This is most apparent once the Aztec temple is discovered which also houses a live volcano(!) replete with secret passages and traps. Battaglia, a familiar face from Euroaters and sword & sandal films, is the main villain here and he gets pretty sadistic past the mid point. He's discharged from Juarez's militia and seeks the treasure for himself.

Some of the action scenes are stilted and have an air of the older serial westerns about them. It is nonetheless cognizant of the Italian style westerns being produced at the time as the Mexican revolutionary faction provides a curious clash with the Indian subplot. It's peculiar in that you don't usually see the predominantly Italian western conceit (the Mexican revolutionaries) mixed with the familiar US western trappings (the Indian tribes). Some of the fight scenes are better than others.

The tribe of Indians figure prominently into the story and all participants converge on the temple during the final 20 minutes just in time for the explosive closing moments. The movie bogs down slightly towards the end, but picks up steam for the finale. The locations are gorgeous and seeing this movie in a restored widescreen version would enhance this. This dubbed version is woefully out of sync from time to time.

The characters are likable and the women are very easy on the eyes. Some larger than life set pieces enhance the adventure and the score is decent for the most part, at times sounding quite boisterous. The dubber for Barker did the English voiceover work for Guiliano Gemma in a number of his movies. 106 minutes.

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