Sunday, May 10, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


TRAIN FOR DURANGO (1968) D. Mario Caiano Cast: Anthony Steffen, Mark Damon, Enrico Maria Salerno, Dominique Boschero, Jose Bodelo, Roberto Camardiel, Tito Garcia, Aldo Sambrell. I recently saw the Jerksi releaseof this dvd and really enjoyed it. First off it's a great travelogue of spaghetti western locations; I recognized locales familiar from FAFDM and many others, all beautifully shot for maximum effect, Spain standing in for Mexico effortlessly. Second, it's a who's who of Spanish character actors; only Frank Brana seems to be missing of the stalwarts...well, so's Fernando Sancho, but most everybody else is here. Third, the leads all do a good job. Steffen is well cast as Gringo, a down on his luck Americano looking for a break south of the border. Mark Damon puts his shark-grin handsomeness to good use as the mysterious gunman who shows up from time to time to help out our heroes. And Enrico Maria Salerno was a revelation to me as Lucas, Gringo's Mexican sidekick. After seeing his performance I could totally see him pulling off the role of Tuco in GBU; he's sly, grinning, full of life, and not entirely trustworthy.
This is an early comedy western, and for once the comedy works. It has some pretty funny scenes which made me laugh aloud, comic characters who aren't just irritating, and the comedy rings true, especially the ending, which I thought was hilarious. This is one of Jerksi's best releases, and if you haven't seen it, you're missing out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review

TASTE OF VENGEANCE turns out to be one of star Gianni Garko's lesser westerns, which is a shame, because this is a great-looking film. Some locations familiar to spaghetti western fans are revisited, the cast is full of familiar faces like Frank Brana and Lorenzo Robledo, and the always charismatic Garko leads the way as Bryan, a decent man crazed by the rape and murder of his wife by renegade Union deserters. No longer a believer in justice he turns against his rescuer, Daniel, the man who dragged him out of his burning house, and takes up a life of crime. Daniel, on the other hand, becomes a sheriff and vows to bring Bryan in. As they say, complications ensue. One of the problems with Taste of Vengeance is that Garko is just too good as the villain; you tend to like him more than Sean Todd (Ivan Rassimov), the good guy, who frankly is written a bit bland. Music is nothing to write home about, and some of the English dialog sounds stilted. Garko gets crazier and crazier and by the dramatic shoot out at the end I really didn't care too much how it ended up. One point; at the beginning Bryan takes a bullet to the stomach as his home is invaded. He passes out and when he wakes up, having been tended to by Daniel, his wound has miraculously healed, and is never mentioned again. Sloppy film-making, but partially redeemed by a strikingly filmed ending. For SW enthusiasts only.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


THREE SILVER DOLLARS a.k.a. Dai nemici mi guardo io! (1968) Cast: Charles Southwood, Julian Mateos, Mirko Ellis
As a long time fan of Eurowesterns, I'm inclined to find something of value in even the most pathetic of efforts. THREE SILVER DOLLARS, though, took me two sittings to get through. It's an average film at best, with very little to recommend it except to the die-hard SW fan. Charles Southwood stars as Alan, one of his first roles, and it's easy to see why he was chosen as the lead; he's handsome in a traditional movie way, blonde, even features, a touch of charisma. He looks like a slighter Richard Harrison, and should have been better as a star of westerns; perhaps he just wasn't that interested in a film career. Julian Mateos is okay as Hondo, a Mexican cell mate of Alan's who wants to team up with him on his search for the gold, the three bucks in the title being the key to the treasure. There is an okay theme song which is used again and again, and Mirko Ellis rants and raves as the villain, the mysterious El Condor. The dubbing is particularly bad on this one, as the love interest, a half-Mexican girl, sounds like a street-wise film noir broad. Also, incredibly, the line "What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?" is used seriously. I guess it's a sign of a bad movie when the best thing about it is the silver dollar props they used. Southwood is seen to much better effect in SARTANA'S HERE; TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN, teamed up with George Hilton.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

American Western Review


RIDE LONESOME (1959) D. Budd Boetticher Cast: Randolph Scott, Pernell Roberts, James Best, Karen Steele, Lee Van Cleef, James Coburn
This is a film I came to late in life. I don't remember it ever being on tv in the bay area, and of course it's never had a video release here in the U.S. I kept hearing about the Boetticher/Scott westerns and finally got a couple from a friend over at the SWWB during my days of heavy trading. Of course I was blown away by it, even though it wasn't widescreen.
Scott plays Ben Brigade, a bounty hunter who captures Billy John (James Best) a young giggling killer with connections. The youngster sends word to his big brother Frank (Lee Van Cleef) to come to his rescue and as Brigade is taking him handcuffed to Santa Cruz, where he killed a man, they encounter Boone (Roberts) and Whit (James Coburn in his first film role) at a waystation where Mrs. Lane, the station master's wife (the picturesque Steele) has been left alone. Brigade soon finds out that Boone and Whit are after Billy John too, not for bounty but for the amnesty promised for his capture. The two men have spent time on the wrong side of the law and want to go straight.
A simple premise and the film which features intermittant action turns into a fascinating character study. The two outlaws are immensely likeable as is Brigade, of course. Mrs. Lane, and we the viewers, can't imagine them squaring off over the valuable prisoner, but as they near Santa Cruz and Frank and the boys are gaining on them we gradually begin to understand Brigade's motivations and the superb climax is set up.
SPOILERS AHEAD!
Brigade is luring big brother Frank to the hanging tree where years before he had hanged Brigade's wife. Frank is a different man now; a man can change, but Brigade's desire for revenge hasn't changed. He will hang Billy John from the same tree unless Frank stops him. Van Cleef is very good in a small role. You sense his new-found decency, but he can't change the past, and he can't let his young brother hang.
This sets up the memorable final shot, second only to the final shot of THE SEARCHERS in my opinion, Brigade standing alone before the blazing hanging tree as the music swells and the camera follows the smoke up to the empty sky and THE END appears.
This is one of those films that I fall into every time it's on. I don't want to watch it, it's just something I have to do. Now that I have the dvd I'll pop it in just intending to watch bits and pieces but invariably watch the whole darn thing. It's that good and compact, a pleasure to watch, and probably my second favorite American western!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

American Western Review


A critic friend of mine recently published his list of the fifty best films of the fifties; only two westerns made his list; neither one was THE SEARCHERS.
I wrote and questioned him about this, and he allowed that yes, he'd recently seen THE SEARCHERS for the first time, but it was on AMC (ecch!) and pan and scan and he wasn't sure how he felt about it. He agreed that he needs to see it widescreen and without commercial breaks, but for some reason I doubt he'll come around to my way of thinking, that THE SEARCHERS is the greatest western of all time.
Beautifully filmed in Monument Valley, the film boasts John Wayne's career best performance; others may opt for Nathan Brittles in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON or Thomas Dunson in RED RIVER, or even his Oscar winning role of Rooster Cogburn in TRUE GRIT. All three are great performances, but none come up to his role as Ethan Edwards. According to Harry Carey Jr., who's book COMPANY OF HEROES talks about his career in westerns, John Ford meant this one; there was a different feeling on the set (and Carey should have noticed, having made seven or eight films with Ford by this time), a feeling of seriousness and purpose. Edwards remained with Wayne during filming; he was no fun to be around, and I think this shows in the finished film. Some of the usual Wayne humor is present, but the melancholy of Ethan's return to the woman he loves who is married to his brother is palpable. Later at the cavalry fort, when he pauses at the doorway and looks back at the white captives, the look on his face is downright scary! His eyes are hooded as he looks at the young blonde woman crooning at a doll; we know what he'd like to do, what he's got planned for Debbie, and we're horrified that this American Icon, the Duke, would contemplate such a thing.
I like the humor in the film; Charlie McCorry, Old Mose Harper, Lars Jorgensen's Swedish accented declaration "Next time I raise PIGS, by Golly!". There were characters like this in the old west, and Ford and scriptwriter Frank Nugent do a great job of showing them.
Unfortunately, with the political climate what it is, THE SEARCHERS has dropped out of the IMDB's top 250. This doesn't break my heart, as it's largely a popularity contest, full of recent trendy films, and John Wayne is largely despised by today's young filmgoer, who only remembers his far-right politics. And Ford, who was quite the Hollywood liberal in his day, is considered old hat and plodding, his films full of sentiment and buffoonery. Leone is much more popular (well, I can't really argue with that; GBU and OUATIW are #3 and 4 behind SEVEN SAMURAI and THE SEARCHERS on my ten best list), but 3:10 TO YUMA and THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD are both on the top 250 while THE SEARCHERS dropped off some months ago.
I think a lot of viewers take THE SEARCHERS for granted. We saw it years ago, yeah it's good, but kind of old fashioned. John Wayne is dead, and who watches John Ford anymore?
Well, we should. THE SEARCHERS remains a stunning western, the best of all time, I think.

Spaghetti Western Review

DJANGO AND SARTANA ARE COMING...IT'S THE END! 1970
Cowboys do a whole lot of riding in this Demofilo Fidani western starring Hunt Powers (Jack Betts) as Django and Chet Davis as Sartana. Also on view is Gordon Mitchell as a deliciously insane bandit leader who spends a lot of time talking to himself in the mirror. and playing poker against himself in the mirror...and cheating! Shots of horsemen riding along the horizon take up screen time and build the slim story up to ninety minutes or so of questionable action. Fidani has been compared to Ed Wood, but this one is pretty well done, with a top-notch score, plenty of extras milling about in the backgrounds, some nice town sets, a few gorgeous ladies, and an incredible stunt team who flop and twitch when they're shot; no slumping to the ground for them, they usually fly from twelve to fifteen feet when shot, while twitching horribly. Fans of the genre just might have a good time with this one; others beware!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review

SHANGO, LA PISTOLA INFALLIBILE 1970 d. Edoardo Mulargia
Shango is a typical Anthony Steffen spaghetti western, beautifully photographed with great music, lots of sweaty Mediterranean actors posing as Mexicans, bad dubbing, and a sneering Eduardo Fajardo as a Confederate Major who is reluctant to see the south go down in defeat (a staple of these pasta oaters!). Lots of gun play, hurtling stunt men, put-upon villagers, and the reliable Steffen as Shango, a Texas Ranger who just wants folks to believe that the war is over. Good production values, great sets, fine music and lots of action make this one a winner, if you like spaghetti westerns. Franco Cleef's restoration is fine with only an unavoidable slight hiss on the soundtrack.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


In 1961 Michael Carreras was looking to become an independent producer, breaking away from Hammer Films, purveyors of high-quality Gothic horror movies, which was a family business owned by James Carreras, his father. His idea, a new one, was to film a European western, using the desert area of Almeria, Spain, to fill in for the American southwest. Along with another Hammer regular, Jimmy Sangster, he signed American actors Richard Basehart, Don Taylor, and Alex Nicol, all of whom had acted for Hammer, to play the protagonists. The result, SAVAGE GUNS, is one of, if not the first, spaghetti westerns of the modern age. It has the look, the low sandy desert, adobe houses, the sneering bandidos, and the iconic mysterious gunslinger who finds himself between warring factions. The music is not quite there yet, very American in style, as is the action, but it has its moments. As a prototypical Euro-western, it's of interest to students of the genre, but probably too slow for typical western fans. Lots of talking. Capricorn, Carreras' and Sangster's company, didn't last long, and most likely because of the failure of this film, Hammer remained uninterested in adding westerns to their roster of Gothic Horror, Adventure, and Thriller movies, but imagine if they had; would we have been treated to Christopher Lee in DRACULA OF THE RIO GRANDE? Or Peter Cushing as a mysterious black-clad gunfighter? One can only conjecture.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Favorite Places



JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL MONUMENT
My first real desert experience was in Joshua Tree National Monument a long time ago. I was struck by the eerie silences, the vast acreage of Joshua Trees raising their arms to heaven (hence the term, named after Joshua the prophet...) We climbed some huge boulders and looked out over the desert, and could distinctly hear a normal-voiced conversation between two hikers half a mile or so away. Amazing quiet.
Joshua Tree is one of the most traveled desert parks in the USA, along with Death Valley, and Anza Borrego. You go to Death Valley for the dunes and the heat, Anza Borrego for the wildflowers, and Joshua Tree for the rocks. Nowadays Ryan Campground is nearly impossible to use as rock climbers pour into that area all the time. We generally stay at Jumbo Rocks, the largest campground, which is close to all the attractions of the park.
It's possible to visit JT for years and still find new things to do. A couple of years ago a friend and I found the Queen Mine trail to an overlook, from which you could see closed off mines and rusted equipment; this year my daughter, her friend, and I hiked down to it, about a mile or so of which the last bit was uphill, but what wonders we saw! Well, a gigantic boulder, some rusted mining equipment, and closed off mines descending blackly into the earth. It had the same eerie quality of any place which has been heavily used and abandoned, the feeling that MAN HAS BEEN HERE, BUT NO MORE and What Are YOU doing here? In the midst of a very populous sightseeing area we saw no one for over an hour and it was great.
If you go wear kind shoes and take along plenty of water. I don't always, because I'm a dope, but my daughter keeps track and makes me take some, and I always drink most of it up during the hike.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


All'Ombra di una Colt (1965) aka SHADOW OF THE COLT
This 1965 Italian western has many familiar faces among the cast; all do a good job, particularly Conrado San Martin as the elder pistolero, Duke, who forbids his friend Steve Blane (Stephen Forsythe) from courting his daughter. Complications ensue, and eventually Duke and Steve are face to face on the main street of Providence (the same town Clint Eastwood cleaned up in A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS). Most of the fun in this one is recognizing the locations and identifying stock performers like Franco Ressel, Sancho Gracia, and Jose Calvo. Aldo Sanbrell shows up early as a bandido, and Tito Garcia is cast as a barkeep with a full head of hair for a change. The action is good, with the stuntmen earning their keep by crashing off of roofs and through remadas, and Blane's horse gives probably the best performance in the history of equine acting. Nico Fidenco's score is outstanding, although the vocal over the titles are a bit off-putting. The titles themselves are particularly flamboyant for a spaghetti, luridly painted cartoons that flirt with a fine art look. Overall I liked this one, I think seeing it in a nice widescreen print helped a lot.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


SONORA aka SARTANA DOES NOT FORGIVE (1969) d. Alfonso Balcazar
Gilbert Roland was perfectly suited to the spaghetti western; he seemed to GET it, the rituals, pauses, steely glances, the ambiguity of his characters. You're never quite sure of his motives; is he the hero or the villain, on the hero's side or against him? Already elderly when the Italian western made its debut, he was in remarkably good shape and looked a good decade younger than his actual age. He made several Italo-oaters including BETWEEN GOD, THE DEVIL, AND A WINCHESTER, GO KILL AND COME BACK, THE RUTHLESS FOUR, JOHNNY HAMLET,and this one, SARTANA DOES NOT FORGIVE, my favorite of these.
He plays Kirchner, a veteran gunfighter who may or may not be an adversary of Uriah Sartana, (George Martin), who is searching for a man, Slim (Jack Elam) who raped and killed his fiance. Standing between Uriah and his vengeance are the Mexican bandidos led by Reyes who are allies of Slim, and a Mexican rancher, Jose (Alfio Caltabiano) who wants vengeance against Slim for his own reasons.
There is the usual maneuvering of gunfighters, a fun Laurel and Hardy-type routine between Kirchner and Uriah with cigarillos being put out in drinks, drinks poured into dishes of food, dishes of food spilt onto boots...they don't mix up their hats, thank goodness. Martin is good as the steely-eyed avenger who typically gets the snot beaten out of him without losing his good looks. Elam is slimier than ever as Slim, who doesn't regret the rape/murder of Uriah's fiance and even taunts him about her. The lovely Rosalba Neri makes an appearance to get some of her clothes ripped off and instigate a gunfight, and a nicely set up duello at the end will keep you in suspense (even though you KNOW how it's going to come out) and this turns out to be an entirely satisfying entry in our favorite genre. And of course the music by de Masi is outstanding, as well.
This cries out for some attention from Wild East or Franco Cleef. The version I saw was from SBS in Australia, nicely letterboxed (if not the O.A.R.) but dialog was in Spanish with English subtitles. Does an English track of this one exist? If not, too bad, because Elam's voice is definitely missed!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


SHOTGUN 1968
There is something missing from this 1969 Italian oater. Tab Hunter is pretty good as Durango, an ex-sheriff whose dreams of marriage are shattered when his fiancé and her family are massacred during a robbery. His hunting down and killing the perpetrators should be more fun than it is; the film seems claustrophobic, as much of the action takes place in confined areas, including a warehouse for the final showdown. Erica Blanc is fine as Joanne, Durango's former girlfriend who owns a saloon (!) but she sings snatches of a terrible song at least twice. Either she's saddled with a terrible voice or her dubber is, for the monotone lyrics are cut away from as soon as possible. The great Peiro Lulli turns up as a villain, and Mimmo Palmara and other familiar faces fill the screen. The music is suitably spaghetti, with the blaring trumpets and guitar chords, but Hunter, a fine rider, looks ridiculous on the small horse he's given to ride early on, and the sexual hi-jinx late in the film seem juvenile and out of place. Overall, a film that MST3K would have had a blast mocking. Serious students of the genre will find much to enjoy here, but others beware!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

TANKS! (You're welcome!)
















I had so many quality fotos of TANKS that I decided to put them here in a gallery.

I'm Baaaaack!

What, you didn't notice I'd been gone? Ten days without a post is unlikely...even though I have nothing to say, that's a bit long. We got in last night from our latest desert excursion...four of us, tired, dirty and happy. As an experienced desert camper I know that the cacti and rocks are hard to sleep on and long ago quit trying to use the pads they offer. I found a nice, thick cushion at a yard sale and have used it for years. It's nice to be able to sleep.
Our first night was to be at Red Rock State Park, but when we got there around dusk it was just too cold, down in the 30s. Nobody even wanted to try to set up camp, so we chickened out and drove to a motel instead. It looks like a nice park though. Otherworldly.
2nd day we stopped at Zzyzzx Road to look for wildlife, but all we found were ducks at the oasis. Still a nice place to visit, then we toured Kelso, still one of my favorite places. Nothing has changed there and we again went to Hole In The Wall to camp. There's a placard questioning why it's named HITW, positing that possibly some bandit ala Butch Cassidy hid out there--duh, it's because of all the HOLES in the WALLS there, gas pockets that have burst over the millennia, hence the name. And this night we set up camp and FROZE. Very cold and windy, my feet were like two lumps of ice down in my army mummy bag, they never did warm up in spite of my wool socks. Others suffered more though, I at least got some sleep. Complaints were many and varied the next morning, but as I pointed out, weren't the stars AMAZING?
3rd day we drove through the Mojave to Joshua Tree, one of my favorite places I haven't gotten to blog about yet. Beautiful weather, nice and warm, and not too bad at night. Having learned our lesson we made a fire here and basked in its warmth. We hiked the Queen mine trail, highly recommended although it's mostly uphill (pant) and various other small hikes. Stayed here two nights, both pretty comfortable (Thanks, cushion!)
5th day--we toured the Patton Museum, a great WW2 museum at Chiriaco Summit. Lots of War artifacts, and lots of TANKS! Who doesn't love TANKS? If I was rich I'd own a fleet of them! I'd climb into one to go get my mail, that's how much I love TANKS! Possibly I'd feel different if I'd ever had to serve in one.
The accommodations had been pretty uncomfortable, so we decided just to go hang out at Anza-Borrego State Park instead of attempting another night of camping. It's a lovely place full of blossoming spring flowers.
Bleah. I want to see coyotes and cactus. We spent some time hiking around the garden like desert here then got a motel room and drove home the next day. Thanks to my daughter I didn't have to drive any of US 5 this time, so I feel pretty good today. Everyone else is still comatose though. On the whole I'd rather have gone to Tombstone, but this was okay. It ain't like old times--but it'll do!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


A LONG RIDE FROM HELL (1968) D. Camillo Bazzoni Cast: Steve Reeves, Mimmo Palmara, Wayde Preston, Guido Lollabrigida, Silvana Venturelli
Steve Reeves only made one spaghetti western, but it's a good one. VIVO PER LA TUA MORTE was made in 1968, a golden year for the Italian Western, and many of the genre's favorite sons appear in this tale of revenge and redemption, among them Aldo Sambrell, Nello Pazzafini, Spartaco Conversi, and Silvana Bacci. Reeves makes a good western hero, losing his shirt at times to give us a glimpse of his splendid physique; at age 42 he was still in great shape and spends lots of his screen time running, jumping, engaging in fist fights and carrying on like a much younger man. The film's depiction of Yuma Territorial Prison is good also, replicating the feel of the prison remarkably well. A very minor knock is that the pistols are of the John Woo variety, shooting fifteen or sixteen times as needed, particularly noticable in the prison break. The music by Carlo Savina is outstanding, but that's as usual for this genre. A lesser gem, and another fine job by Wild East.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


GLI SPECIALISTI (THE SPECIALIST) 1969 d. Sergio Corbucci Cast: Johnny Halliday, Sylvie Fennec. Francois Fabian, Mario Adorf, Serge Marquand
In the late sixties director Sergio Corbucci made four notable spaghetti westerns in a row--the classics THE MERCENARY, THE GREAT SILENCE, THE SPECIALIST, and COMPANEROS. Three of these, all except THE SPECIALIST, are constantly turning up on ten best lists when spaghetti westerns are rated. Until recently all I had seen was a very poor quality compilation with some English, some Italian, a fuzzy picture, and it was nearly incomprehensible. Now, having seen a beautiful widescreen version with subtitles (still in two languages, however), I can safely include THE SPECIALIST in that group of four classics. Johnny Halliday is very good as the charismatic Hud, a notorious hand with the gun returning to Blackstone to investigate the death of his brother, who was lynched by the townspeople for losing their savings. It involves a voluptuous beauty who owns the bank, a Mexican bandit leader, El Diablo, who was once friends with Hud, an honest sheriff who dreams of better days, and a small band of hippies--well, it was the late sixties, and hippies were everywhere, even apparently in our westerns. It's not a desert western, shot in the alps somewhere, and is lovely to look at. There is a bit more nudity than I expect in a western, but that's not a bad thing. Sylvie Fennec is lovely as Sheba, who may be Hud's niece, or dead brother's girlfriend...that's never made clear. This film deserves to be seen, and once again, we plea for a nice DVD with all the trimmings--I think THE SPECIALIST would be as well known as any of Corbucci's other westerns, and that's high praise indeed.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


AND SARTANA KILLS THEM ALL (1971) d. Rafael Romero Marchent Cast: Gianni Garko, William Bogard, Raf Baldassare, Luis Induni, Lorenzo Robledo
This episodic entry in the Sartana series, starring the always excellent Garko is actually nothing of the sort. Only the name survives from the true Sartana series; this Sartana is just as quick with the gun, but he's rarely in control of situations, has no aces up his sleeves, and is saddled with friends and acquaintances with whom he has relationships. This is a hard-edged buddy film. Sartana and his friend Marcos (William Bogard) are low-key crooks, double crossed by their gang, sought by a sheriff and his deputies, and looking for $100,000 of loot which changes hands several times during the action. Along the way they pick up a girl (Maria Silva) who happily joins in the double crossing and stealing. Toss in the nastiest frontier family since the Cleggs in Ford's WAGONMASTER, an invalid old man and his four psychotic, murderous sons, and you have a tough-edged spaghetti western that isn't sure if it's a comedy or a drama. Good stuff abounds for the fan of the genre here; great location shooting, lots of familiar faces in the cast (including Robledo, the "most killed man in the movies"), a catchy theme song ("C'mon Amigo, let's go, let's go...") that had me humming the tune for days afterward, and tons of spaghetti action. To me it was quite enjoyable; to friends of mine it was uneven and disappointing. You decide. (Also known as Un Par de Asesinos, And Santana Kills Them All)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Favorite Places

TOMBSTONE, ARIZONA is another of my favorite places. As I write this my brethren (and sistern) of the spaghetti western community in America are showing up there to party, visit, watch westerns, and pontificate. I cannot be there this year, but thought I'd do this blog on the town to ease my pain at not attending.
I don't need to go into the history of Tombstone here. it's been done time and again better than I could do, and most folks are familiar with it. These days Tombstone exists for the tourist trade; folks come to gawk at the colorful characters who roam the streets; black-clad gunmen with wide-brimmed hats, hombres wearing dusters and holstered six-guns, fine dance-hall ladies displaying their sumptuous charms and best of all, the re-enacters. Our favorite is Stephen Keith who becomes Doc Holliday when he's on the street; never out of character, his portrayal rivals that of Val Kilmer in the movie TOMBSTONE, and after awhile you find yourself being very cautious around this hot-tempered, arrogant gambler with the slow, southern drawl.
The Tombstone Courthouse is worth touring. A wondeful old building, you can spend your entire day there if you're not careful looking at antique firearms, old mining tools, a stunning moment by moment dissection of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral done in photo-realistic paintings. My favorite spot was the courtyard (see photo).
Another highlight of Tombstone are the many eating places; our favorite was Nellie Cashman's for fine old-fashioned breakfasts with plenty of choices and large servings, and Big Nosed Kate's for booze, music, and noshings. One memorable night here we witnessed Wyatt Earp and one of the cowboys re-enact the scene between Kurt Russell and Joe Bob Biggs from the beginning of Tombstone right down to the ear-twisting!
Unfortunately the city fathers are trying to put a stop to impromptu scenes like this. They want to make tourists pay for the privelege at the legitimate places and have started citing violators. If they keep going in this direction, they're going to kill off the very thing that makes Tombstone unique, and it will be as sleepy and quiet as it was before the re-enacters and the tourists came to town.

Spaghetti Western Review


There's a typical scene in LO VOGLIO MORTO (I WANT HIM DEAD) where Clayton (Craig Hill) who is stalking the men who raped and killed his sister stands on a hill and watches five horsemen riding in the distance. The shot is low to the ground, all we see are his legs and boots and the riders in the distance as they approach a villa. Cut to the five bandits riding one by one; I was reminded of the samurai running to the village in Kurosawa's SEVEN SAMURAI. Any spaghetti western which evokes this masterpiece is okay with me! Director Paolo Bianchini does a good job throughout; here and there may be a hole in the plot, but the style, music (by the great Nico Fidenco), and gritty performances by the actors (spaghetti regulars Frank Brana, Jose Manuel Martin, and Federico Boido appear) carry this fine Eurowestern to another level. Any fan of the genre will be in ecstasy watching this one!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Favorite Places




MANZANAR
There is lots to see on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada; Bodie, the Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, and Manzanar, a National Historical Site between Lone Pine and Independence on Highway 39
5. In the dark days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor harsh feelings were growing against the Japanese Americans who lived in California, and on February 1 February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the Secretary of War to designate military commanders to prescribe military areas and to exclude “any or all persons” from such areas. The order also authorized the construction of what would later be called “relocation centers” by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) to house those who were to be excluded.[44] This order resulted in the forced relocation of over 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born American citizens. Manzanar was the first of ten Relocation Centers and remains the best known.
It's a sobering place, lonely and harsh, and one imagines the despair the refugees felt on getting off the buses here in the middle of nowhere.
But they endeavored to persevere, as Chief Lone Wattie said, and turned the camp into a thriving, industrious place, turned desert into gardens, and sand into baseball fields and lived as happy lives as they were able for the duration of the war.
It's a shameful page of American history, but one can understand the wartime tension that caused this. For west coasters, the Japanese invasion seemed imminent, and the thousands of Japanese Americans must have been looked upon with great suspicion, however groundless it turned out to be.
Manzanar is a must-see experience; an abject lesson for what can happen when countries go to war. If you're in the area, take a few minutes and tour Manzanar. You won't be sorry.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


Le Pistole Non Discutono 1964
This is the film that Jolly Films of Rome and the other producing companies were putting their hopes and money into while tossing a bone to an unknown director named Sergio Leone, giving him film ends and minimal financing to shoot a movie called The Magnificent Stranger which featured a little-known American TV actor named Clint Eastwood. BULLETS DON'T ARGUE, directed by Mario Caiano, starred Rod Cameron, a bigger nameat the time than Eastwood, as Pat Garrett, with Horst Frank and Angel Aranda as Billy and George Clanton, thus mixing two old west legends into an early American-style spaghetti western. It kind of reminded me of the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott westerns of the late fifties, with Cameron as the stoic, older authority figure bringing in the wild, younger outlaws, and is pretty darned good, doing what it sets out to do. Oddly enough the highlight of Morricone's score is the song Lonesome Billy, about the elder of the outlaw brothers. BTW I think this is the film that did so poorly at the Italian box office that it prompted Variety to report that spaghetti westerns were dead, a week or so before the Leone/Eastwood film, retitled A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, turned the film world on its ear.

Sunday, March 1, 2009
















I have to admit to something shameful; I on occasion look at porn on the net. One of the side benefits of this is looking at backgrounds; I find myself sometimes more interested in the book shelves or DVD shelves behind the posers than the posers themselves. I've found myself zooming in on book titles in the background to see what folks tastes are like. Sometimes I find books I myself own, sometimes I can look at a few titles and say, "Oh, THAT'S what they're into!"
So I thought, why not publish a photo or two (if I can figure out how to do multiples) of my DVD shelves and let you all see what I've got to pull down to watch on a rainy day.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


THE DIRTY OUTLAWS
It's too bad Franco Rossetti didn't make more westerns; this is his only oater and it's a pretty good spaghetti western. I liked Chip Corman (Andrea Giordana) as Steve, El Desperado, who spends much of his screen time in a Confederate soldier uniform masquerading as a blind man's returning son. He's not, of course, he's really after a stash of gold the blind man has been saving, hidden in a ghost town that's right out of Django, all mud and muck. Pretty soon a gang shows up to waylay a Confederate payroll that's rolling through the town. The only negatives are the obligatory fistfight/barroom brawl and a scene where Desperado gets kicked around in the mud which goes on too long. The finale is great and makes up for quite a bit of the typical spaghetti hi-jinx which leaves non-fans of the genre cold. If you like pasta you'll dig this almost unknown gem. Recently released by Wild East, this has a good widescreen transfer and looks great!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Favorite Places


LOST DUTCHMAN STATE PARK
Sometime in the 1970's I read a paperback about Jacob Waltz and his mysterious cache of gold. In the 1880s he would come into town, Apache Junction in Arizona, and spend gold nuggets like he had an unending supply. Speculators who followed him either got lost or turned up dead. On his deathbed he left a map of his "mine" to the lady who cared for him during his last illness; she spent the rest of her life trying to decipher the map with no success. The book I read focused on the many deaths in the area since then; men driving to the area with a map left to them, or given to them, or bought by them, all looking for the untold wealth of the lost mine and finding only death. Many of them losing their heads in the process. It was a spooky book that sent chills down my spine, and I decided to quit my job, find a map, and go look for the piles of gold nuggets laying on the desert floor within sight of Weaver's Needle.
I never went looking; I still have my head, but on our various sojourns to the desert we discovered this state park just north of Apache Junction. We've been there in summer, not too hot, and virtually deserted. You can hike around, but be sure and take plenty of water, and watch out for rattlesnakes. Unfortunately the city is closing in, and you can't find true darkness here anymore, but for the moment it's still wonderfully quiet and the solitude is palpable. Another of my favorite places.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


As far as I know, this one never got a release in the USA. It's got a great score (used often in commercials), good action, and kind of a soap-opera plot, but the actors do a good job and production values and sets are top notch. Leonard Mann and Peter Martell play two young gunmen who share a tragic past; childhood friends, they were separated when Mann's father was killed by his mother's lover. He was spirited away by a faithful servant while his sister (the lovely Pilar Velazquez) remained to be raised by the two murderous lovers. Rafael ( a brooding Martel, very good here), childhood friend and servant also remains, but is practically a prisoner of the household until he grows up and escapes, searching for the missing Sebastian. The evil Pierro Lulli is sent to bring him back. Complications ensue. This one has a bit more heart than most spaghetti westerns, and if you are a fan of the genre, you'll enjoy it. It's certainly one of my favorites! Also on this excellent Wild East release is THE UNHOLY FOUR aka Chuck Mull, so it's a terrific bargain!

Spaghetti Western Review


Chuck Connors stars in KILL THEM ALL AND COME BACK ALONE!, not to be confused with GO KILL AND COME BACK by the same director. He's assigned, along with his hand-picked team, to make off with a huge sum of Yankee dollars from an impregnable fort, to thwart the Union buying weapons to defeat the south, Connors' employers. Among his team, the usual: a knife thrower, dynamite expert, the Kid, the strongman. Along for the ride is the Captain (Frank Wolff) who dreamed up the whole scheme. The expected treachery occurs and when the dust settles not too many of the characters are still around to divvy up the loot. Connors is very good in this, although he was never, as one of the prints in the poster gallery boast THE SUPREME American ACTION STAR! Most of the team is played by stuntmen like Ken Wood and Alberto Dell'Acqua and seeing them leap and tumble is part of the fun. Nicely produced, with sweeping panoramas of the Spanish countryside, and with a great score by Francesco de Masi, this one is a lot of fun and one of the best. The Wild East version is widescreen and in English for the first time, and has an interview with Ken Wood that reveals many interesting facts about the Italian cinema of the 60s and 70s

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Favorite Places


MESCAL, ARIZONA is a movie set owned by Old Tucson Studios. It's open to the public for guided tours but best to call in advance as occasionally the set is closed for use by companies doing commercials or the rare movie production.
It stands alone now, abandoned except for Frank Brown, a seventy-something caretaker who heads up the tours. You couldn't ask for a better GHOST TOWN, as the storefronts are weathered, some windows broken, tumbleweeds treading the streets where once Wyatt Earp and friends strode. It's a great venue for picture taking, and if you go in costume you can reenact the famous walk to the O.K. Corral. Among the movies made here (entirely or in part) are THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES, TOMBSTONE, TOM HORN, MONTE WALSH (the original), SEVEN MUMMIES, and too many others to mention.
The town is twenty or so miles south of Tucson, but the suburbs are closing in, and in ten or twenty years it will surely come down so that condos can be erected. In the meantime, it's a good chance to see an old western town as it was. Forget Old Tucson Studios (although it's a fun day on its own), Mescal is uncorrupted by the theme park mentality that has somewhat ruined the parent company. So go now, and go often.

Spaghetti Western Review


This star-studded British/Spanish co-production looks great, what you can see of it. I have three versions, two VHS, one DVD, and all are terribly cropped, so badly that it looks as if buildings are having conversations with each other. Sometimes you can see Telly Savalas' nose protruding from one corner of the screen. Few films suffer as badly from pan and scan as this one, as director Robert Parrish seems to have been so enamored with the widescreen process that he tended to use both sides of the screen at once, neglecting the middle. Another viewer comments that we see the entire inhabitants of a church massacred at the beginning; not in any of the copies I have. There are some abrupt cuts of peasants firing their rifles, one Mexican officer is shot, Shaw and Landau celebrating, and that's it. We never find out why Shaw has become a priest (if he really is), we never find out what happens to Don Carlos (Savalas) although I suspect he was called home to star in Kojak, as his departure seems arbitrary. And there is a strange flashback sequence where Michael Craig (Mysterious Island) is dancing around in a bowler hat and bad suit in the great old English music hall tradition to the 1960 hit BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS, not sung by Johnny Horton here but with some lyrics I've never heard before. On the plus side, the location is great, a huge old ruined fortress with Escher-style stairs leading nowhere, some nice scenery-chewing by Robert Shaw, and good performances by Stevens, Landau, Lettieri, and Telly Savalas as Telly Savalas. I didn't really like this film, but I haven't exactly seen it. I will seek the widescreen version and make my decision then.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Spaghetti Western Review


DON'T TURN THE OTHER CHEEK (VIVA LA MUERTE...TUA!) 1971 d. Duccio Tessari
Eli Wallach, Franco Nero, Lynn Redgrave, Eduardo Fajardo, Victor Isreal, Dan Van Husen
This one really needs a good DVD release. To my knowledge it's only available on an old VHS tape called DON'T TURN THE OTHER CHEEK, with animated asses (donkeys) wiggling their behinds, totally out of character with the film, which is an action filled Eurowestern by the director of the popular Ringo films, Duccio Tessari. Franco Nero plays another of his European adventurers, this time a Russian, who is seeking a lost treasure. Eli Wallach portrays another version of his popular "Tuco" character, this time once more a Mexican after playing the Greek version in ACE HIGH. Throw in Lynn Redgrave (slightly out of place in a spaghetti) as an Irish revolutionary and you have a film that is reminiscent of Sergio Corbucci's two popular political westerns THE MERCENARY (1968) and COMPANEROS (1970), both of which are superior to this. However there's a lot to be said for LONG LIVE YOUR DEATH, especially since it's so hard to find; you'll find the search worthwhile, and in the meantime let's hope Anchor Bay, Wild East, or Blue Underground release a definitive DVD version! UPDATE: Wild East has just announced a widescreen release in English, coming soon!

Inglorious Basterds


I'm looking forward to this; note the Spaghetti Western motif on the poster: Once Upon a Time in Nazi-Occupied France! QT has said this is his sw/World War II flick.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Favorite Places


KELSO in the heart of the Mojave, used to be an important train depot on the Las Vegas to Los Angeles route. In the thirties this was a great looking building where you could chow down at a restaurant, sit in shade (always important in the Mojave) or just enjoy a cold beer while waiting for your train. We first visited Kelso in the early '90s when the building was in disrepair. Closed for years, you could look in the windows, peek in the doors which sometimes were slightly ajar, or rest in the shade while your car cooled off. Signs proclaimed that Kelso was going to be the visitor center of the Mojave National Preserve with an opening date of several months ago. Apparently the funding was slow to come, and we all got tired of the promises over the years. Kelso became kind of a joke; whenever anyone went through the Mojave we'd ask "Is Kelso open yet?" The answer, inevitably, was no.
Then a couple of years ago, well into the new millenium, the miracle occured. Kelso was finished. My daughter and I routed a trip to Joshua Tree through the Mojave, out of our way, just so we could finally say we'd been to Kelso. When we got there it certainly lived up to expectations. Very sparsely visited, it was big, cool inside, and informative, everything a visitor center should be. The rangers did such a good job of selling the beauty of their park that we changed our plans and spent the remainder of our trip in the Mojave, at an area called Hole-In-the Wall, which evoked memories of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch, but actually was inhabited only by range cattle who wandered placidly through our campsite looking for edibles. The aforesaid Holes are naturally occuring gas pockets which exploded centuries ago creating hand holds for climbers. Even at my advanced age I was able to do some climbing. My advice is go in high summer when you can experience the Mojave in its natural state: HOT! It's a great place, not my favorite desert perhaps, but one of the Great American Deserts.