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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Fistful of Spaghetti: Mini Reviews of European Western Films

This column covers The Good, The Average & the Mediocre in the Spaghetti Western genre. The following mini reviews are a double feature of two obscure European western pictures.


Ken Clark (Bud Massedy/John Smith), Alberto Cevinini ("Slim" Kincaid), Michael Leomine (Carson), Gustavo De Nardo (Sergeant Warwick), Jany Clair (Janet)

Directed by Mario Bava

Bud Massedy comes across a group of dead Union soldiers, the victims of an Indian attack. One man is still alive and gives Bud a message to take to Wagon City and deliver to the bank there. It states the bank is to hand over $150,000 in funds for the soldiers stationed at Fort Alamo. Bud takes off for the town but encounters trouble once he's arrived. Fleeing with a young knife thrower named "Slim", the young upstart takes Bud to his gang lorded over by the unhinged Carson. Bud gets the idea of staking a claim on the soldiers wages since the brutality of the war had already cost him his ranch, his cattle and the life of his sister.

The group take the uniforms off the dead soldiers and make their way to Wagon City. Something goes wrong and the maniacal Carson kills an old woman inside the bank. Later, Carson and his men knock Bud and "Slim" unconscious and abscond with all the money. Left for dead by the Osage Indians, a Union regiment finds the two men tied to the ground in the blazing sun. Still masquerading as soldiers, Bud and "Slim" attempt to escape in the night, but that plan is thwarted by an Indian that sneeks into the military encampment.

The next day, the convoy is halted by a group of attacking Osage Indians chasing a Union soldier on horseback. Killing the Osage warriors, Bud finds that the Union man is the crazed Carson. Continuing on to Fort Alamo, the convoy comes across the Osage's Valley of the Dead. Ignoring the warning, the soldiers pass through anyways much to Bud's dismay. With the presence of Carson, a beautiful red head named Janet and the stalking Osage hordes, Bud decides to sneak away to get reinforcements before the impending Osage attack the next morning.

Famed director Mario Bava takes his first shot at the western genre with this enjoyable, yet brief entry. Favoring the American style of oater far more than the Italian one, there is, nonetheless, several strikingly violent scenes. No doubt Bava was given a tiny budget (note the fake looking cacti) to realize his vision of the west, given his propensity to do so much with so little, his photographic style is present in so many sequences here especially in the numerous studio bound shots. The script is good, too and moves the action along at a fast clip. The whole film has a serial feel to it complimented by the myriad of colorful elements typical of Bava's cinematic style.

Ken Clark is pretty damn good as the hero having just come off of two stellar main villain roles in both HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS (1963) and HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (1964). His granite facial features lend him a criminal caricature, but he makes the protagonist role work in his favor. A shame he didn't appear in very many more western films. The score for the film is the most unremarkable aspect of the production. Other than that, Bava's first Euroater is a pretty good affair, if simply average film. Not a patch on his past, or future successes, but a fun, if brief way to spend 76 minutes.

This review is representative of the German Koch R2 DVD. There isn't an English dub, but there are English subtitles.

The second half of this double bill is an enjoyable western film from 1967...


Peter Lee Lawrence (Josh Lee), Andrea Bosic (Mr. Evans), Nello Pazzafini (Butch), Lucio Rosato (Hank), Luigi Vannuchi (Captain Clifford), Beba Loncar (Christine), Rosalba Neri (Lizzy), Romano Puppo (Clell)

Directed by Alfonso Brescia (as Al Bradley); Music by Bruno Nicolai

During the Civil War, groups of rebel bands in Missouri lay claim to protect their lands and livestocks from Union soldiers. The aristocratic Mr. Evans is a firm believer that the rebels are really patriots and their acts of thievery are not criminal. Josh, one of Evans ranch hands, speaks out against their plundering and acts of violence. Josh is in love with Christine, Evans' daughter. She is to be sent away to Jackson till the turmoil has been quelled.

One of Evans' ranch hands, Hank, secretly works for the renegade Union Captain Clifford and he leads him and his soldiers back to Evans' ranch. Clifford uses the excuse of searching for the rebels dressed in Union attire as a means to ransack Evans' home and steal his horses. Clell is killed and Hank shoots Lizzy, his wife, in a fit of rage. Josh returns, and after finding his brother and sister-in-law killed, finally decides to join Butch and his outlaw rebels to find Capt. Clifford and his men in an effort to settle this personal vendetta.

Peter Lee Lawrence is pretty good as the guilt ridden Josh. Interestingly, he hates the violence of his Southern compatriots committing murder disguised as acts of patriotism. He soon changes his way of thinking once his brother and his wife are shot down in cold blood. Josh, himself, commits murder to save his friend, Butch. Becoming an outlaw himself, he is now a wanted man just after the war is over. Upon Christine's return home, the devious Captain Clifford (now retired from active duty) uses her to get to her fathers ranch and take it from him. Nello Pazzafini gets a big role here, a role much bigger than he is usually afforded.

Alfonso Brescia directs the film quite well and this 1967 production eschews typical Italian western motifs deciding more for an American style approach, albeit retaining the violence level inherent in the Euro counterparts. Brescia must have enjoyed directing Peter Lee Lawrence as he also starred in the enjoyable .32 CALIBER KILLER (1967). DAYS OF VIOLENCE is a bit more dramatic and has more insidious villains, but .32 CALIBER KILLER is a more fun film and a better vehicle for Lawrence as it suits his restrained style. The score from Bruno Nicolai is good as well especially the main theme. The action scenes are very well done (for a change) and varied complimented by some risky stunt work.

The film appears to have been shot in or around the same locations as the popular West German Winnetou westerns. The photography of Fausto Rossi captures some stunning vistas that jump off the screen in this lovingly restored print from Koch. This is a slightly above average oater that contains a good story, a worthwhile score, some striking locations and some shifty antagonists. Those who can deal with an Italian western not confined to the conventions of Leone's style, or a DJANGO (1966) type sagebrush saga will find a quality film here despite its affinity to American western sensibilities.

This review is representative of the German Koch R2 DVD. There is no English dub, but there are English subtitles.

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