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

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

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.