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Friday, March 19, 2010

Euro Western Cinema Classics: A Pistol For Ringo (1965) review


Guiliano Gemma/Montgomery Wood (Ringo), Fernando Sancho (Sancho), George Martin (Sheriff Ben), Nieves Navarro (Dolores), Hally Hammond/Lorella De Luca (Ruby), Jose Manuel Martin (Pedro)

Directed by Duccio Tessari

A band of cutthroats cross the border into America and rob the bank of a nearby western town. Making off with the loot, the leader of the gang is injured. Spying a vast hacienda, the gang takes the family hostage in the hopes of making a deal with the Sheriff and his men for free and clear passage back into Mexico. With his fiance among the captives, Ben, the Sheriff hires the sly, but ace gunslinger Ringo, to infiltrate the gang and get the hostages out alive before the army arrives.

Duccio Tessari, one of Italy's finest screenwriters was still in his infancy as a director when he wrote and directed this classic, sassy sagebrush saga. It was one of numerous films he would undertake with former stuntman, Guiliano Gemma. Tessari was apparently very fond of westerns and he was very good at directing them. He was also a good hand at writing sword and sandal adventures and also directed one entitled MY SON, THE HERO (1962) aka SONS OF THUNDER, which co-starred Gemma (as Krios), then a regular stuntman and supporting player in many of those movies. Unlike so many other Spaghetti's, you will find little to no "wasted space" in Tessari's view of the old west. Also, there's none of Leone's ultra close ups. Nearly every scene is filled with characters or objects. There's relatively few "dead center" shots. Instead, the camera is often filled from the left of the screen to the right.

George Martin, a Spanish actor, also appeared in above average spaghetti's such as A TASTE OF KILLING (1966) and RED BLOOD, YELLOW GOLD (1968) the latter starring George Hilton and Edd Byrnes.

A PISTOL FOR RINGO is a startling bridge between the American style of western and the barren windswept, rocky vistas of countless others. Tessari supports elements of both, although RINGO is closely patterned after the fading American Hollywood classic cowboy movie. Everything from Ringo himself, to the sheriff and the attire fuels the American west sensibility while the Mexican bandit gang and their shenanigans and the setting follow the template set down by Leone. The score by Morricone is also one of the maestro's best works and the theme song was a top hit of the day in Italy. The film was also successful in America upon its release in 1966.

"You know why I'm REALLY here? I'm here to kill you, amigo! You and all them gunslingers a' yers'.....I'm either with ya' at 40 percent, or against ya' at 30 that?"

Gemma was well cast here as the swaggering and sarcastic anti hero, Angel Face ("Ringo to my friends"). Gemma was one of Italy's biggest movie stars and one of the few Italian actors that was a major draw on the level of Clint Eastwood. A number of his oaters (including this one) are on the top box office grossing Italian westerns of all time. Gemma has a legion of fans (especially in Japan and Germany), but he also has some detractors who say he's too clean cut for their tastes.

Ringo:"I don't like the way you laugh. You sound like a jackass. When people laugh, it's a good thing. When they laugh at nothin', it annoys me."

Bandito:"Oh, yeah? And what do you do with someone who annoys you?"

Ringo:"Ahhh, you aint' only a jackass, you're a nosy jackass. Well, go ahead, laugh some more."

Whereas so many heroes of the Italian wasteland had lots of stubble and sweaty brows, Gemma's heroes were always clean shaven. However, in films like THE RETURN OF RINGO (1965) and THE LONG DAYS OF VENGEANCE (1967), Gemma sported full facial hair for a good portion of those movies. Gemma was also an unusually special actor in these films. He could do all the things the typical western hero was supposed to do. His stuntman expertise came in handy as he was very agile and would often perform acrobatic maneuvers in his films. He was also a very fast draw and could do tricks with his guns; all things very few could actually do and do well.

Gemma also was blessed with some of the best productions the genre had to offer. Such films as ARIZONA COLT (1966; often cited as an unofficial third 'Ringo' film), FORT YUMA GOLD (1966) and DAY OF ANGER (1967) co-starring Lee Van Cleef. FOR A ROOF...A SKY FULL OF STARS (1968) was a pseudo comedic western which Gemma followed up with a full on comedy entitled ALIVE, OR PREFERABLY DEAD (1969). This picture reunited the actor with RINGO director, Tessari, who apparently enjoyed the Christmas holidays. Like RINGO, ALIVE is also set during Christmas, an unusual setting for a western.

"Alright, kids, step aside and keep your eyes open...a new game more fun than hopscotch. The first o' these gentlemen that steps forward gets a new lead bullet between his eyes."--Angel Face takes down the Benson Brothers while playing Hopscotch with some kids

"Well I warned'em not to step forward, didn't I?"

His character of Ringo (Angel Face) is one of the most memorable in the Italian western canon. He is incredibly sure of himself and his abilities. You could say he's the western hero version of Bugs Bunny. He's always one step ahead of the game and even when he's in danger, he always manages to trick his way out of a situation with his ability to talk. In the best of these scenes he's shockingly frank with the antagonists boldly stating why he's really there and what his intentions are. But even then, Ringo is pulling the villains strings and having a grand time doing it.

"No, thanks, no liquor Tim. It deadens the eye and makes your hands shake. I'd much rather have a glass of milk. I thought I heard some cows mooin' around here."

Ringo is also vastly different from the typical Italian western hero in that he doesn't drink alcohol. He prefers milk(!) This character trait is also utilized in Michele Lupo's excellent RINGOesque ARIZONA COLT from 1966.

"In San Antonio I used to work for a barber who was a surgeon on the side. I helped him operate on 12 to 13 horses."

Possessing arguably the most blatant self assurance of all the many Euroater heroes, Ringo plays a somewhat inverted game of "turning one against the other", akin to the YOJIMBO plot device borrowed by Leone for his FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964; which Tessari also co-wrote). Where Eastwood's character turned one gang against the other with him waiting patiently for the outcome, Ringo plays the gang for fools while working the young girl, Ruby, into thinking he has sold them out to the gang.

Nieves Navarro (left), Gemma (middle), Hammond (right)

There is also a hint that Ruby is falling for Ringo, but this plot device isn't explored very much. Such as a scene wherein he arrogantly tells her to hold back kissing him for it may derail her relationship with the sheriff! Later in the film, she does kiss Ringo without hesitation as is anxious to learn of his safe escape at the end. Trying to keep up this aura of a swindling scoundrel is a tough job, but Ringo expertly manages.

Fernando Sancho (whose lead villain is named Sancho) is an Italian western favorite. He seldom played a good guy in these movies and enjoyed a long career playing characters similar to this one. Tessari's movie grants him one of his best performances, though. His role as the bandit leader is one of the richest, most enjoyable of his career. Making the connection between Ringo and Bugs Bunny would make Sancho his Yosemite Sam and both partake in similar banter throughout the movie. Some of these moments are quite hilarious and raise this film above so many in the genre.

Nieves Navarro is a popular face in Eurocult movies. She appeared in a handful of westerns before moving on to giallos and then stripping away inhibitions and clothes in a string Italian sex/horror films

The script is full of blackly comical touches. A number of the shooting deaths are laced with slight humor. The casual way in which the bandits shoot down armed members of the town at the beginning are an example. Later, Sancho, in the midst of shaving, props his gun on his shoulder and takes out some peons.

"Mornin'! Dead, huh? Well, they say early to bed, early to rise gets you a bullet between the eyes!"

Another scene that is genuine gallows humor has a bandit waking up in the early morning and yawning from an open window only to be greeted by a bullet in the head.

Tessari was one of Italy's finest directors of westerns which included the in-name-only sequel, RETURN OF RINGO from the same year and LONG LIVE YOUR DEATH (1971), a highly entertaining western with a stellar cast that featured Franco Nero, Eli Wallach, Lynn Redgrave and Horst Janson. The first Ringo sequel is considered by critics to be one of the greatest westerns ever made and superior to this one. As much as I enjoy RETURN, I much prefer Gemma's maiden voyage as this wisecracking gunfighter. A PISTOL FOR RINGO (1965) is highly recommended for Euroater fans and a splendid introduction into the cowboy pictures of Guiliano Gemma.

This review is representative of the Koch Media Region 2 PAL special edition DVD.


dfordoom said...

Spagetti westerns are a relatively recent discovery for me, but I'm becoming hooked on them. This one sounds like a must-see.

venoms5 said...

It's definitely well worth seeing, D! Strangely, it's been released pretty much everywhere on DVD except here. The Koch disc is the most recent release and it's the best I've seen of the film. I also have one of those ridiculously expensive Japanese SW bibles with four of Gemma's movies and a fifth disc of extras. That version of RINGO in that set is oddly framed at 1:85.

There's also a Thai DVD that's fairly inexpensive, too. I'm sure ebay has some of them. Many purists much prefer the far more serious sequel, RETURN OF RINGO. While it's a great film, the first is my favorite as I really enjoy Gemma's approach to the role here. Very similar to his role in ARIZONA COLT.

dfordoom said...

It certainly doesn't seem to have been released in Australia, but that's no surprise. Cult movie releases in Australia are more or less unheard of.

venoms5 said...

I found a seller on amazon selling a new copy of the German disc reviewed here for a ridiculously high price of $35 before shipping. This release is only a couple years old.

Sean M said...

This is definately an essential sw and for me Gemma is far from lightweight in this genre. Apparentlty Burt Lancaster(i like the comparison to Bugs Bunny!) was his idol and you can see the influence on Gemma here and in other movies.

In fact as mentioned above the whole cast is superb,the story first rate with a great Morricone score.I also prefer this movie to the more downbeat but nearly as excellent RETURN OF RINGO.

venoms5 said...

Totally agree, Sean. PISTOL FOR RINGO is one spaghetti I can watch over and over and it only gets better! The Koch DVD looks very nice. I watched a bit of the Fulci western, SILVER SADDLE and it looks stunning. Odd, though, to hear Geoffrey Lewis dubbed. I think he was also dubbed in MY NAME IS NOBODY if I remember was R.G. Armstrong.

Sean M said...

I have a very rough copy of SILVER SADDLE but i'll watch it again to see if i like it enough to invest in the Koch dvd.

venoms5 said...

The picture quality is quite stunning on it, Sean.

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