Ah yes, back to those golden days of yesteryear…or, actually, back 36 years to two spaghetti westerns, 70 years to yet another one-hour B flick (this time a propaganda flick for the Boy Scouts to boot) and, in between, a young Lloyd Bridges and a not-quite-so-young Randolph Scott (and even less young Edgar Buchanan).
Grand Duel, 1972, color (Il grande duello). Giancarlo Santi, dir., Lee Van Cleef, Horst Frank, Peter O’Brien/Alberto Dentice, Marc Mazza, Dominique Darel. 1:38 [1:28].
It’s a spaghetti western-and maybe that’s almost all I need to say. Good production values and color: Check. Odd, sometimes interesting background music: Check. Lots of long showdowns but even more shootings and other action scenes: Check. Moral ambiguity throughout-no white hats and black hats here (in this case, the black hat is worn by the presumed hero): Check. Plot, if you can follow it, mostly to tie together the showdowns, shootings and action scenes: Double check. Little enough residual value that nobody would have bothered to renew this 1972 flick’s copyright: Check.
So it boils down to how you feel about Lee Van Cleef and the other “stars”-and how you feel about spaghetti westerns in general. Some remarkable combinations of acrobatics and shooting as the second (“Peter O’Brien”) evades capture or death while flying through the air. The print’s pretty good (except for the missing ten minutes). For me-well, it could have been a lot worse, it could have been a lot better, leading to a middling $1.
It Can Be Done…Amigo, 1972, color (Si puÃ² fare… amigo). Maurizio Lucidi (dir.), Bud Spencer, Jack Palance. 1:40 [1:38].
I’m not quite sure what to make of this one. Before the title, we get Bud Spencer’s and Jack Palance’s names, arranged in a circle, rotating. Spencer’s character, Coburn, is a huge beefy type who seems gentle enough and somehow keeps getting into trouble-well, he is a sometimes horsethief. He typically deals with trouble by staring, slowly putting on a pair of glasses, and then pounding his opponents into the ground-almost literally. They punch him a few times, then he either hits two opponents’ heads together or hits them over the head and they go down.
He’s somehow involved with a kid whose uncle is taking him to a western town-but the uncle gets bushwhacked and, when Coburn finds him dying, gives Coburn an envelope to pass along to the kid. The envelope turns out to contain $50 (a lot of money) and the deed to a run-down house just outside town. Meanwhile, there’s Palance’s character, Sonny Bronston, a fast-shooting eccentric who runs a group of female entertainers (in, apparently, more than one tradition of that word) and who’s after Coburn. Why? Seems Coburn sullied the virtue of Bronston’s sister (a case of mistaken identity)-and now Coburn needs to marry her so she can be an honorable widow (since he’ll get shot as soon as he gets married.
Ah, but that’s just a fraction of the plot. The town’s priest is also the sheriff and judge and generally doesn’t want Coburn around-and apparently has designs on the kid’s house and land, for unclear reasons. There’s a strange guy who eats dirt-and who starts paying people $2 a bucket (only one bucket per person) for dirt that he tastes. Which pastime leads him to the kid’s place. There’s lots more plot, and it mostly winds up with a remarkable six-minute free-for-all: No bullets fired (lots of guns fired, but all blanks), lots of fists, and mostly Coburn putting people out of action.
It felt as though I was joining a conversation that was partway through. The odd title refers to one of Coburn’s saying. The plot line between Coburn and Bronston seems to go back quite a ways. It’s a spaghetti western, to be sure-but it’s also a comedy and actually pretty decent. It’s also a decent print (missing just a minute or two), a fair amount of fun, and with a lot fewer killings and shootings-only one, as I remember. I’ll give it $1.25.
Abilene Town, 1946, b&w. Edwin L. Marin (dir.), Randolph Scott, Ann Dvorak, Edgar Buchanan, Rhonda Fleming, Lloyd Bridges. 1:29.
Oh, the farmers and the cowmen can be friends… Oops, wrong state, and the songs in this one are dance-hall numbers. Still, it’s cowboys on one hand-in this case, the bunch riding herds into Abilene from Texas in 1870-and the farmers on the other-in this case, homesteaders wanting to settle down. One side of the street in Abilene is full of saloons, dance halls and gambling dens; they’re hot for all the money the drunken cowboys spend when they finish a run. The other side is shopkeepers and what there is of an actual town-and they’re terrified of the cowboys. In the middle-why, there’s the Marshal, who wants the town to survive, and an amiable and wholly corrupt Sheriff (Edgar Buchanan), who just wants to avoid having to do anything and seems mostly there for an odd sort of comic relief.
Somehow, it seems a little simplistic. The cowboys are wholly sociopathic, as ready to shoot anyone as to say Hi, given to burning out any homesteaders-and, when they stampede the herd over newly-erected fences, they do so in a manner apparently intended to kill as many people and do as much damage as possible. The homesteaders, of course, are all peaceful types who just want to make a living-although it’s noteworthy that the first barbed wire they string is directly across the cattle trail. (Ah, but Lloyd Bridges makes a fine young leader for the homesteaders.) And the Marshal’s enlightened: The day of the big showdown, after he enforces “lights out” in all the saloons and stands by as the frustrated cowboys break down the doors and basically trash the places while getting drunk for free, he’s only too happy to see his sort-of-lady’s own hall destroyed…so he can get her out of those evil dance clothes and into an apron where she belongs.
Were the range wars really this black and white? Fortunately, I wasn’t there. The print’s pretty good, and Randolph Scott cuts a handsome if inscrutable figure. I’ll give it a charitable $1.00.
Tex Rides with the Boy Scouts, 1937, b&w, Ray Taylor (dir.), Tex Ritter, Marjorie Reynolds, Horace Murphy, â€˜Snub’ Pollard, Charles King, Forrest Taylor, Beverly Hill Billies, White Flash. 1:06 [1:02]
Part propaganda film for the Boy Scouts–it begins with a three-minute newsreel-style encomium for the organization–part B western with a twist or two. It starts with Tex Ritter riding along with not one but two sidekicks-Stubby (Murphy) and the oddly white-faced Peewee (Pollard)-and, naturally, singing to the sounds of a hidden orchestra. They stop at a shack with a mining company “Private Property-No Trespassers” sign, which is of course their cue to get off and stand around until someone shoots the hat off Stubby’s head as a gentle warning. So they mosey along to a Boy Scout encampment, which they naturally join.
Oh, that’s just the beginning. The gimmick here is fairly clever in a stupid way: Stage a train robbery, stealing a million dollars in gold bullion, and hide it at a phony gold mine-after all, you can always cash it in as being from the mine once people forget about the robbery. (After all, lots of gold ore is 100% pure and has U.S. Mint stamps, right?)
One subplot involves a stereotypical Chinese laundryman, accent and “no tickee, no washee,” who as a sideline buys gold nuggets at very low prices-which is how the gang covers incidental expenses. Another involves the cute older sister of one Boy Scout, who’s also the downtown employee of the mining company, but of course is wholly innocent-and naturally gets involved with Tex. There’s even a barn dance. Ritter’s acting this time around is passable.
The bad guys here are pretty bad: The leader shoots down a Boy Scout who might have heard something. So maybe it’s OK that Tex’s posse guns down most of the gang as they’re fleeing for the border-except for the leader, who Tex beats up in a fistfight. (Heroes never actually shoot anybody in these flicks.) This might get $0.75 for second-rate silliness-but the print’s choppy in the wrong places, damaged in general and the soundtrack’s not very good, lowering it to $0.50.