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Thursday, February 14, 2013

30 of the Best Non-Leone Italian Westerns 16-30




The following 15 titles are among the best Non-Leone Euro-westerns that I feel are worthy of discovery or praise whether for simply being well made movies, or providing a wonderful 90 minutes of entertainment. Unlike the first part of this article, nearly half of these are politically charged motion pictures, and I give my opinions of them. Regardless of your views, those and the other films presented here are all excellent entertainment and worthwhile for one reason or another. The Franco Nero quote from Brian Trenchard Smith was provided by Marco A. S. Freitas, film critic and movie buff from Brazil, and is denoted with an asterisk.

16. FACE TO FACE (1967) aka FACCIA A FACCIA

Directed by Sergio Sollima

"One violent soul is an outlaw. A hundred is a gang. They are an army at a hundred thousand... Beyond the confines that limit the outlaw and individual, criminal violence by masses of men is called history!"--former professor, Brad Fletcher succumbs to the dark side in FACE TO FACE.

Brad Fletcher, a Boston history teacher, moves to Texas for reasons of health. His life drastically changes upon a fateful meeting with a wounded outlaw named Beauregard Bennett. The violent gunman kidnaps Fletcher, who later nurses him back to health. After rendezvousing with his gang, the two men slowly gain trust between them all the while relaying their beliefs and philosophy on one another. A noticeable switch eventually occurs -- Bennett finds his conscious, becoming moralistic in the process while Fletcher transforms into a murderous, yet calculating madman who has big plans for Bennett's gang. Meanwhile, Beauregard is being hunted down by Siringo, a Pinkerton lawman. The three men soon cross paths in the desert for a showdown.



Sergio Sollima's second movie goes beyond the political and into the darker recesses of man's psyche with this phenomenal western film that presents a flip-flop of personalities between two men who couldn't be more different. One could argue that both men were always the way they both end up, but needed the other to unleash their true inner selves. The about-face of personality change the two men experience is striking in the extreme. This fascinating switch is most stunning in the character of Brad Fletcher (a scenery gulping Gian Maria Volonte). He ultimately proves far more ambitious and dangerous than the somewhat reserved outlaw Beauregard Bennett.

The performances are particularly fiery, especially Volonte as Fletcher. He really cuts loose here in a masterfully over the top fashion complete with a noticeably lighter skin tone in what I assume is to make him appear more Anglo in appearance. Milian is remarkably reserved here; vicious, yet meticulous. His persona swap seems more natural. This is also one of William Berger's best roles. Sollima only directed three westerns, but he made them all count; and all three reserve spots on this 30 film list.

17. THE GREAT SILENCE (1968) aka IL GRANDE SILENZIO

Directed by Sergio Corucci

A mute gunfighter is hired by a righteous woman seeking justice for the murder of her husband at the hands of an equally sadistic band of mercenaries for hire.

When the book of great westerns is written, Sergio Corbucci's shock inducing quasi-horror western demands a spot somewhere among its pages. Its flagrant disregard for convention is among its many assets. The director was known for his violent excess, but here, he flaunts it brazenly, wantonly wiping out any popular notion of the archetypal 'good guys & bad guys' of traditional oaters.

Many critics point out the political nature of this movie with its underlying themes of class warfare, so I will espouse my own views on this topic. Upon first glance, the extreme violence is so strong, it subdues whatever socio-political metaphor critics point out, or Corbucci may have been going for; if he even intended any at all with this movie (Corbucci was among the left wing cognoscenti, by the way). However, the film seems more interested in painting a cynical, dystopian view of a fractured legal system whereby criminality thrives under the guise of the law through the abuse of it; 'murder for profit' as a state official puts it. This social class warfare that often gets bandied about comes via the crooked banker (to leftists, anybody with money MUST ALWAYS be perceived as evil) who has hired a sadistic gang of bounty hunters to wipe out a group of Mormons who were forced out of town.

The use of Mormons as victims by a left wing filmmaker is of vast interest, and wholly contradictory today considering liberals have a seething disdain for them. Had SILENCE been made in our modern political climate, no doubt parallels could be drawn between the passive Mormons and the murderous bounty killers -- Mitt the Meek's camp on the Right versus the duplicitous Dems with their countless, wildly false statements passed off as truth that resulted in the defeat of their opposition. But politics aside, Corbucci has made one of the most brilliant westerns of all time, and one of the most cruel and violent. The rapacious Klaus Kinski steals the film away from its star, John-Louis Trintignant at every turn. Genre regular Frank Wolff essays an unusually sympathetic lawman of an isolated town caught in the clutches of winters grasp as well as that of a vile band of mercenaries.



The ending is simply astounding as well as being among the ballsiest, yet brutally poignant finales ever put to celluloid. THE GREAT SILENCE served as the basis of the equally grim Japanese samurai TV show THE MUTE SAMURAI (1974) starring Tomisaburo Wakayama. The plot point of the title gunfighter shooting off the thumbs of his victims was also recycled in the Hong Kong kung fu film IRON FISTS (1979) starring Chen Kuan Tai.

18. THE MERCENARY (1968) aka IL MERCENARIO aka A PROFESSIONAL GUN

Directed by Sergio Corbucci

"He was a great guy, easy to direct. He has a very commanding screen presence. He did ask me for an extra scene in MEGIDDO where his character could commit suicide because he had given in to Satan's requests. But the financiers were Pentecostal Christians and would not allow it so his character would have to wait to burn in Hell.... Franco asked what I wanted to do on my day off. I said I would like to visit the Vatican. He said I'll get you a specially guided tour, and he did. We were met by a senior Priest who took us round every where, even pointing to a door beyond which was a staircase, saying down there is where all the confidential Vatican secrets are kept. No entry, naturally. And Franco sure knows how to choose a good restaurant."--Director, Brian Trenchard Smith discussing his time with Franco Nero. * 

A polish mercenary named Sergei Kowalski is hired by Colonel Garcia to escort seven tons of silver to the United States. Before Kowalski can begin his job, he discovers a Mexican bandit gang has procured the silver for their revolution. Meanwhile, another mercenary named Curly, a homosexual sadist, also has his sights set on the silver.

Many fans consider this international co-pro epic Zapata western Sergio Corbucci's finest achievement. It's his biggest production up to that time, ably supported by a suave performance from Franco Nero and an eccentrically effeminate turn by Jack Palance. Tony Musante is the only weak link in this picture and one longs for the participation of Tomas Milian. At times, it seems Musante is channeling Milian, but while he's energetic as Paco, there's no denying the vibrant familiarity Milian would have brought to the film. 

The trio of Nero, Palance and Milian would be united in Corbucci's comedic remake of this movie in 1970 under the title COMPANEROS. The director would helm one more serious oater (THE SPECIALIST) before switching over to the lighter side of the old west with the aforementioned COMPANEROS, SONNY & JED (1972), WHAT AM I DOING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE REVOLUTION? (1972) and THE WHITE, THE YELLOW & THE BLACK (1975).

THE MERCENARY is extremely well made benefiting from strong performances and bolstered by yet another excellent Morricone score. With this being a Zapata western, leftist politics rear their one-sided head once again, so thievery and murder are exonerated and championed as heroism. However, the frequently lively tone refuses to allow extreme ideologies to become as heavy-handed as these movies normally tend to do. Considering the societal upheaval of the 1960s, radical beliefs were more commonplace and these movies glorified them. Pancho Villa, who was far from a saint, is invoked here. Earlier in 1968, a spectacular movie version on Villa was released in America starring Yul Brynner (who disliked Peckinpah's more accurate depiction of Villa and had it changed), Robert Mitchum and Charles Bronson. 



Politics aside, this is among the best such European westerns you're likely to find. It's a highlight amongst the esteemed Corbucci's resume. The brutality is slightly toned down from his previous pictures, but there really was no further you could go into the depths of despair plundered by the daring THE GREAT SILENCE; which was released a few weeks prior. From here, Corbucci's career in sagebrush sagas yielded two more interesting pictures before driving the wagon totally off the cliff by the mid 1970s when he abandoned the genre that made his name -- and also the genre he claimed he hated(!) -- to make comedies. With THE MERCENARY, Corbucci showed he could do a western as good as anything Leone had done.

19. TEPEPA (1968) aka BLOOD AND GUNS

Directed by Guilio Petroni

Mexican revolutionary Tepepa is about to be executed, but is rescued by British doctor Henry Price. The Federales, led by General Cascorro, pursue Tepepa, but Price has his own reasons for keeping the bandit leader alive.

Guilio Petroni isn't a director whose name gets much mention where westerns are concerned, despite helming five oaters all vastly different from one another. For the film in question, Petroni delivered one of the best ever Zapata's with this startlingly somber, yet poignant political drama. Petroni's cerebrally complex revolutionary western is arguably the best of his five films in this genre. Like most Italian tumbleweed tales, there's a triangular arc to the plot -- the Anglo that gets mixed up in a revolution, a Mexican bandit cum hero and that nefarious mainstay of Zapata's, the evil Federales.

What makes TEPEPA unique from most Zapata's is that it doesn't paint the title murderer/rapist as a complete and total hero of the people as so many of the left wing filmmakers often did. This is no one-sided cynicism that trumpets the Italian Lefts Wests skewed Robin Hood mantra of 'Kill the Rich To Give To the Poor' of such works like Damiani's classic A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL (1966). Tepepa is explored from both sides of the coin -- as both a hero and a monster. I can't think of another similar film that does this. Speaking of Damiani, Pertroni's movie mirrors some of GENERAL's Western vilification, but seems to refuse to remain as one-sided as most others of this ilk tend to do.

Milian yet again turns in a sterling portrayal. Here, the script (by Italo Communist Party member, Franco Solinas) lends more depth than usual to this leftist revolutionary whose actions question the validity of his ideals. He's wantonly raped and killed innocents in his pursuit of what he views is a good cause; that lawlessness is acceptable for the greater good. This notion, like others in this sub-genre, are in agreement with Brad Fletcher's statement voiced coldly by Volonte in Sollima's superb FACE TO FACE (1967) that criminal violence en masse is somehow a noble, historical endeavor. But this is left wing cinema, after all, where banditry and thievery are politicized to the point where criminality is an act of reverence.



John Steiner and Orson Welles round out the main cast of this highly recommended movie. Petroni also directed the ultra violent DEATH RIDES A HORSE (1967), the lesser Giuliano Gemma western ...AND FOR A ROOF, A SKY FULL OF STARS (1968), the obscure suspense western NIGHT OF THE SERPENT (1969) and the Italian comedy western hit LIFE IS TOUGH, EH, PROVIDENCE? (1972); the last picture featuring a Chaplinesque, bizarro performance from Milian.

20. RUN, MAN, RUN (1968) aka CORRI UOMO CORRI

Directed by Sergio Sollima

"If there is somebody... talented that I know [it] is me, okay? That's one thing in my life that I am sure, I am fucking talented, okay?"--Tomas Milian as lovingly subtle as ever discussing his role as Cuchillo in RUN, MAN, RUN (interview on BU DVD extras).

Cuchillo, a wandering peasant ends up in jail with a revolutionary about to be released. Named Ramirez, the man asks the famed knife thrower to help break him out of jail and escort him to Texas where 3 million in gold is hidden. On their way, Ramirez is killed, but before he dies, he passes on to Cuchillo a piece of a newspaper that will lead him to where the gold is hidden. In addition, a number of interested parties also want the gold, including a renegade lawman named Cassidy.

Tomas Milian once more shows himself as a force to be reckoned with onscreen. His persona and unlimited charismatic ammo overshadows his slight, unassuming build. This movie feels more like a separate entity than it does a sequel to THE BIG GUNDOWN (1966), so if you've not seen that one, it's not necessary to do so to understand anything that takes place in RUN, MAN, RUN. Milian plays the same character, although Van Cleef does not reprise his role. Instead, Donald O'brien (DR. BUTCHER MD) takes the role of the lawman, only he's not quite the stoic, honorable sort Van Cleef's Corbett was.

The comedy comes fast and furious, emblazoned by a spectacular Bruno Nicolai (actually, it's Morricone, but credited to Nicolai) score that you'll likely be humming after the film is over with. This isn't TRINITY level antics (That landmark was still a couple years away), but the tone is much lighter than the norm for 1968. The stunning Chelo Alonso nearly steals the film away from Milian with her blatant sexuality and powerful persona. She doesn't even have to mesmerize us with one of her exotic dance numbers that graced some of the best peplum adventures earlier in the decade. It's the least serious of Sergio Sollima's three westerns, but no less intriguing.

It's also worth noting that while Sollima piled on the politics with his first two oater outings, he avoids such topics opting instead for escapism. The revolution provides a backdrop for the 'search for the gold' motif, but outside of that, there's little to no pontifications on man, civilization, or leftist propaganda, and what's here is treated ostensibly as parody. Considering how provocative his previous endeavors were in this genre, this leisurely approach the third time around is an easy mark for critics pointing it out as an inferior work. Regardless, Sollima's third, and final western is a great deal of fun. Milian also sings the theme song, although the films score on CD uses a different singer.

21. THE PRICE OF POWER (1969) aka IL PREZZO DEL POTERE

Directed by Tonino Valerii

As the Civil War ends, an assassination plot to murder president Garfield in Dallas, TX is hatched by an assortment of conspirators. The plan is to kill the president and blame it on a kindly black man named Jack Donovan. William Willer, a former friend of the president, rides into town. Unable to prevent the assassination of president Garfield, Willer is determined to bring all those responsible to justice.

Valerii was an underrated hand at the Italian western genre, and this picture is one of his best. He only directed five westerns, and this one is the most political of the bunch. Presumably for legal reasons, the time period of president Garfield's death is not historically accurate, although it could be surmised this film also masks an underlying theme of the Kennedy assassination. Valerii's movie is rife with hot topic issues that dominated the American 1960s. Fitting for a 1969 production, the nature of assassination and racial tension dominates the proceedings.

So many Italian westerns lovingly embrace left wing extremism as their modus operandi, and those are generally the only ones that get much discussion where political subtext is concerned. While Valerii never glorifies any single party here, Garfield was a Republican in both real life and in this movie, but his killer is different. Instead of a single, unstable hitman (named Charles Guiteau), it's a roundtable of conspirators (including Fernando Rey and Frank Brana) who are none to happy about freeing the slaves and paying them an actual wage for their services.

The racism angle isn't expounded upon to any large degree (although a handful of racial slurs are uttered throughout; unusual for this genre, by the way), yet both blacks and whites are shown to be heroic and villainous over the course of the film. The Ku Klux Kan had already been formed in the late 1800s (founded by Democrats, by the way) when this film takes place, but it's not discussed whether the group of assassins have associations with them, or not; at least not in the English dubbed version of the film.



Giuliano Gemma did many great westerns and while he's the main star here, his presence is occasionally drowned out amidst the high number of characters and twisting plot points. This is one of his more solemn performances, so don't expect much Ringo style theatrics. Gemma does pull off some impressive stunt work and gunplay throughout.

22. SABATA (1969) aka EHI AMICO... C'E SABATA, HAI CHIUSO!

Directed by Frank Kramer (Gianfranco Parolini)

A mysterious, semi-spectral gunslinger named Sabata recovers $100,000 stolen from the bank in Daugherty. Discovering that respectable, well to do citizens were behind the robbery, Sabata blackmails them in return for his silence. One of the masterminds, the effeminate Stengel, has no intentions of paying Sabata so he hires mercenaries to kill the black clad gunman. Meanwhile, an old friend of Sabata's named Banjo is waiting on the sidelines. Befriending a rotund bandito and an acrobatic Indian, Sabata takes on Stengel and his elaborate gang of hitmen.



If ever the popular US television series THE WILD, WILD WEST was influential, it was on the Italian western genre; notably the post Leone style that fancied gadgets and gimmicks to sell tickets. While that series had elements of science fiction, horror and acrobatic action mixed with wild stunts, Gianfranco Parolini's movie heads about as far from traditional Leone style sagebrush scenarios as you can get.



Lee Van Cleef is impressive here as the title gunslinger with the trick guns. After this film, LVC would find himself undertaking more western roles with a less serious tone (like his Indian character in KID VENGEANCE and paired with Lo Lieh in THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER) as the 70s wore on. The bombastic score by Marcello Giombini is incredible, and is bigger than the film itself. This Alberto Grimaldi production is also bigger than many of these movies were afforded at the time. The SARTANA series (the first of which appeared in 1968 and also helmed by Parolini) would take things to even further extremes after SABATA proved popular at the box office.

23. THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO (1969) aka IL PISTOLERO DELL' AVE MARIA

Directed by Ferdinando Baldi

A military general is both betrayed and murdered by his wife and her lover in an ambush that also wipes out his men during a victory celebration. During the commotion, her son Sebastian disappears after getting separated from his sister Isabella and his best friend Rafael. Years later, Sebastian grows up having forgotten the terrible ordeal and lives his life in isolation. Upon finding him, both Isabella and Rafael help restore his memory so they can seek retribution for the wrongs done to their family.

This soap operatic western is among the best of the last batch of serious sagebrush sagas before the genre turned its attention towards the light-hearted goofiness of the sort popularized in THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1970). There are areas where this movie could have exceeded what it promises, but the limited budget restrains the picture from reaching too far outside the realm of dramatic convention. The score by Roberto Pregadio stands tall next to, possibly even surpassing, the best of Morricone. It's that damn good.

This is possibly the only Leonard Mann performance I've enjoyed. But considering his character is of the somber, silent type, his non-emotive face is perfect for this sort of role. He also possesses an angelic face that fits his character well. Peter Martell (Pietro Martellanza) is even better as the tortured Rafael. In fact, the entire cast is perfect. The women are especially gorgeous here, including the main actresses as well as the Mexican dancers seen during the celebration-bar sequences.

Ferdinando Baldi was, in my opinion, terribly underrated. Not that all his movies were classics, but the man was not afraid to experiment with genre conventions. He did this first with the bizarre musical RITA OF THE WEST (1967) and the peculiar HATE THY NEIGHBOR in 1968. Baldi also directed Franco Nero in TEXAS, ADDIOS (1966), an Italian western that had some unusually good and creative fight scenes -- which you seldom get in these movies.

THE FORGOTTEN PISTOLERO is his first 'Apocalypse' western, followed by the equally apocalyptic, and bigger budgeted BLINDMAN (1971). Baldi would then not only get weird, but GET MEAN in 1975 -- his second of four increasingly awful movies to star Tony Anthony. Baldi was also behind the entertainingly comic bookish DJANGO prequel from 1968, DJANGO, GET YOUR COFFIN READY with Terence Hill in the lead.

24. AND GOD SAID TO CAIN... (1969) aka E DIO DISSE A CAINO

Directed by Antonio Margheriti

"A man must pay for everything..."--Kinski as the defamed former Lieutenant Hamilton echoing his righteous sentiment.

Gary Hamilton, a former decorated sodier, is pardoned after ten years in prison. He heads back to his old residence to settle a vendetta with Acombar, Gary's old friend. Upon learning of his imminent return, Acombar readies his men for a showdown while a nearby tornado stirs up a great storm heralding the arrival of the wronged avenger.

Arguably best known for his forays into science fiction and horror, Antonio Margheriti's third of six westerns bridges the oater and the Gothic horror style to create a unique experience. It's made all the more fantasmic in that it features a rare good guy role for Klaus Kinski; here playing a political prisoner and former war hero whose spent a decade in shackles for a stagecoach robbery he had nothing to do with.



His method of revenge is unusual, as opposed to the usual bullet riddled shootouts. Knowing he is outnumbered, he utilizes underground tunnels connecting to an Indian burial ground to maneuver around the town picking off his enemies at will. Suspense is carefully built by the filmmakers; in particular, the aura of dread is amplified as the looming storm becomes a metaphor for Gary's arrival. The final duel between Gary and Acombar is deftly handled. 



The budget must have been decent (for an Italian western) to afford Kinski's services for a full length feature as time was money and money mattered when it came to the eccentric actor. He acquits himself admirably in this typical silent gunman role, and it's a shame he didn't play more protagonists like this. If you're a fan of wildman Kinski, this one is just as essential viewing as THE GREAT SILENCE.

25. A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL (1969) aka QUEI DISPERATI CHE PUZZANO DI SUDORE E DI MORTE

Directed by Julio Buchs

John Warner is a Confederate soldier who deserts his regiment the night before a major battle to be by his fiance's side to see his baby being born. Captured and facing execution, Warner escapes once again and heads for his fiance's home. Once he arrives, she's had their baby, but she has died delivering the child, which has been born sick with Cholera. Her father, Don Pedro Sandoval, blames Warner for her death and kicks him out and makes him take the sick child with him. After a series of tragic occurrences, Warner swears revenge on Sandoval, becomes an outlaw, and amasses a gang of cutthroats to bring pain to the surrounding countryside.



Among the most downbeat, and grim Italian westerns you're likely to find. It's especially distinguished in that the dark tone was about to become a thing of the past when 1970 rolled around. There are moments during the first half that tread ever so close to the border where a western and a horror movie meet -- the opening night-time scene of a corpse riddled battlefield tracking over to a man relieving a dead body of their finger to get a ring sums up the atmosphere of Buch's movie in that single moment.



It's not perfect, of course, but A BULLET FOR SANDOVAL aka THOSE DESPERATE MEN WHO SMELL OF DIRT AND DEATH (gotta love those long Italian titles!), frequently drips with a doom-laden ambiance that would be embraced by a handful of American gore-soaked westerns in the 1970s, post WILD BUNCH (1969). Easily one of, if not the best performance of George Hilton; an actor often associated with comedic roles where Euro westerns were concerned.

26. THEY CALL ME TRINITY (1970) aka LO CHIAMAVANO TRINITA'

Directed by Enzo Barboni

"...I'm already busy doin' nothin'."--the laid back and lazy Trinity, doing what he does best... nothing.

The indolent Trinity discovers his brother Bambino has become sheriff of a small town. However, his job as a lawman is actually a front for robbing a wealthy landowner named Harrison of his horses. A group of Mormons have settled nearby and Harrison wants them removed. Trinity and Bambino attempt to persuade the passive Mormons to fight back which leads to a comical, fight filled conclusion.

Just like the Sword and Sandal pictures before them and the Kung Fu movies after them, 'funny business' was inserted into the Euro-western in an attempt to reinvigorate what was becoming an increasingly stagnant genre. There had been western comedies prior to the box office juggernaut that was TRINITY (and its even more massively successful sequel), but it took the right time, the right material, and the right actors to click with audiences that created a wave of imitators. It's also worth pointing out that there's far too many great things about this movie to mention in this single segment.

Enzo Barboni's enormously successful comedy western surpassed the box office of Leone's movies and ushered in a flood of increasingly annoying, and perfunctory oaters that were loaded down with pratfall and Warner Brothers cartoon style shenanigans (George Hilton's 'Dickie Luft' series comes to mind). Judging by the fate of the peplums and HK kung fu genres (the martial arts movies outlasted the others, continuing to thrive and morph with the changing tide of audience trend), when a popular style of film begins injecting huge dollops of humor, you know the well is about to run dry. Even so, Barboni manages to create an hilariously lovable double act in Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.



The simplistic, slapstick, punch-kick combos laced with mucho destruction of balsa wood sets and props that dominated the '64-'65 peplum output are transposed to a western setting. This style was better received in westerns than its attempt in the S&S genre, but lasted about as long. Hill & Spencer had already co-starred together in a trio of westerns from Giuseppe Colizzi, but here, the proceedings were family friendly; something that Hill was in overwhelming favor, and his subsequent cinematic career reflected his preference for goofball fare that was for everybody. The trio of director Barboni and his two stars was so popular, not only did it usher in numerous comedy oaters, but also a number of 'THEY CALL ME' imitations. Some producers went even further such as Ferdinando Baldi's CARAMBOLA (1974), which starred Hill & Spencer clones, Paul Smith and Antonio Cantafora.

27. BLINDMAN (1971)

Directed by Ferdinando Baldi

"You know something, Skunk? Every night I kneel down and say my prayers. And every night I ask the good lord, 'Lord, who are my friends?' And you know something, Skunk?  Every night it's the same thing... He don't answer."--the Blindman giving last rites to some bandits that have cheated him.

A blind gunfighter is contracted to deliver 50 mail order brides to miners in Lost Creek, Texas, but a Mexican bandit named Domingo kidnaps them all. The Blindman then wanders from town to town seeking information on how to find Domingo and his gang.

Tony Anthony carved a small cult following out of his spotty and mediocre western career that began with A STRANGER IN TOWN in 1966 and limped along till 1981s forgotten COMIN' AT YA!, a film that bears the distinction of being the forerunner of a brief 3D resurgence in the 1980s.

BLINDMAN is hands down Anthony's best movie and directed by the underrated Ferdinando Baldi. BLINDMAN is granted hefty marketability by the participation of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr as one of the villains. Baldi's movie is of the 'post apocalyptic' western variety, filled with violence, profanity and nudity. This is unusual considering the high number kid friendly western comedies during the 1970s. The budget must of been larger than most what with the numerous explosions throughout. It's also an Italian western variant of the enormously popular ZATOICHI blind swordsman series from Japan. This is also one of a scant few Euro-westerns that paint the Federales in a pleasant light, and the murdering bandits as such; so no force-fed leftist subtext here.

Over the last few years, Anthony was prepping a new "jazzed up" version of COMIN' AT YA! (in the style of SIN CITY) for modern audiences, but that has seemingly fallen by the wayside. Which wasn't too hard to imagine as the film itself is pretty awful just like the incoherent GET MEAN (1975) and irrefutably sloppy STRANGER IN JAPAN (1974) are likewise forgettable. However, 1967s THE STRANGER RETURNS is watchable helped along by a villainous turn from former muscleman star Dan Vadis. With that said, BLINDMAN is the only one of any lasting merit. If nothing else, Tony Anthony is ambitious, often working in other capacities behind the scenes.

28. LIGHT THE FUSE... SARTANA IS COMING (1971) aka UNA NUVOLA DI POLVERE... UN GRIDO DI MORTE... ARRIVA SARTANA (A CLOUD OF DUST... A CRY OF DEATH... SARTANA'S COMING) aka GUNMAN IN TOWN

Directed by Anthony Ascot (Giuliano Carnimeo)

Sartana allows himself to be imprisoned so as to free a man named Grand Full who knows the whereabouts of half a million in gold. Allegedly framed for a murder he didn't commit, the two men split up in order to solve the crime, grab the gold and also some 2 million in counterfeit money. Meanwhile, a gaggle of miscreants, bounty hunters and a crooked sheriff are after the gold as well.

This last Garko SARTANA takes its flamboyance to unprecedented extremes, especially for a series known for its wackiness and detective derring-do. The Garko Sartana movies are the Euro-western equivalents of thickly plotted Chinese Wuxia movies packed with a vast plethora of colorful characters, double crosses, team-ups and subterfuge. 

Essentially an old west Sherlock Holmes, Sartana is always one step ahead of the bad guys and only ever in trouble when he wants it that way. Very much a comic book character, the SARTANA's (like the first and third SABATA) appear influenced by the inspired anachronistic extremes of the exemplar American TV show, THE WILD, WILD WEST. Rarely is that as apparent than this films conclusion where Sartana unveils his trick organ which hides cannons and machine guns akin to the trick organ in the WWW season three episode, 'The Night of the Death-Maker'.

Like the DJANGO and RINGO movies, the character of Sartana had some official sequels, and many unofficial ones. Gianni Garko (he fought against Steve Reeves in WAR OF THE TROJANS in 1962) made the character famous in a 1968 Gianfranco Parolini picture, IF YOU MEET SARTANA, PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH. Prior to that, Garko had played a villain named Sartana in the unrelated BLOOD AT SUNDOWN (1966); an average western vehicle for the mostly pedestrian Anthony Steffen. Garko reprised the role in I AM SARTANA, YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH (1969) and HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL, MY FRIEND... SARTANA WILL PAY (1970).



LIGHT THE FUSE... was the last true Garko Sartana movie, although he did star in a pseudo Sartana flick, SARTANA KILLS THEM ALL in 1971. There was another Sartana film from 1970 entitled SARTANA'S HERE... TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN, but Garko was unavailable so George Hilton essayed the role of the mysterious, trickster gunslinger. Other Sartana movies followed, but without Garko in the lead.

29. KEOMA (1976)

Keoma, a half-breed nomadic wanderer and former Union soldier, returns to his hometown after the Civil War has ended only to find his childhood hamlet has been taken over by renegade Confederates led by Caldwell and also a deadly plague. Keoma risks his life to free the town from Caldwell and his gang, members of which include Keoma's adopted brothers.

Enzo G. Castellari, a director noted for his numerous, braindead westerns high on action and spectacle, directs one of the last, best, and more imaginary entries in the genre. The favorite of his films, Castellari takes a surrealist approach to the material not seen since his bizarre Shakespearean western, JOHNNY HAMLET (1968). 



For once, the De Angelis brothers deliver a good, if unusually quirky score. While it massively divides fans, the score is both an audible and integral part of the progression of the storyline. Most seem to passionately dislike the folksy warbling of the male and female vocalist, but I warmed up to it especially as it conveys onscreen actions and character emotions where no dialog is heard. 



Castellari would later direct the abysmal JONATHAN OF THE BEARS (1993), a sort of follow up to KEOMA (itself coming off like a companion piece to DJANGO) starring Franco Nero, John Saxon and David Hess. Brilliant much of the time, KEOMA is a high quality, Gothic western with slight horror overtones and just happens to be highly recommended.

30. CALIFORNIA (1977)

A former Confederate prisoner named Michael 'California' Random is released from a prison camp and immediately makes a friend in the young William Preston. Heading home to his family, Preston tags along with California till the two meet up with a band of ruthless bounty hunters.

One of the last Euro-westerns of the 1970s features one of the genres biggest stars in a role totally unlike anything he'd ever done before; that star being Giuliano Gemma. Easily the darkest, most violent western of Gemma's career and he finally embraces the facial stubble made popular by Clint Eastwood some 12 years earlier.



Michele Lupo (who also directed Gemma in ARIZONA COLT from '66) did five westerns between 1965 and 1981 and this, too, is the gloomiest of the lot. The script is totally unfocused leaving the plot almost as muddy and barren as the dreary landscape that hearkens back to Corbucci's most popular period. Incidentally, the mud-caked, fog enshrouded style of CALIFORNIA seems influenced by the popular Eastwood film, the surprise critical and financial hit THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES from 1976. 



A more familiarly clean cut Giuliano Gemma headlined Lucio Fulci's SILVER SADDLE in 1978. Surprisingly, considering it was Fulci, that film isn't nearly as downbeat as CALIFORNIA. Gemma then starred in the unusual comic book based western failure, TEX AND THE LORD OF THE DEEP (1985). Gemma's popularity has maintained over the years and he has also had a successful career as a sculptor in recent years.

***All poster images from various sites via google images***
 


4 comments:

Jay Shatzer said...

Excellent write-up Brian and extremely informative! I recently purchased the amazing Spaghetti Western book, Any Gun Can Play: The Essential Guide to Euro-Westerns, in an effort to familiarize myself with this daunting and intriguing genre.

I've only experienced Leone's efforts and I'm looking to branch out into the rest of the Italian Western territory. I'm probably going to start with Keoma, because I received it for Christmas and it's nice to see that it made the list of the 30 best.

After that one, I think I'll follow your list and go from there. Thanks again for this great write-up. It's going to be a lot of help discovering some of these under-appreciated gems, much like your Peplum lists have aided me in my hunt for solid sword and sandals flicks. Keep up the great work!

Samuel Wilson said...

An exemplary survey and worth the wait. You set a nice standard for critiquing some of these films' politics without the politics compromising your artistic appraisal. There are a few on this list I still haven't seen and I appreciate the fresh spur in their direction.

venoms5 said...

@ Jay: Thanks for your kind remarks, Jay. I received that book, myself a couple weeks ago. Howard Hughes' 'Once Upon A Time In the Italian West' is also well worth owning. I had a difficult time choosing titles in some cases, which is why I chose '30 of the' as the title since there were others I could have added here.

KEOMA is really good. I think you'll be pleased with it. In comparison with Castellari's other westerns, it definitely stands out.

venoms5 said...

@ Sam: Thanks so much, Sam. I generally shy away from discussing personal views on films where politics are concerned, but I've been more open with it lately and some of these films made for a good podium to express those views all things considering.

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