Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Arizona Colt (1966) review


Giuliano Gemma (Arizona Colt), Fernando Sancho (Gordo Watch), Corinne Marchand (Jane), Nello Pazzafini (Clay), Andrea Bosic (Pedro), Roberto Camardiel (Whiskey), Rosalba Neri (Dolores), Mirko Ellis (Sheriff)

Directed by Michele Lupo

In honor of one of Italian cinemas biggest stars and one of the most recognizable and beloved personalities of the Italian western genre, Giuliano Gemma turns 72 this September 2nd, 2010.

The Short Version: Michele Lupo directs this, one of the finest westerns to ever come out of Europe. He didn't direct many of them, but the few he did, he made them count. Giuliano Gemma essentially reprises his 'Ringo' persona for this pseudo follow up. Some choice cinematography, a fine score and fine performances from the cast are found in this classic European oater from 1966. You may even find yourself whistling the theme song for days after.

Gordo: What is your name?

Arizona Colt: Like the land I'm from....Arizona.

Gordo: Arizona? What else?

Arizona Colt: ...Colt...Arizona Colt...fine state, fine pistol!

After spending time in prison, swaggering bounty hunter, Arizona Colt escapes after the Sidewinder gang massacres the guards and releases the prisoners whom all take off with Gordo and his men. Pressuring him into joining them, Colt manages to slyly get away on his horse and into the nearby town of Blackstone Hill. Later, the daughter of the saloon owner is murdered by one of Gordo's men. Arizona makes an uneasy deal with the townspeople that he'll bring back the killer for a reward in addition to marrying the bar owners other daughter, Jane. After a brush with death, Arizona Colt must save the entire town now taken over by Gordo and the Sidewinders.

After starring in a few standard, but enjoyable oaters like ONE SILVER DOLLAR and ADIOS, GRINGO (both 1965), Giuliano Gemma embarked on his career defining western, the classic A PISTOL FOR RINGO (1965) and it's even more "mature" sequel, RETURN OF RINGO (1965). ARIZONA COLT follows much the same trajectory as Gemma's two prior and huge Italian western hits. The title character is also very similar to Gemma's interpretation of Ringo. There's even a humorous in joke where Arizona goes into the saloon and orders a glass of milk(!), Ringo's preferred drink of choice. Arizona reminds the audience of that with this moment just before he's told they don't have the Vitamin D rich liquid on hand so he settles for a beer instead.

"I'll think about that."

Colt possesses some nuances that make him slightly different from his Ringo counterpart, but also shares several similarities. Ringo had a catchphrase, "It's a matter of principle", which he uttered at certain points during the movie. For ARIZONA COLT, it's "I'll think about that." His wry sense of humor is also present in both characters. The over confidence in his ability is there, the propensity to kill with a smile on his face at the drop of a hat is there, but Colt's personality varies in a couple of ways. He's much more vain than Ringo and also appears to be more human in that he lets his emotions show in a way that Ringo would never have done. The two films also share a similarly clever way in which the villains are dispatched (ARIZONA COLT arguably has the most blatant and satisfying scene of poetic justice in all of Italian western cinema) and also the final scenes correspond with one another in relation to Gemma's characters intentions.

Gemma was blessed with some of the best westerns to ever emerge from the Italian movie boom of the 1960's through the 1970's. He was also blessed with a set of the whitest teeth you will ever lay eyes on. Some fans criticize Gemma's look as being too clean cut. For me, this is only a good thing as it sets him apart from the countless Clint clones that flooded the market at the time. However, Gemma did have a good degree of facial hair for portions of IL RITORNO DI RINGO (1965) and I LUNGHI GIORNI DELLA VENDETTA (1967) in addition to being a put upon, filthy errand boy in the classic I GIORNI DELL'IRA (DAY OF ANGER 1967) for some of that picture. Gemma obviously adored westerns and put far more time in his performances and character traits than many other actors in these movies. He could perform acrobatics with ease (something borrowed by Terence Hill in the TRINITY films) and even trained himself to do quick draw tricks with his gun. He was a rare breed of Italian western hero and anti hero all rolled up into one. Gemma has long since put down his six shooter and picked up carving tools by showcasing his skills as a sculptor, a career he is enjoying success in today.

About three quarters into the film, Arizona is severely injured in a fashion similar to the finale in Gemma's far more serious revenge western, I LUNGHI GIORNI DELLA VENDETTA (THE LONG DAYS OF VENGEANCE 1967). From here, Lupo's western borrows from Leone's FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) in showcasing Colt retraining his hands for the last duel and also in how, outnumbered, he uses cunning to trick Gordo and his gang of outlaws. It also shares something in common with DJANGO (1966). In that film, Django has his hands trounced underfoot by Major Jackson's men on horseback. In ARIZONA COLT, both of Colt's legs and hands are shot by Gordo. The film also bears slight resemblance with THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, but minus six other gunmen.

"Your hands and legs don't look to good, Gordo. But as you said, when you're in the coffin, it don't much matter."

Interestingly, some Hong Kong films bear some semblance with ARIZONA COLT. The 1968 Shaw Brothers swordplay drama, THE MAGNIFICENT SWORDSMAN is about a lone sword master who trails a brutal gang of killers ultimately protecting a town and the woman who has fallen for him. Hong Kong period action films most often resembled Japanese samurai movies, but occasionally took a cue from western pictures. Also, the ending of Lupo's film inside a coffin makers shop was homaged in the 1980 Shaw Brothers kung fu movie, ROAR OF THE LION from director Hsu Hsia.

Also of note, Lupo's film appears to be the first Italian western to feature a sidekick for the seemingly invincible hero. Roberto Camardiel, who portrays Whiskey, also played the Irish patriarch in the lively SEVEN WOMEN FOR THE MACGREGORS (1967). His role as the drunken, dirty sidekick would be emulated in numerous other movies from hear on out such as THE MOMENT TO KILL (1968), Gemma's AND FOR A ROOF, A SKY FULL OF STARS (1968) and HIS NAME WAS HOLY GHOST (1971). The spirited camaraderie of the TRINITY films was also spearheaded in an earlier Gemma movie from 1969 entitled ALIVE, OR PREFERABLY DEAD (1969).

Pietro Ceccarelli (middle bald actor), an actor seen in many gladiator movies, plays a singing cowboy in ARIZONA COLT (1966)

ARIZONA COLT is a bit long (nearly breaching two hours), but still a lot of fun especially if you are a fan of Gemma's movies. The actual plot doesn't even kick in till nearly an hour into the movie. Lupo seems to direct this film as a parody of the American style most glaringly during a sequence where a group of singing cowboys ride into camera view. Gordo is in waiting and ambushes this Gene Autry/Smiley Burnett band of musical riders. After stripping them of their valuables, he gives them a chance to "run away" and in typical Italian western style, shoots them down before they can get very far.

Fernando Sancho (center). To the right you'll see a clean shaven Jose Manuel Martin

There's the always welcome gallows humor of the Mexican banditos, and prolific actor, Fernando Sancho plays Gordo in much the same fashion as the character he played called Sancho from A PISTOL FOR RINGO. A burly man, Fernando was kept very busy throughout the remainder of the 60's appearing in dozens of supporting roles. He mostly played antagonists, but played against type as a good guy in Leopoldo Savona's KILLER KID (1967), an average oater masquerading as a Zapata western. He even played an army Colonel in WANTED JOHNNY TEXAS (1967). Sword and sandal fans will recognize the prolific Nello Pazzafini in a bigger than usual role and also gladiator bit players Pietro Ceccarelli and Jeff Cameron.

Nello Pazzafini (billed here as Giovanni Pazzafini) and Rosalba Neri

This Italian-French co-production also contains some sprawling, mountainous Almerian vistas photographed by Guglielmo Mancori (RINGO FROM NEBRASKA, RUN, MAN, RUN). It's one of the films many attributes. The score by Francesco De Masi is an amalgamation of American and Italian western styles. The main theme is heard in many variations throughout the movie including a harmonica version and also a highly listenable whistled version from the much appreciated Alessandro Alessandroni. Like Morricone's work on the RINGO movies, De Masi delivers an equally memorable score that never wears out its welcome.

Although I would place ARIZONA COLT ever so slightly below both RINGO movies, it's still a highly recommended western film that delivers a good story, a strong score, good direction by one of Italy's least discussed filmmakers and another memorably suave and lovably arrogant character portrayed by Giuliano Gemma, one of the genres best performers and Italy's most successful export in sagebrush cinema.

This review is representative of the Eagle Pictures Italian R2 PAL DVD

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