Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
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Selection from Cites & Insights 10, Number 7: June 2010

Offtopic Perspective

Spaghetti Westerns

Full disclosure: This five-disc 20-movie set was one of the freebies Mill Creek Entertainment sent me when I had a tiny problem with one set (they also corrected the problem rapidly and with an apology). As of May 7, 2010, it costs $9.49 from Amazon (down from $13.49 in December 2009, and one heck of a deal).

I regard most spaghetti Westerns as guilty pleasures: Colorful, usually with good production values, frequently absurd plots, sometimes loads of odd translated dialogue but fun in their own way. My critical faculties are tuned to match—but, on the other hand, you expect full color and generally good transfers, and to my surprise you even get wide screen on some of these. They’re still generally VHS-quality, to be sure, but not bad at all. Not that there aren’t occasional issues…

Disc 1

Beyond the Law (orig. Al di là della legge), 1968, color. Giorgio Stegani (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, Antonio Sabato, Gordon Mitchell, Lionel Stander, Bud Spencer. 1:49.

An odd trio of dusty bandits robs the payroll for a silver mine through an unusual ruse, dependent on the assumption that a black man would be required to ride on a stage’s backboard instead of inside—and on his ability to go underneath the moving wagon and saw out some boards so as to retrieve the payroll from its locked hiding place.

That’s the start…and in the end, the trio of casual outlaws winds up saving the silver mine and the town it supports, through a wild and wooly set of incidents and consequences. It’s hard to say much about the plot here, but it does include a fair amount of humor, a tiny bit of romance, an unlikely sheriff (Van Cleef), a truly loathsome villain with incredibly deep cheekbones and a vicious streak (Mitchell), Lionel Stander as a spitting preacher/bandit, and an extended, complex shootout at the climax. (Apparently this was released as a 90-minute version in the U.S.; this is the uncut version.)

I’m reluctant to give a spaghetti Western much more than $1.50 (I might make exceptions for those starring future California city mayors and Oscar-winning directors). This one, which appears in widescreen and has generally very good print and sound quality, has one rough patch in the first quarter: For two minutes or so in an outdoor scene, the dialog is suddenly in Italian with semiliterate English subtitles. Then people go inside and they’re all speaking English—and then go back outside, and there’s another brief session of Italian dialogue with English subtitles. Before and after, it’s all English, partly dubbed and partly (based on lipsynch and accents) the original actors. Strange. All in all, though, this gets $1.25.

Apache Blood, 1975, color. Vern Piehl (dir.), Ray Da*nton, Dewitt Lee. 1:26 [1:29].

If Beyond the Law was an unexpected pleasure, this flick makes up for it. People who believe Plan 9 from Outer Space is the worst movie ever made are sadly lacking in experience. Let’s talk about what’s wrong here—the first thing being that this doesn’t belong in the set, since it’s an American production.

Beyond that, the digitization’s lousy, with overcompression yielding block artifacts in various scenes (unless the film itself is that bad, which is quite possible).

Other than that, we have a poor 10-minute plot expanded into 86 minutes of nothing. Here’s the complete plot: An Apache chief, who along with his partner is among the few survivors of a U.S. slaughter of the tribe (which was peacefully obeying a treaty), goes on the warpath against U.S. troops. A party of half a dozen troops and a mountain-man scout knows he’s causing trouble and needs to get back to the fort—but the mountain man, who’s saved everyone’s skin once or twice, gets mauled by a bear and seems dead. They dig a shallow grave…but he’s not quite dead.

At the end of the picture, he is dead. I suppose that’s a spoiler, but it might save you 90 minutes of excruciating boredom. You’ll miss Ray Danton as an Apache and the co-writer as an overacting mountain man/scout. You’ll miss the discovery that Mescalero Apaches apparently don’t speak and that someone who’s barely able to crawl in one scene is suddenly able to run a couple of scenes later. You’ll miss some of the most incompetent filmmaking I’ve ever encountered. What can I say? This deserves a special price that I rarely give: $0.00—it’s not worth a cent.

This Man Can’t Die (orig. I lunghi giorni dell’odio), 1967, color. Gianfranco Baldanello (dir.), Guy Madison, Lucienne Bridou, Rik Battaglia, Anna Liotti, Steve Merrick, Rosalba Meri. 1:30.

On one hand, this one has English-language credits and no language oddities—and it’s fair to assume this doesn’t come from a videotape used for American TV showings, given bare breasts in a couple of scenes. On the other, there’s an unfortunate amount of sadism (the villains in this one are really villainous) and a lot of shootings—but after all, it is a spaghetti Western.

Martin Benson’s a mercenary on a government mission to find out who’s sending guns and booze to a renegade tribe (in 1870—the location’s not clear, but the date is). Meanwhile, marauders have gone to the ranch where his parents and siblings live, killed the parents and ravaged one daughter (so badly that she may never speak again!), and ridden off.

Little by little, the plots intersect. It’s not quite clear whether the title refers to Martin or to Tony Guy, presumed to be a wounded member of the marauders but, as it turns out, actually a government undercover agent. If you’ve seen many cowboy B films, you’ll guess who the primary villain is long before it’s made clear.

Lots of scenery. Pretty good score. Some very strange secondary parts and dialogue, par for the course. Beautiful women (with remarkably well-tailored clothes for 1870) and the handsome loner hero, Martin. Long, complex shootouts with no false nobility. A ballad for the opening and closing titles that makes no sense at all (also par for the course). Google translates the original title as “I hate long days,” but the alternate U.S. title “Long days of hate” seems a little more plausible… Not great, not terrible. What the heck: $1.25.

Gunfight at Red Sands (orig. Duello nel Texas or Duel in Texas), 1963, color. Ricardo Blasco (dir.), Richard Harrison, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (“G.R. Stuart”), Maria Maria Huertas. 1:37 [1:35].

I reviewed this flick in the 50 Movie Western Classics set in early 2008—and at the time I was watching it on a 12” screen. This time, I watched the first quarter on a 32” screen, and noticed how often it was out of focus or otherwise “soft” in a way that good transfers aren’t. I’ve lowered the final value from the original $0.75 to $0.50, now that I see just how poor the transfer really is.

For the rest of the review, see Cites & Insights 8:2.

Disc 2

Death Rides a Horse (orig. Da uomo a uomo or From man to man), 1967, color. Giulio Petroni (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, John Phillip Law, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, Anthony Dawson. 1:54.

Remember the blue-eyed blind angel in Barbarella? What if he was a 21-year-old whose family was slaughtered (after his mom and older sister were raped) and house burned down 15 years earlier by a truly evil gang—one of whom saved him from the fire? And he became a crack shot, presumably planning revenge sometime? Now mix in the ever-stoic, ever-slightly-sardonic Lee Van Cleef as an outlaw just emerging from prison after a 15-year sentence, after he’d been sold out by the gang he thought he was part of—and he finds that some of the gang members are now Highly Respected Citizens. Throw in a Morricone score with singing that’s either supposed to be incoherent or is marred by a poor soundtrack—oh, and a Mexican village so suppressed by an outlaw gang that dozens of them won’t rise up against four of the gang left to guard a million-dollar theft.

There you have it: The seeds for a movie that combines vengeance and revenge, generational (and style) conflicts (Ryan, Van Cleef’s character, calls Bill, the younger one “kid”; “Grandpa” is the responding epithet), suppressed memory, lots of trick gunplay and not-so-trick gunbattles, truly bad bad guys and the gray Ryan and more. Law does a fine job as a hate-filled but naïve young sharpshooter; Van Cleef is, well, Van Cleef (after just two movies, I see why spaghetti western aficionados hold him in high regard.) It’s a solid spaghetti western, the print’s generally fine, and even with the muddy score I’ll give it $1.50.

Sundance and the Kid (orig. Vivi o, preferibilmente, morti or Alive or Preferably Dead), 1969, color. Duccio Tessari (dir.), Giuliano Gemma, Nino Benvenuti, Sydne Rome. 1:43 [1:23].

Is there a theme here? First movie on a disc is a first-rate spaghetti western—and the second one is something else entirely. This time, the “something else” is tolerable, but maybe tries too hard, beginning with the on-screen title, “Sundance Cassidy and Butch the Kid.”

It’s a comedy/slapstick Western, and that’s a tough genre to bring off if you’re not Mel Brooks. The setup is that one of two brothers, a city slicker/gambler, finds the other—because they’re set to inherit $300,000 if and only if they live together peaceably for six months. The other brother, a down-to-earth Westerner (the time’s a little indistinct, but the first brother arrives in an early automobile), really wants nothing to do with it. And on the first evening, a huge bandit ring shows up, steals the horses and burns down the ranchhouse because the city brother challenges the theft.

Oh yes: Before that, the city brother had an encounter with an apparently down-on-his-luck gambler who “lost it all”—and after suggesting a friendly game, next thing we know the gambler owns the car (he later becomes the agent or coconspirator of the brothers). The brothers become wholly incompetent outlaws; there’s a kidnapping where the father really doesn’t want the daughter returned, which allows for romantic stuff; and there’s lots more. Oh, there’s a score that uses kazoos heavily and has songs that comment directly on the plot (but the sound’s sometimes a little distorted to make sense of the lyrics).

Interesting details at IMDB: the on-screen credits have good “American” names for the leads—e.g. Gemma’s billed as “John Wade” and Benvenuti as “Robert Neuman—and that includes renaming Sydne Rome (the heroine) “Karen Blake,” which is interesting because she hails from Akron, Ohio and Sydne Rome is her real name. Not terrible, but not terribly funny either. Maybe the missing 20 minutes would help? All things considered, it barely rises to $1.00.

Grand Duel (Il grande duello), 1972, color. Giancarlo Santi (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, Alberto Dentice/Peter O’Brien, Jess Hahn, Horst Frank, Klaus Grünberg, Antonio Casale, Marc Mazza, Dominique Darel. 1:38.

Here’s a true oddity—not necessarily the picture (a good spaghetti western) but the situation with Mill Creek. I saw Grand Duel in late 2008, as part of the Classic Western set (see C&I October 2008). I gave it a so-so $1.00 rating.

But this isn’t the same print—not by a long shot. That one was full-screen; this one’s wide-screen. That one was missing 10 minutes or so; this one’s nearly full length. And maybe I’m a little more attuned to the qualities of spaghetti Westerns and, particularly, Lee Van Cleef.

The plot’s too complicated to summarize, but it involves an (ex-)sheriff (Van Cleef), a condemned (but innocent) murderer who has to be the most acrobatic sharpshooter I’ve ever seen (although Van Cleef’s the fastest gun in the state, the younger guy’s definitely the most nimble), a truly evil clan who slaughter the innocent and rule a town (with their name), the mystery of who really shot “the patriarch” of the clan and a “grand duel” that runs about three minutes and may be the least interesting part of the flick, even if it is the climax.

It seemed more logical and interesting than last time around. The flashbacks made more sense. The dialogue ranged from not bad to fairly tasty. Great scenery, good production values. (The film was coproduced by companies from Italy, France, Morocco and Germany.) Despite an absurdly large body count (it becomes Movie Violence) and a lovingly-filmed massacre of innocents that seemed more brutal than needed, I found it enjoyable, and give it an easy $1.25. Lower the innocent body count, or at least don’t show it so vividly, and it gets $1.50.

Twice a Judas (orig. Due volte Giuda), 1969, color. Nando Cicero (dir.), Klaus Kinski, Antonio Sabato, Cristina Galbo, Jose Calvo, Emma Baron. 1:32.

This one might have been better if presented widescreen (the movie itself was very widescreen), since it seems to be more “cropped & chopped” than panned & scanned, with some really awkward scenes resulting. It’s awkward in several other ways as well, including a beginning that’s never really explained and a situation pitting one set of bad guys against another force that’s pretty obviously bad, even if briefly semi-sympathetic. It’s also a movie that seems to view valiant Confederate fighters as noble, but overrun by those villainous Union soldiers and their murderous ways.

I’m not sure I can summarize the plot, but it involves one long-lost brother who’s hired to kill his older brother, gets amnesia along the way as a result of an unexplained shooting, and at the last minute prevents the killing. There’s a drunken doctor, a sympathetic lady of negotiable virtue, a sheriff who really does seem to be favoring neither side and a banker who may or may not be evil.

It’s sort of a mess. In the end, I found it brutal and incoherent and worth, at best, $0.75.

Disc 3

The Man from Nowhere (orig. Il pistolero de Arizona), 1966, color. Michele Lupo (dir.), Giuliano Gemma, Fernando Sancho, Roberto Camardiel. 1:58 [1:53].

We open on an adobe prison (or “prision”), with a handful of guards and a drunken old coot riding up with a wooden whiskey flask around his neck. The guards engage him in idle chatter while he lights a fuse on the flask, tosses it at them and—well, boom. Then this huge band of gun-crazy outlaws rides up, shoots all the guards (and loses a few of their own) and busts all the prisoners out (except that one cool dude, Arizona Colt breaks out on his own).

The catch: The prisoners have been broken out to build the ranks of the bandit gang—and your choice is to join them (with a brand on your arm) or get shot down immediately. (We learn this via a grumpy guy who was in jail for drunkenness and due to be released the next day. Bye, grumpy old guy.) Colt says he needs time to think about it—and he’s as good a shot as the maniacal, sadistic, superhuman-shooting gang leader, so he manages to ride away.

That’s just the start. There’s bank robbery in Blackston Hill (yes, spelled that way), killing a young woman because she recognizes the brand, lots of killing for the fun of it, not just to get a job done, the drunk seeking redemption…and a long, slow scene near the end between Colt and the maniac that should be more exciting than it is.

I dunno. On one hand, this is not only widescreen, it’s in stereo (or at least the awful theme song at the start and finish is in stereo), although the picture’s also soft, presumably from overcompression. And it’s a long’un, almost two hours (but missing five minutes). On the other, the maniac and his gang are so evil that they go beyond stereotypical to repulsive in an annoying way. We never do learn why Colt (who’s a bounty hunter) was in jail; neither did I much care. In the end, while it’s not incoherent, I found it pointless and dispiriting. Maybe $0.75.

Minnesota Clay (orig. L’homme du Minnesota), 1965, color. Sergio Corbucci (dir.), Cameron Mitchell, Georges Riviere, Ethel Rojo, Diana Martin, Antonio Roso, Fernando Sancho. 1:30 [1:25].

A prison labor camp in the old West. Thanks to a brawl, Minnesota Clay (Mitchell) escapes (using a doctor—who’s already informed him that his eyes are bad and one good blow would blind him—as a hostage). Goes back home, where one gang (run by the bad guy whose testimony should have acquitted Clay) has taken over the town from another Mexican gang, now holed up nearby (the new gang was invited into town and the bad guy’s the sheriff).

Clay is the Best Shot in the World. He also has family secrets nearby. And, by the time we get to the long, slow-moving climax, he’s essentially blind. But still the Best Shot in the World with superhuman reflexes.

I’m not sure what to make of this. The print’s unusually good, widescreen and high quality with great scenery, but with just enough missing frames to mess up the soundtrack (never the visuals) at times. As these things go, the innocent body count is on the low side. The last 20 minutes are slow and somewhat suspenseful, but the ending’s—well, it’s not happy. Balancing good and bad, I come up with $1.25.

White Comanche, 1968, color (orig. Comanche blanco). José Briz Méndez (dir.), Joseph Cotton, William Shatner (dual role), Rosanna Yanni. 1:33.

See Cites & Insights 8:10. $1.25.

China 9, Liberty 37 (orig. Amore, piombo e furore), color. Monte Hellman and Tony Brandt (dirs.), Warren Oates, Fabio Testi, Jenny Agutter, Sam Peckinpah. 1:38 [1:32].

See Cites & Insights 8:10. $1.25.

Disc 4

It Can Be Done…Amigo, 1972, color (orig. Si può fare... amigo and actual screen title Can Be Done, Amigo). Maurizio Lucidi (dir.), Bud Spencer, Jack Palance. 1:40 [1:38].

I reviewed this in Cites & Insights 10:8 and gave it $1.25. Rewatching, I changed the rating. Without repeating the original review, here are new notes:

I’m pretty sure this is the same print, but I found myself watching the whole thing—this time, in one day on a great 32" TV. And found myself enjoying it even more—as a spaghetti western farce. One thing I noticed: In some early scenes and in most of the last 20 minutes or so, the color’s odd, as though this was a partly-colorized black-and-white movie, with some natural colors and lots of bright blue-green, a sort of teal. That may be a print problem; it might be intentional, but it adds to the surreal quality of the film (when Coburn stops a bank robbery—only because they wanted to take his money as well—the bank proprietor complains that his head-bashing and consequent furniture damage has turned a nice simple bank robbery into a disaster). This only works as farce, but works very well in that regard. (In fact, there are no killings—the one death is a heart attack with a Monty Pythonesque quality to it, as the dead man—the uncle—keeps waking up to provide further instructions to Coburn.) The title song is, well, very strange. It’s decidedly an odd one, and an easy $1.75.

God’s Gun (orig. Diamante Lobo), 1976, color. Gianfranco Parolini (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, Jack Palance, Richard Boone, Sybil Danning, Leif Garrett, Robert Lipton. 1:34 [1:37].

The good stuff: An impressive cast—not only Lee Van Cleef, but also Jack Palance, Richard Boone, Sybil Danning and Leif Garrett. (Oh, and Peggy Lipton’s brother.) Also, there’s clearly a plot, hinted at right at the start of the flick and carried through to its conclusion.

That’s the good stuff. The other list is considerably longer—including the print itself, which is soft and almost seems to have been digitized from 8mm.. But that’s the print. In this case, I have zero interest in seeing a better one because—well, if this had been the first true spaghetti western in the package, I might have thrown the entire package away on the spot.

What’s wrong? First, there’s almost no humor, usually a staple of spaghetti westerns. Second, the villains—the Clancy gang, headed by Palance—are apparently on drugs or just crazed, including Palance. It’s not just that they’re gratuitously violent and sadistic; they’re nuts. Third, unlike spaghetti westerns where the body count may be high but it’s largely cartoon violence (you hear a shot, someone cries out, spins around, falls down), this one lingers lovingly on the violence, with blood and close-ups. Ditto sexual assault—a lot of time spent on this as well. Fourth, the acting (Van Cleef, in a dual role of twin brothers, one a priest, one a reformed gambler/gunslinger, aside) is somewhere between horrendous and nonexistent. I’ve never seen Palance this bad, Richard Boone is a shocking waste, Leif Garrett made me wish for stronger child labor laws. The hostesses in the saloon seem to think that standing around sort of swaying back and forth to music is hot stuff.

Fifth, the logic—even by spaghetti western standards, this one’s loony. The kid (Garrett) is apparently the owner of the saloon/gambling hall that seems to be the only business in a town specifically founded by the priest, in which everybody—everybody—attends daily Mass. At one key plot point, the bad guys tear down the rear wall of the jail one evening…and the next morning, everybody goes off to Mass as though nothing has happened. The priest seems to think the right way to arrest one of the gang members is to sneak up on the gang while they’re sleeping—and successfully remove every rifle and pistol, including holsters, without disturbing them. Oh, and then confront them…without a weapon. He’s also apparently convinced that a clearly vicious gang of 20 or so thugs won’t make any attempt to rescue one of their leaders from a local jail with one guard and an incompetent sheriff.

Oh, there’s more. The kid flees on horseback, then, after defeating a bad guy who’s after him, goes the rest of the way on foot. (He finds the priest’s twin brother, who’s “somewhere in Mexico,” in less than two days of walking. Right.) There are some plot twists that could be interesting in a better flick; I won’t spoil them for any sap determined to watch this. I’ll stop there, leaving out the lack of good scenery and the absurd sound effects and production values.

Apparently this turkey was filmed in Israel. I’m not sure that explains anything. This is a nasty little film, one that gives trash a bad name.

What a waste. For my own taste, not worth a cent—but I’ll reluctantly, and only for Van Cleef fans, give it $0.50.

The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (orig. Il mio nome è Shangai Joe or My name is Shanghai Joe), 1972, color. Mario Caiano (dir.), Chen Lee, Klaus Kinski, Gordon Mitchell, Claudio Undari, Katsutoshi Mikuriya, Carla Romanelli. 1:38 [1:34].

Unlike most earlier Mill Creek collections, with main menus consisting of a still from each of the flicks and your choice of play or scenes, this set has a clip from a film—wide-screen, scenic, with a first-rate Spaghetti Western theme song—that runs for a few seconds and then has the particular disc’s menu superimposed. I’d wondered which movie that great theme came from.

Now I know—but it’s a peculiar situation. The theme is from this flick, but the clip used for the main menu is widescreen, where the movie is pan-and-scan (full-frame). That seems odd, particularly since some of the movies in this set are presented widescreen. (The movie was filmed in full Cinemascope ratio—that is, very widescreen.)

Ah, but what of this movie? Well, first, the title as presented is actually The Fighting Fist of Shangai Joe—note singular “fist” and odd spelling of the city. Second, it is indeed a Eurowestern with a mild-mannered Asian protagonist played by Chen Lee, who never uses a gun (at least not as a weapon) but has somewhat superhuman abilities in the martial arts and several other areas. He shows up in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1880s, having come from China and dressing in Chinese garb. He buys a stagecoach ticket to “Texas” and has to ride up top (for predictably racist reasons, and that seems all too likely in terms of historical accuracy). He gets in various kinds of trouble in Texas, all of which leads up to the finale, a long showdown with a would-be assassin who happens to be the only other Chinese in the U.S. from this mysterious organization of superheroes. (OK, that could be a spoiler, but it’s both obvious and doesn’t detract from the movie.)

All in all, very good. Chen Lee (I don’t think we ever learn the character’s name) does a first-rate job. With one exception (a massacre of Mexican peasants handled cartoon-violence style, but still), the only victims of violence are Bad Guys (although I could have done with less explicit gore). The action and dialogue are over the top in some interesting ways. It’s fun and it has probably the only ending it could have without being a total downer. Pretty good print, very good sound. I’ll give it $1.75.

Between God, The Devil and a Winchester (orig. Anche nel west c'era una volta Dio or Even in the West once upon a time God or God Was in the West, Too, at One Time), 1968, color. Marino Girolami (dir.), Gilbert Roland, Richard Harrison, Ennio Girolami, Folco Lulli, Raf Baldassare, Dominique Boschero, Robert Camardiel, Humberto Zempere, Luis Barboo. 1:38.

Another widescreen presentation, with a pretty decent print (although the sound’s sometimes a bit distorted on music)—and an unusual plot, with a lot more travel than usual. It really seems to be two different films, although the progression makes sense in terms of plot. The first quarter involves a fat outlaw, combinations of not enough trust and too much trust, a treasure map and an outlaw gang: Fast-moving, violent…and winding up with one nameless hero, a mild-mannered type who saves a kid from fire and also saves another victim.

The rest of the movie involves that hero, the kid, the treasure map and a whole collection of bad guys—some of them people the hero’s hired to lead a wagon train (to find the treasure, which they’re not supposed to know about), some of them an outlaw gang. The ending is, well…the ending. The plot partly involves the Civil War, partly involves religion, and is partly inspired by Treasure Island.

I’m not sure what to say about the plot or the acting. The film works reasonably well, has mostly cartoon Spaghetti Western violence (not lots of closeup blood), has a fair amount of humor along with lots of scenery—lots of scenery—and, after the first quarter, has only one innocent victim. This may be too generous, but I’m inclined to give it $1.50.

Disc 5

Trinity and Sartana… Those Dirty Sons of Bitches (orig. Trinità e Sartana figli di...), 1972, color. Mario Siciliano (dir.), Alberto Dell’Acqua (as “Robert Widmark”), Harry Baird, Beatrice Pella, Stelio Candelli, Dante Maggio (as “Dan May”), Ezio Marano (as “Alan Abbott”). 1:42.

This flick gets into trouble right off the bat, as you see portions of the credits—and it becomes clear that the approach to pan&scan used was, apparently, just to take the central portion of the wide-screen shot regardless. There are scenes where the person speaking is entirely cut off to the left; you can’t read any of the cast names; it’s a little bizarre.

Which is a reasonable description of the film itself, a farce that tries a little too hard. Trinity is a sailor from Trinidad who somehow finds himself an outlaw in Texas, but with a bad habit of giving away whatever money he steals—and having lots of seaside dreams involving a certain woman. Sartana is a wisecracking Texas outlaw who can shoot like nobody’s business…and who somehow keeps partnering with Trinity although he should know better. There’s a third partner at one point, an aging lunatic who rides a wagon with a player piano (and, as needed, a hand-cranked machine-gun…). The film also includes some obese Fancy Ladies, a Mexican gangleader who appears wholly incompetent and lots of other hapless villains. There’s lots of fancy shooting but nobody ever actually gets shot; when there’s actually a showdown, all the fancy shooters use nothing but fists (and chairs and other objects); there’s a certain amount of self-reference and it’s all very silly. The score is, well, awful. Apparently there are Spaghetti Western series starring characters named Trinity and Sartana, respectively, in which case this is mostly a bad ripoff (with no relationship to the series).

Decent print except for the absurdly bad cropping. I found it more silly than funny, but you may have different tastes. Charitably, $0.75.

Find a Place to Die (orig. Joe... cercati un posto per morire! or Joe…searched for a place to die!), 1968, color. Giuliano Carnimeo (dir.), Jeffrey Hunter, Pascale Petit, Giovanni Pallavicino (“Gordon York”), Reza Fazeli, Nello Pazzafini (“Ted Carter”), Adolfo Lastretti (“Peter Lastrett”). 1:29.

As the film begins, a young woman and older man are shooting it out with a scattered but large gang, apparently trying to protect a run-down house. They’re actually trying to protect a gold mine in Mexico, and the woman is vocally unhappy about her husband’s decision to abandon his university job in New Orleans to find and reopen this mine.

The battle ends with the guy tossing bundles of dynamite out to wipe out the rest of the band—and, in the process, starting off an avalanche that winds up with him trapped by a half-ton log. Nothing to do but have his wife try to get help in a tiny little former-village a two-day ride away…

Which she does. The village is now inhabited by a loose band of mostly semi-outlaws, one woman with a great voice and guitar, and an American who’s basically a drunk but used to be an officer (before he was court-martialed for shooting somebody he thought deserved it). He’s also a gunrunner, but never mind… She needs four people to come rescue her husband; since the promised payment comes from a bag full of gold nuggets, everybody figures out that there’s a mine out there for the taking. The American, first refusing the job, notes that the area is ruled by “Chato’s gang”—particularly vicious thieves who love to torture and rape.

The rest of the movie? The band, all of whom mistrust one another (for good reason) and who’ve been joined by a particularly questionable preacher, make their way back. Along the way, there’s some nudity and almost rape (of course, a beautiful young married woman from New Orleans would think nothing of going for a nude swim in the evening when her only companions are four thugs and one semi-good-guy!) Plot spoilers ahead: They’re too late for the husband—and the gang has taken the gold. The rest of the flick has to do with attempts to retrieve the gold.

Funny thing is, it’s a pretty good movie. It’s widescreen, the score is particularly effective, there’s lots of good scenery, it’s less flamboyant and more atmospheric than most and with one exception, only bad guys get killed (of course, almost everybody in the movie’s a bad guy). I give it $1.50.

Johnny Yuma, 1966, color. Romolo Guerrieri (dir.), Mark Damon, Lawrence Dobkin, Rosalba Neri, Luigi Vannucchi/Louis Vanner, Fidel Gonzales, Leslie Daniels. 1:40 [1:35]

I have to say, this one was impressive if also a little depressing at times. Widescreen, excellent print, good music—and, oddly, no credits at either the start or end of the movie. (Maybe that’s the missing five minutes?) A rancher (who also keeps the local town going) is wheelchair-bound and sending for his nephew, Johnny Yuma (although Yuma’s not his real last name) to run the ranch. His much younger wife wants her brother to take over—and arranges to have the rancher shot. She sends for a guy name of Carradine (possibly a tribute to one of the stars of The Rebel, the TV show about Johnny Yuma?) who’s an ex-lover and who she expects to kill Yuma—for a fee.

Why kill him? Well, if he’s gone, then she clearly inherits the ranch, which she’s already arranged to sell for a fortune. There’s no will (or, well, actually there is one, a small but interesting plot point). Complicating matters: Her brother and his people are vicious—and, early on, Carradine and Yuma exchange pistols and holsters after dealing with a saloon full of crooked gamblers.

Lots of fancy shooting. Too much physical abuse. An odd would-be sidekick who keeps turning up. Great scenery. Well-made—good direction, fine cinematography. Generally good acting. A reasonably natural pace with very little nonsense. Unusually satisfying ending. The plot even makes sense. The theme song…I guess they couldn’t license Johnny Cash’s version, so there’s a very odd new song with the same name. All things considered, I’ll give it $1.75.

Fistful of Lead (orig. C'è Sartana... vendi la pistola e comprati la bara or I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns for a Coffin), 1970, color. Giuliano Carnimeo (dir.), George Hilton, Charles Southwood, Erika Blanc, Piero Lulli/Peter Carter, Linda Sini, Nello Pazzafini, Carlo Gaddi, Aldo Barberito. 1:33.

The first movie on this last disc was apparently a spoof intended to capitalize on the characters in two series of Spaghetti Westerns, Trinity and Sartana. To wind up the collection, we get one of the real films with Sartana—and Sabbath, his nemesis/compatriot/white hat to his black hat. (Sabbath’s a strange dude, what with the white parasol and constant poetry reading.)

The plot has to do with a mining company that keeps losing miners’ gold shipments to bandits—but, as becomes fairly obvious fairly soon, the shipments carry sand, not gold. We get a Mexican bandit gang, an evil company owner, various other evil folks—and Sartana, who seems mostly to crave freshly-cooked eggs but can outwit and outshoot any seven men at once.

Lots of trick shooting. Lots of uneven odds. Lots of temporary doomed alliances. Thoroughly enjoyable, with a semi-coherent plot, no gratuitous gore or explicit violence (other than the usual cartoon shootings), good music, reasonably good acting. Not widescreen, but a good print that makes the most of the many close-ups in this flick. $1.75.

Summing Up

For several discs, I would have said that the set would be stronger if the second movie was discarded. There’s some real garbage in this set—but some surprisingly strong films, presumably all filmed with minimal budgets.

Nothing rose to the “classic” status of $2 or more, but I count four that are close at $1.75: It Can Be Done…Amigo, The Fighting Fists of Shangai Joe, Johnny Yuma and Fistful of Lead. Three more are worth $1.50 each—and a surprising 6 at $1.25. With a singleton at $1, I count 14 of the 20 movies that get at least acceptable scores, for a total of $20. The other six? Three $0.75 mediocrities, two worse-than-mediocre $0.50—and a rare totally worthless film. Overall, pretty good value.

I hadn’t seen much of any spaghetti westerns before this set, only the two or three in the Western Classics megapack. Now—and after seeing how much enthusiasm there is among some of my acquaintances for this genre—I think I need to see the Clint Eastwood trio.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 10, Number 7, Whole Issue 130, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written by Walt Crawford.

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