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Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Fistful of Spaghetti: Mini Reviews of European Western Films

This column covers the Good, the Average and the Mediocre in the spaghetti western genre. The following reviews are for two obscure European western pictures.


Chip Corman (Steve Blasco), Franco Giornelli (Asher), Rosemarie Dexter (Katie), Piero Lulli (Sam), Dana Ghia (Lucy)

Directed by Franco Rosetti

After escaping the hangman's noose, Steve Blasco finds a dying Confederate soldier. The man tells him to deliver a message to the blind man named Sam, who lives in the town of Overton with his caretaker, Katie. But Steve has other plans. Swiping the dead soldiers clothes and his gun, he heads off to meet with Sam to proclaim himself as his son in an effort to get his hands on his money. However, a gang of killers are also in Overton to rob a stagecoach carrying soldier funds. Lucy, an old flame of Steve's, is a member of the gang. Steve eventually joins forces with the gangsters, but he later tries to flee with the stolen currency. He is captured and tortured and Sam is killed. Having slowly changed his morality, Steve, having been left for dead, avenges the death of the old man and goes after Asher's gang.

Andrea Giordana (as Chip Corman) plays a curious part in this fairly mundane Italian western. It isn't a bad movie at all, just nothing terribly memorable. It's difficult to really get behind his character, although he does make a change towards the end. The movie doesn't get really interesting till an hour in when the gang beats up Steve and then tortures Sam in a masterfully handled, yet grim and disturbing sequence. It was at this moment that the movie showed some signs of life, despite some interesting plot points prior to this sequence.

Piero Lulli, a character actor who has appeared in dozens of movies of various genres, will most likely be best remembered for his antagonistic roles in Euro westerns. Here, he plays a good guy, the blind and docile Sam. His character is easily the most interesting one in the movie and it is at this point when Sam is being tortured, that Steve also changes completely from a seedy individual to a full fledged avenging hero. During the last 30 minutes, the film is basically Steve hunting down all the gang members and administering frontier retribution. The best is saved for Asher who receives a particularly ironic piece of poetic justice.

There is a Gothic air about the movie and it resembles Corbucci's grim western style seen in such films as DJANGO (1966) and THE GREAT SILENCE (1968). Whether it be the mud caked and rain soaked streets of the abandoned town of Overton, or the wind and foggy nighttime scenes, there's a foreboding atmosphere through most of the film. The fight in the saloon is a bit of an eye opener. It's good compared with some of the earlier brawls and even stands out among other films in the genre which generally have some of the worst telegraphed fight sequences. It looks like portions of this bar room brawl have been slightly undercranked.

DIRTY OUTLAWS (1967) is only recommended to die hard fans of the genre. It has some stand out moments, but not enough to ride alongside some of the truly great movies to be seen in the Italian western genre. It's fine for a viewing, but is nearly forgotten soon afterwards.

This review is representative of the Wild East DVD.

The second feature on this two-fer western attraction is the average, yet enjoyable Euroater called...

CJAMANGO 1967 **1/2

Ivan Rassimov/Sean Todd (Cjamango), Mickey Hargitay (Clinton), Helene Chanel (Pearl), Livio Lorenzon (Don Pablo), Piero Lulli (The Tiger), Giusva Fioranti (Manuel)

Directed by Edoardo Mulargia

A mysterious gunman, Cjamango, wins a great deal of gold in a poker game against a Mexican bandit. As soon as he prepares to make off with his winnings, a gang of killers led by Don Pablo and the Tiger enters the saloon and massacres everyone inside. Left for dead, Cjamango takes off to reclaim his stolen cache of gold. Some time later, the gold ends up stolen again and the gang who took it has split into two factions with much animosity between them. Cjamango arrives in town heating up the rivalry between the two gangs.

He ultimately takes care of a scorned and abandoned little boy who is cruelly used by one of the gangs to get rid of the townsfolk enabling them to take over the peoples lands. Around the same time of Cjamango's arrival in the small Mexican hamlet, a well dressed stranger named Clinton shows up; his intentions not revealed till the final closing moments. A concluding stand off between Don Pablo, the Tiger and Cjamango ensues with the enigmatic Clinton watching from the sidelines.

Another riff on the FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) storyline and also throws elements of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) into the mix creating a very pedestrian effort by Edoardo Mulargia. Mulargia is hit and miss making some fun entertainment such as W DJANGO!(1972) and then some incomprehensible mess like BROTHER OUTLAW (1971). CJAMANGO (1967) falls somewhere in between. Kudos to the makers for injecting something new into familiar territory. However, the film seems to suffer from a rushed schedule or just plain sloppiness as some scenes seem incomplete or ripe with continuity problems.

Cjamango has seemingly stolen his gold away from the gang at the beginning but no passage of time is alluded to nor how he was able to do such a thing. Also, the little boy Manuel is burned badly on his body to fool the scared townsfolk into thinking he has the plague. His mother, Pearl, pays two individuals to dump him off at a convent, but instead, the two literally toss him from their wagon a good distance from town. In the next scene, Manuel is back in town again.

The movie features some poignant moments such as the terrible treatment given the little boy Manuel who is befriended by Cjamango not long after he arrives in the village. Rassimov's character is afforded some depth not generally found in the many anti-heroes dominating the spaghetti western landscape and this non comic book approach is a welcome change of pace even if the story is recycled from the Leone movies.

Rassimov comes off much better here than he did in the mostly dull IF YOU WANT TO LIVE...SHOOT! (1968) and in addition to the added pathos, there's a great scene near the end where the bad guys are going to blow up Manuel if he doesn't reveal where the gold is stashed. Helpless, Cjamango must decide either the boy or the money.

Mickey Hargitay is on hand but has very little to do and mostly observes from the sidelines. You would totally forget he was in the movie if not for the infrequent shots of him milling around occasionally asking questions or briefly aiding Cjamango in a bar. His intentions are revealed at the end and it, too, isn't quite what you would think.

The stunning Helene Chanel plays Pearl, the hot property that has seemingly caused the ripple in the gangs members. She isn't totally a righteous person herself but has a change of heart by the end. It's hinted at during a conversation that Pearl is Manuel's mother but the boy never refers to her as such and it's not mentioned again throughout the film unless I missed something.

Chanel is quite stacked and featured in numerous sword and sandal movies such as MACISTE IN THE COURT OF THE GREAT KHAN (1961), MACISTE IN HELL (1962; aka THE WITCH'S CURSE), the awful SAMSON & HIS MIGHTY CHALLENGE (1964) and the hybrid THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (1965).

The score in CJAMANGO (1967) by Felic di Stefano is excellent and beautifully rendered and is easily the best attribute of this film. The music alone is worth watching the film again it's just a shame the film itself doesn't match up. One of the best pieces occurs near the beginning when the townsfolk are abandoning the village and Manuel desperately wants someone to take him with them but he's shoved around and discarded because the people are convinced he has the plague. Manuel only has one real friend here and that's Cjamango and this one thread is what holds the movie together bolstered by Stefano's lovely score.

The WE dvd appears to be sourced from a German disc as the title is in German with the remainder of the credits in Italian. The English dubbed sound is very clear and audible. There's a lot worse SW's out there but this is a decent enough oater with some novel ideas including an unusual hero and the pleasing score, but not enough to make it rise above being simply average.

This review is representative of the Wild East DVD.

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