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Monday, February 16, 2009

Euro Western Cinema Classics: Tepepa (1968) review


Tomas Milian (Tepepa/Jesus Maria Moran), John Steiner (Henry Price), Orson Welles (General Cascorro), Jose Torres (Piojo)

Directed by Guilio Petroni

At the moment of his execution, Tepepa is rescued by British doctor, Henry Price. However, Price soon points a gun at Tepepa wishing to be the man to bring about his death for a then unspecified reason. Pursued by the Federales, the two men attempt to escape but Price is captured while Tepepa gets away. Put into a prison cell with many other peasants, Price wishes to be put into another cell, but his captors refuse. Soon, Tepepa arrives and breaks the poor farmers (including Price) free leading them off into the mountains to become revolutionaries. Temporarily putting aside his vendetta, the two soon form an unusual alliance against the determined and cruel General Cascorro who vows to recapture and execute Tepepa to quell the uprising of the Mexican peasants and dispel the Revolution for good.

Guilio Petroni delivers a true classic of the Italian western genre with this 1968 production. Petroni had previously directed one of the finest of the revenge westerns with the violently bleak, DEATH RIDES A HORSE (1967), but managed to direct one of the weakest of Guiliano Gemma's movies, AND FOR A ROOF, A SKY FULL OF STARS (1967). Petroni also directed one of the most popular comedy westerns (in Italy at least) again starring Tomas Milian in the unusual LIFE IS TOUGH, EH, PROVIDENCE? (1972).

Petroni directs his film in a similar style with the other Revolution westerns being released. This may be due partly to the same scriptwriter of QUIEN SABE? (A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL). One noticeable similarity is the small peasant boy that asks the gringo character whether or not he likes Mexico. In both films, the foreigner states adamantly, "No." In TEPEPA, this question and answer has more profound meaning as well as somewhat ironic consequences by films end. Another similarity shared with other films in a comparable vein such as THE MERCENARY (1968) and COMPANEROS (1970), is that there is a pairing of two opposing sides that ultimately and skeptically join forces. Here, this plot point is treated more seriously eventually ending the film on an austere note.

There's a wonderfully ambiguous, yet somewhat stark scene where Price (Steiner) is watching Tepepa (Milian) amidst partygoers dancing with a young woman. As he looks on, he envisions Tepepa dancing with an unknown female wearing a beautiful white dress. At this time, you don't yet know that the woman he sees is actually the vision of his sister whom Tepepa has raped some time back. This is the reasoning for Price's retribution. He ogles as Tepepa has sex with the dancing girl, but again, he sees only his sister as he simulates in his mind his sisters rape and eventual suicide.

One of the best and most tense sequences comes at the end when Tepepa has been shot by Cascorro (Welles) before he expires. Operating on him to remove the bullet, Price is told by Tepepa he didn't know the woman was his wife to be and that he only did "what a man does with a woman." As he explains himself, Price thinks of his fiance as he removes the bullet from Tepepa's chest. When he asks, "What is a girl compared to a revolution?" Price realizes Tepepa feels no remorse or is simply unable to comprehend his violent act against his fiance which brought the beautiful woman to kill herself.

What's also of interest is that Tepepa tries to further clear his conscience by explaining he didn't know she was Price's woman. I guess in a way, Tepepa raping the aristocratic woman could be symbolic of his cause fighting against the wealthy rapists of Mexico's lands and resources that have suppressed the poor people driving them to starvation and poverty.

Petroni compensates for this by delivering a double shock ending. After Price has quietly killed Tepepa immediately after removing the bullet, he exits the tent exclaiming he's dead. Price goes to a horse expecting to leave. The little boy, Paquito, rushes over the hill yelling out the word, 'gringo'. Price looks at him and with solace, smiles back at the boy as if he has now changed his mind about Mexico. Suddenly, the sound of a bullet is heard and it is immediately evident that Paquito has shot Price killing him instantly.

Some other revolutionaries run over the hill and question the little boy, "Why? Didn't you like the gringo?" The camera moves in on Paquito's face as he says, "No...that gringo didn't like Mexico." The last scene shows Paquito and the other peasants riding off to realize their revolution, the seeds having been successfully planted by Tepepa.

Petroni's film is one of the best examples of this subgenre of Italian western film. There were a good number of other films that explore the Zapata period, but so few do so with as much panache as TEPEPA and a select few other pictures. If you are a fan of dramatic and compelling character pieces built around a western setting, than TEPEPA offers a thought provoking two hours of entertainment.

This review is representative of the Alan Young Pictures Italian PAL region 2 DVD.

The film TEPEPA (1968) is also discussed in the 'Spaghetti Western Overview Part 3' article which can be accessed at the link below...

Also check out the 'A Fistful of Spaghetti' section of the site for even more spaghetti western reviews. The link is below...


TheReverendDoom said...

This one sounds like a good one. How is Welles in it?

Sean M said...

I rewatched this last night after reading your review and i liked it much better than i remember,my previous misgivings were mainly to do with the slow pacing and long length of the movie.

Yes it does seem like a companion piece to QUIEN SABE especially as ultimately neither has a loveable lead characters as featured in Corbucci's lighter hearted take on this theme.Both Tepepa and El Chuncho are ruthless individuals killing off their comrades without scruples and partaking in the rape of aristocratic women.Also both Price and Tate display calculating and cold hearted tendencies(Price murders Tepepa whilst Tate shoots the general) though become seen in a more favourable humanistic light as the movies progress.

And of course both movies end on an unexpected murderous note.

I'm happy to now give this an 8 out of 10.Its such a shame about the English audio drop-outs on the uncut version.

Feel inclined to rewatch QUIEN SABE now!

venoms5 said...

Welles is good here, Rev, if a bit odd to see him in such a role. They nonetheless did a fine job making him look like a Mexican.

venoms5 said...

Sean, I wish all those extra dialog scenes were dubbed or even subbed in English. The whole movie is so interesting it would be nice to know is being said even if it's just extraneous dialog cut to move the film along.

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