Death Rides a Horse (orig. Da uomo a uomo or “From man to man,” a much better title), 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 sometimes? 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 they won’t even 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’s had an encounter with an apparently down-on-his-luck gambler who’s “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 also 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 (along with the real title) at IMDB: the on-screen credits have good “American” names for the leads—e.g. Gemma’s billed as “John Wade” and Benevenuti 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 (which is a good spaghetti western) but the situation with Mill Creek. That is: 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. (Don’t expect miracles: It’s still VHS-quality at best, which is all you’re going to get with four films on one double-density/single-sided DVD under any circumstances.) And, maybe, I’m a little more attuned to the qualities of spaghetti Westerns and, particularly, Lee Van Cleef.
Anyway…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.
Somehow, it all 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 (but it becomes Movie Violence) and a lovingly-filmed massacre of innocents that seemed more brutal than really 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 really 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.
Unfortunately, it’s sort of a mess. In the end, I found it brutal and incoherent and worth, at best, $0.75.