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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Euro Western Cinema Classics: Silver Saddle (1978) review


Giuliano Gemma (Roy Blood), Geoffrey Lewis (Two Strike Snake), Ettore Manni (Thomas Barrett), Cinzia Monreale (Margaret Barrett), Aldo Sambrell (Garincha), Donald O'brien (Fletcher)

Directed by Lucio Fulci

The Short Version: Lucio Fulci, prior to embarking on the portion of his career he's most remembered for, directed his fifth, and final Italian western. Benefiting from the participation of the iconic Giuliano Gemma, Fulci fashions some energetic action set pieces that keep the middling plot afloat. While not one of Gemma's best movies, it's miles away better than a few hundred similar movies that came before it.

Sent by a man named Barrett to murder his father, young Roy Blood guns down his fathers killer. Taking the assassins ornately designed silver saddle, Roy grows up to be a lone gunman feared by many. Hired to kill whom he presumes to be the same Barrett that ordered his fathers murder, Roy discovers his target is actually an innocent little boy. Roy takes the kid under his wing and along with his sidekick, Two Strike Snake, they seek out the one behind the plot to murder the little boy. Along the way, they're ambushed by outlaws and pursued by a Mexican bandit gang.

The last of Fulci's five western pictures were among a handful that thankfully put this genre out to pasture up on Boot Hill. The cycle having gone on longer than it should have, these 'Last of the Bad Movie Men' were of a grittier variety than the previous ten years worth of six shooter cinema from Europe. SILVER SADDLE is the least grim of the likes of CALIFORNIA ([1978]also with Gemma), MANNAJA (1977), KEOMA (1976) and Fulci's bizarre gore-bore of a western, FOUR OF THE APOCALYPSE (1975). While some of these were high caliber affairs, it became obvious the genre had become both stagnant and unpopular, and the few later examples were lacking the magic of even these late 70s entries.

Whereas the American west got a little nastier courtesy of the Italian variants, the Italians likewise took a cue from the sort of overt brutality western movies dabbled in during the 1970s post Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH (1969). Movies like SOLDIER BLUE (1970), THE HUNTING PARTY (1971) and HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) look to have had a possible effect on the last phase of the Euroater. The visual aura of THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976) appears to have been highly influential as well. SILVER SADDLE, by comparison, almost seems stuck in a time warp as these kinds of movies became fewer and far between after the tidal wave of comedic antics proved the death knell for the genre with nowhere to go but six feet under.

Modern day crime thrillers ripped straight from the headlines replaced the cowboys and Mexican banditos. There had been approximately 600 Italian westerns in ten years so by this point, the well had run dry rendering SILVER SADDLE a relic of a dead genre. Granted, Clint Eastwood almost exclusively kept the genre alive in America in the late 70s and into the 1980s and the Italians would sneak one in every few years (TEX & THE LORD OF THE DEEP, DJANGO STRIKES AGAIN, JONATHAN OF THE BEARS), but the template followed in SILVER SADDLE is typical of a 60s entry. For what it is, Fulci's adios to the genre is an enjoyable exercise in action spectacle with the most minuscule story to hold it together. Without Gemma, it's likely this movie would hold little to no interest whatsoever. There's literally nothing here that hasn't been seen in hundreds of other similar, and better movies.

Still, Gemma is a screen icon in his native Italy and that alone makes SILVER SADDLE well worth a viewing, or two. Relatively few of his westerns could be considered average and even those are made tolerable by Gemma's presence and endearingly likable persona. A PISTOL FOR RINGO (1965) cemented his popularity and while his movies were well received in the US during the 60s, it's startling that none of his pictures have been made widely available in sterling special editions on DVD in North America. Incidentally, it appears the same house and grounds from that genre defining movie is used here for the Barrett household. Gemma was famous for his smirking heroes and showing off his entrancingly white teeth. But here and in the gloomy CALIFORNIA (1978), Gemma plays it mostly with a straight face.

Geoffrey Lewis is wasted as the comical sidekick to Roy, Two Strike Snake, a wanderer who loots the dead left in Roy Blood's wake. I expected him to be the villain here considering how well he acquitted himself as the evil bastard seen in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973). No doubt he would have brought more to the bad guy role than Ettore Manni does, who remains largely absent from the film. The 'Two Strike' character, while also only popping up infrequently, wasn't even needed--he adds nothing to the narrative and the film would have worked just fine without him. His sole purpose here is to act as additional assist during the films bigger action set pieces.

Ettore Manni has been in many Italian actioners including the peplum-horror crossover ROME AGAINST ROME aka WAR OF THE ZOMBIES (1964) and the gladiator cum war picture GLADIATORS OF ROME (1964). Cinzia Monreale will be instantly recognizable to Euro horror fan-addicts from her role as the object of obsession in BEYOND THE DARKNESS (1979) and the ghostly sentinel from Fulci's THE BEYOND (1981). Donald O'brien also has a small role and he was memorable in Sollima's RUN, MAN, RUN (1968) and made a mess as DR. BUTCHER M.D. aka ZOMBI HOLOCAUST (1980). Aldo Sambrell is one of the most celebrated Euro actors and he has graced dozens of movies both good and bad. One of his finest roles was as the main villain in NAVAJO JOE (1966).

Fulci shoots these action sequences with a keen eye for rhythm and these scenes are just as exciting as they were in his much earlier MASSACRE TIME from 1966. This is helped immensely by the agility of Gemma who shows he was still quite capable of spry activity at 40. While he has just as many fans as detractors, Fulci obviously had a knack for capturing exciting shoot outs and this movie has more than a few. The budget appears to have been ample and Fulci pulls off a surprisingly engaging, if derivative throwback to the European sagebrush sagas of the 1960s.

This review is representative of the Koch Media R2 PAL DVD


Samuel Wilson said...

Interesting comments on the evolution of spaghettis and Silver Saddle's standing as a sort of throwback. Did that have anything to do with Gemma? Was there a generic limit on brutality in his star vehicles? I'm not very familiar with him, apart from the JFK allegory The Price of Power, though he did acquit himself well in more formidable acting company in The Desert of the Tartars. But sticking with brutality, couldn't it be a reaction to the comedy westerns as well as a response to the American escalation -- a way of declaring a film's seriousness for hardcore western fans? Thanks for provoking some interesting questions with this review of a movie I hadn't heard of before dropping by your site.

venoms5 said...

There's a good deal of bloody gunshot wounds in the film and the little boy gets lashed by Sambrell. Supposedly, Fulci wanted to make a more violent movie while Gemma wanted a more family friendly movie. It's true he wasn't a fan of extreme violence, but his CALIFORNIA is likely the most grim of all his movies. That one, too, bears a JOSEY WALES vibe.

SW's had extreme brutality in them during the early 70s such as FAST HAND IS STILL MY NAME from 1972. Despite the title that one had a deal more extreme violence and torture than what normally was in those movies. There was also a sex scene. I forget the actresses name, but she was fully nude. BLACK KILLER (1971) had some gratuitous nudity, too. The comedies still ruled at this time, but I did make an estimation that the increased nastiness in the American westerns of the early 70s possibly had an effect on the Italian variants.

I also forgot to mention Bruno Mattei's SCALPS among the scant few later entries in the 80s. There were a few SOLDIER BLUE inspired Italian westerns and this was one of them.

Getting back to Gemma, usually the violence in his movies was generally offset by some humorous moment, but many of his movies are rather violent. Even PISTOL FOR RINGO has a few moments of savagery that stood out, at least to me. There are some fans that dislike his movies because he is almost always clean cut, but he's my favorite actor of the genre and could do all the things you see him do in his movies. He loved the genre and was devoted to it.

Thanks for stopping by, Sam!

Maynard Morrissey said...

I'm not really into Western and stuff but I guess I would have been waaay more entertained watching 'Silver Saddle' instead of watching all the Fulci-crap from 1988/1989 (House Of Clocks, Sodoma's Ghosts...) :)

venoms5 said...

I skipped those Fulci movies, Maynard. I was interested in HOUSE OF CLOCKS when news first broke about it, but after reading reviews, I lost interest.

msmariah said...

Haven't seen this one. I will have to netflix this. Have you ever seen The Great Silence?

venoms5 said...

Hi, msmariah. Yes, I've got THE GREAT SILENCE. Great film, too, and probably my favorite Kinski movie. An essential western regardless of it being a foreign made movie. An incredible film, really.

There was also a Japanese chambara TV show that was influenced by it called THE MUTE SAMURAI from the early 70s. Incredibly brutal that show.

Ty said...

Excellent site you have here! Happy i found it.

Silver Saddle looks pretty cool. Will have to check it out!

venoms5 said...

I tried posting a link to it from amazon, but couldn't find the DVD listed their. Strange since they have other lesser known German DVD titles.

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