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

A Fistful of Spaghetti: Nebraska Jim (1965) and 3 Bullets For Ringo (1966)

This edition of 'Fistful of Spaghetti' features two Ringo movies--one that had the participation of Mario Bava and another that copied him in a minuscule manner. One's worth a look and the other's worth a pass.


Ken Clark (Ringo/Nebraska), Piero Lulli (Bill Carter), Alfonso Rojas (Marty Hillman), Yvonne Bastien (Kay Cross), Renato Rossini (Lou Felton), Livio Lorenzon (sheriff Bert), Frank Brana (Dickson)

Directed by Anthony Roman

A vicious gunman named Bill Carter has an ongoing and heated conflict with cattle rancher, Marty Hillman. While Hillman hones his shooting skills, he meets a young gunslinger from Nebraska named Ringo who proves to be a crack shot with a pistol. Marty takes a quick liking to Ringo and offers him a job working on his ranch. Finding one of Marty's foremen dead and engaging Carter in a barroom brawl, Kay, Marty's wife, explains to Ringo that $50,000 had been left to her by her father and Carter will tear up Hillman's property to find it.

This average Italian-Spanish western is one of a few sequels/spin offs to Duccio Tessari's seminal work, A PISTOL FOR RINGO (1965), a star making vehicle for popular actor/athlete Giuliano Gemma. Here, second tier Hollywood player Ken Clark plays the milk drinking gunslinger, but without the wit, or wily smirking of Gemma's portrayal. Clark headlined some EuroSpy pictures and played the lead villain in both HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS (1963) and HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (1964). He then starred in Mario Bava's average ROAD TO FORT ALAMO (1964). NEBRASKA JIM has been credited to Bava as well, although Spanish director, Anthony Roman is given directors credit. Apparently, Bava had a small hand in the production directing second unit. Aside from some interesting photographic touches there's virtually nothing here that looks remotely like Bava's work.

Regarding Clark, he had a dominating presence onscreen and had his career lasted longer, he would have no doubt become an enduring big screen tough guy. Bearing a countenance akin to Kenneth Tobey and Charles Bronson, Clark's Bo Svenson build towered over his co-stars. His rugged looks may have been unfit to fill the shoes of the wily character perfected by Gemma, the man should have headlined a lot more movies. One of the films unusual instances of memorability is the striking sexual tension between Ringo and Marty's sexually frustrated wife, Kay. Rarely, if ever, have such westerns explored the topic of a coitally neglected woman living with an apparently impotent husband--enter tall, handsome stranger and possible plot points that said wife wants the husband out of the way to have the big, burly hero all to herself. It's one of the best aspects of the film and helps it stand out from the massive pack of similar movies.

Piero Lulli works best when he's putting his devilish visage to good use and as usual, plays a good villain here as the sly Bill Carter. His character gets into two highly destructive scuffles with Ringo resulting in a lot of smashed balsa wood furniture. Livio Lorenzon, a frequent face in many a gladiator movie, acts in a similar function here as Bert, the sheriff. Renato Rossini, who is credited here as Red Ross (he's also used Howard Ross), is one of Carter's chief thugs. Sadly, he gets little to do. He had a much bigger role alongside Clark in HERCULES AGAINST THE MONGOLS (1963) and featured in a handful of other strongman roles at the tail end of the Sword & Sandal cycle.

While it comes nowhere near the top level Italian westerns, NEBRASKA JIM has some unusual camerawork and shots rarely seen in the genre and a big surprise at the end that makes the experience a worthwhile one. The score by Nino Oliviero is derivative, but easy on the ears as is the main theme song, 'Cuando Muore il Sole'. It's a shame Ken Clark didn't have a much bigger career as he was an imposing presence onscreen. This would make for a curious double feature with ROAD TO FORT ALAMO for Bava fans.



Mickey Hargitay (Ringo Carson), Gordon Mitchell (Frank Sanders), Ivano Staccioli (Daniels)

Directed by Emmimo Salvi

Ringo and Frank Sanders are best friends who have a parting of ways after rescuing a woman named Jane from a Mexican gang. Frank is in love with Jane, but she wants nothing to do with him, preferring Ringo's company instead. Eventually, Frank goes off to fight in the Civil War while Ringo becomes sheriff of Stone City, marries Jane, has a child and protects his mothers land from greedy land baron, Daniels. When the war is over, Frank returns and saves Ringo from being killed by his Confederate compatriots. Temporarily blinded, Ringo's mother is killed and he must now keep Daniels from snatching the deeds to the property as well as protect his wife and son from Frank and his cohorts.

Perpetually awful and bland Italian western has very little going for it apart from some Bava style photography indigenous to Salvi's other mediocre movies. The script attempts to be epic in scale, but it's clumsily scrapped together and difficult to follow much of the time. Hargitay's pseudo popularity is baffling to me. I assume his middling career is owed strictly to his dynamite wife, the late Jayne Mansfield. Hargitay neither passes muster, nor cuts the mustard here as a western hero. His other oaters are just as forgettable. He will likely always be remembered for his role in the trashy BLOODY PIT OF HORROR (1965). Hargitay also fails to impress as a temporary blind man during one of the films many convoluted moments of disinterest in what is a nod to the wildly popular, and immensely entertaining ZATOICHI, THE BLIND SWORDSMAN character--a series of over two dozen chambara pictures.

Gordon Mitchell could usually be counted on to elevate even the worst dreck to barely watchable status, but not even his craggy visage and frequent cackling can salvage this worthless poverty row faux western--fake cacti, rubber rocks and all. Mitchell worked with Salvi a number of times and enjoyed his candor even if his movies were pretty pathetic, sometimes riotously so. The soap opera-ish plot unveiled here is far too bloated for a $1.95 budget and Salvi and crew even fail at turning this nonsensical mess into unintended hilarity. The gun battles are lackadaisical as Hargitay's delivery. The cast of extras can't even die with any conviction. One of the worst among a genre rife with horrible movies, it's yet another production attempting to capitalize on the name of a far superior picture.

Salvi did scant few movies including some colorfully atrocious Sword & Sandal and adventure fantasies such as the awe-ful VULCAN, SON OF JUPITER (1962) and ALI BABA & THE SEVEN SARACENS (1964). When he moved over to directing westerns he apparently assumed movies with cowboys and guns should still have a fantasy atmosphere so his two westerns have this strange, indescribable aura about them. It's as if Salvi held onto certain elements of the fantasy films porting them over to the western genre even going so far as to utilize some of the same sets. You almost expect the cowboys to unsheathe swords and shields instead of the cap guns they're saddled with. There's a totally out of place voodoo type dance sequence in 3 BULLETS FOR RINGO that seems ripped straight from the Italian adventure movies that had been the rage earlier in the decade. Some of the sets in his equally peculiar WANTED JOHNNY TEXAS (1967) are seen here as well--another film that has a frequently non traditional western look about it. While that one was mildly diverting, these 3 BULLETS are duds.

This review is representative of the Koch Media DVD for NEBRASKA JIM and the Wild East DVD for 3 BULLETS FOR RINGO

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of coolasscinema.com and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.