Monday, February 16, 2009
Euro Western Cinema Classics: Payment In Blood (1967) review
PAYMENT IN BLOOD 1967 aka SETTE WINCHESTER PER UN MASSACRO (SEVEN WINCHESTERS FOR A MASSACRE)
Edd Byrnes (Stuart), Guy Madison (Colonel Thomas Blake), Ennio Girolami (Chamaco Lattimer), Louise Barrett (Manuela), Attilio Severini (Mesa Alvarez), Federico Boido (Fred Calhoun), Alfredo Runachagua (Rios), Attilio Severini (Mesa Alvarez)
Directed by Enzo G. Castellari
Texas, 1867...the Civil War had ended two years earlier. The Confederate Armies, defeated, had disbanded. The men returned to their farms and homes. Most, but not all. Some men had no homes to return to. Some refused to accept the taste of defeat...and some just enjoyed killing. For these men, the war went on. The most notorious of these outlaw guerrillas was Colonel Thomas Blake...gentleman marauder.
A renegade Confederate, Colonel Thomas Blake, 'Gentleman Maurader', refuses to accept defeat at the hands of the Union. In turn, he rallies a group of sadistic cutthroats, Blake's Raiders, for a campaign of violence. His plan is to steal $200,000 dollars in hidden money from a retreated Confederate regiment. Belonging to General Beauregard, the whereabouts of the safe is unknown except to one person, Stuart (Byrnes); a mysterious character who served in the regiment that held the strongbox. Stuart discloses that the coveted funds are buried somewhere in a Comanche cemetery, only he doesn't give up the grave in which the money is buried. It soon becomes apparent that everyone has a hidden agenda leading to a final duel between the dwindled members of Blake's gang inside a cave.
Directed by action specialist, Enzo G. Castellari using his English name, E.G. Rowland, this is a fight filled and brainless action spectacle from a man who could be counted on (most of the time) to deliver a lot of bang for the buck. This Italian western from Girolami's production company showcases production values slightly above the norm. Columbia handled distribution of the film in America. Castellari again proves his dominance as the king of action movies in Italy during the time as he fills his movie with lots of fights, gun battles and explosions. The first ten minutes grabs ones attention with enough battles for a whole other production.
Compared with the myriad other directors of spaghetti westerns, Castellari was one of a select few able to showcase exciting action set pieces. Of course there were others, but Castellari was very consistent and seldom let his audience down. Granted, he did more bone headed shoot'em up movies than he did cerebral westerns (KEOMA and JOHNNY HAMLET are two examples of the latter), but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, unless you're a western fan that prefers a more serious approach to the material. No one will ever confuse PAYMENT IN BLOOD (1967) for high minded entertainment (nor most any of Castellari's movies for that matter). From an original story by Castellari's dad, Marino Girolami.
Edd Byrne's is great as the acrobatic and cunning hero, even though he seems like he stepped off of a James Dean picture. Just after the hour mark, the character of Stuart is revealed to be in league with the sheriff in Durango. But then this ruse doesn't last long as the sheriff is found out and Stuart is beat up like so many countless other spaghetti western heroes of films past and future. What's curious is that Byrnes (despite his ruse) is supposed to be playing a Southerner, yet his voice is anything but Southern.
Byrnes, among his other credits, also co-starred in Castellari's ANY GUN CAN PLAY (1967) and also in RED BLOOD, YELLOW GOLD (1967) directed by Nando Cicero as well as in the unusual split screen horror oddity, WICKED, WICKED (1973) featuring exploitation actress, Tiffany Bowling.
The movie itself seems to be patterned after Corbucci's seminal HELLBENDERS (1967; a superior variation of THE TRAMPLERS) and a bastardized version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) with a smattering of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) and THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY (1966). Also, the relationship between Stuart and Blake is vaguely similar to the one between Chuncho and El Nino in Damiani's classic BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (1966). Stuart even manages to convince Blake that his men may not be trustworthy. But again, as mentioned above, character plays second fiddle to action in Castellari's arena. There's even a nod to Django, "the tomb of the Comanche hero."
There are several standout scenes in PAYMENT IN BLOOD. The opening ten minutes are a smorgasbord of action as we are introduced to the villains of the film replete with gun battles and explosions. Each villain is different and uses a weapon exclusive to their character in addition to their rifles; one uses a whip, another a knife and another uses his spur to kill. The sequence where Stuart is accepted into the camp is chock full of moments where the villains test Stuart's skill and he returns the gesture in kind. The concluding gun duel also features lots of fancy shooting from the cast members.
The soundtrack is bombastic and very exciting. Francesco de Masi, one of the unsung contributors to Italian cinema music delivers one of the best and liveliest Italian western scores I've heard. I have a suite of music from the film, about 10 minutes worth on a compilation CD. Morricone will always be the most well known, and to a lesser extent, Bacalov and Nicolai. But de Masi belongs in their ranks as well. The vocal version of the main theme is mentioned in the credits but is nowhere to be heard in this version of the movie. It is present on one of the spaghetti compilation CD's I have.
Wild East's DVD apparently uses the French disc as its source as some scenes play in French with English subtitles. Oddly enough, the French disc contains an Italian audio track. These subbed bits account for about 3 minutes worth of footage as they are missing from the US release print. A fitfully entertaining movie that contains little a fan hasn't already seen in numerous other movies. Castellari shoots his film with a fast pace and injects enough energy and fresh elements to overlook the fact that there are dozens of similarly plotted westerns out there. Like Castellari's similar KILL THEM ALL & COME BACK ALONE (1968), this is definitely an exercise in style over substance.
This review is representative of the Wild East double feature DVD paired with RED BLOOD, YELLOW GOLD.
For even more spaghetti western reviews, be sure to check out the 'A Fistful of Spaghetti' section of the site. The link is below...