Spaghetti Westerns Disc 1

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, at no cost to me and with an apology). As of December 1, 2009, it costs $13.49 from Amazon (less from other vendors).

I regard most spaghetti Westerns (or Eurowesterns, if you want to be dignified—but Mill Creek uses the title you see above) as guilty pleasures: Colorful, usually with good production values, frequently absurd plots, 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 unusual 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 most any 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 Danton, 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 only 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 then, it is a spaghetti Western.

The plot: 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. What follows is the original review:

Red certainly seems appropriate as part of this movie’s title, since it’s in an odd sort of sepiacolor that only includes shades of red, browns, wood, and other faded colors—no blues or true greens that I could see. It’s apparently an early “spaghetti Western,” with decent production values but not a whole lot in the way of acting or, well, logic.

Richard Harrison is Gringo—adopted son of a Mexican family working a little gold mine in a just-north-of-the-border town, who returns from four years fighting in the Mexican civil war. As he returns, three bandits kill the father and steal all the gold (most of it supposedly hidden). The rest of the movie deals with that—and with a town whose handsome sheriff and a group of variously mean-spirited sidekicks all hate Mexicans, even though much of the town appears to be Hispanic. (The most interesting villain is a giggling sociopath who is also, of course, a deputy sheriff.)

I guess I shouldn’t expect logic in a flick like this. Seems as though the sheriff or his clearly-murderous sidekicks would have just shot Gringo in the back or in “self defense” fairly early in the plot, but that wouldn’t make for much of a movie or get us to the inevitable (and really ludicrous) showdown. Maybe I should be impressed by Ennio Morricone’s score. I guess it’s OK. Let’s see. Other than the pseudocolor, there’s a short section where there seem to be holes in the print (that is, real holes, not just the holes in the plot). I can’t see giving this more than $0.50.

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