50 Movie Gunslinger Classics Disc 3

Yuma, 1971, color (TV movie). Ted Post (dir.), Clint Walker, Barry Sullivan, Kathryn Hays, Edgar Buchanan, Morgan Woodward, Peter Mark Richman, John Kerr, Bing Russewll, Bruce Glover. 1:14

Given a perfect print and the Aaron Spelling Production credit—and the fades to black at convenient plot points roughly once every fifteen minutes—it was fairly obvious this was a TV movie before looking it up. But it’s a good’un, with Clint Walker as a U.S. Marshal sent to Yuma after the last three law enforcement types have either died or left within a week of arriving. Even before he can check into a hotel or visit his office, he must deal with an out-of-control stage coach driven by two out-of-control cowboys, who start shooting in the air, go into a saloon to get even more drunk and keep on shooting. In the process (it’s clear that they hijacked a stage coach just for drunken laughs), he winds up shooting one of the King brothers—admittedly after the brother shot at him three times.

Just the start of a moderately complex plot that is as much mystery as western. I won’t bother recounting more of the plot, which involves corruption, the army, bidding procedures, a local tribe that’s being cheated and more. It actually hangs together fairly well. It’s particularly interesting that after you believe you know who the villains are, there’s more to it…and none of it’s trickery. Most of the performances are pretty good, and the whole thing was thoroughly enjoyable. (One little problem: The credits say the film was partly made in “Old Tuscon,” and I strongly suspect that was really Old Tucson.) A flick I may watch again. $1.50.

The Belle Starr Story (orig. Il mio corpo per un poker), 1968, color. Piero Cristofani and Lina Wertmüller (dirs..), Elsa Martinelli, Robert Woods, George Eastman, Francesca Righini. 1:43 [1:40]

This story is roughly half flashbacks, half contemporary—as Belle Starr, that pants-wearing fast-shooting poker-playing outlaw, falls suddenly in lust with Larry Blackie, a local criminal, and tells him her background. The contemporary part: He wants to hire her for an audacious robbery; she refuses and sets out to do it herself (with a hired gang). Things do not go well.

This version of Belle Starr is young, beautiful, heavily freckled and a fool for lust (I keep writing “love” but…), with a back story having almost nothing in common with the actual Belle Starr. The print’s fairly good (the credits are widescreen, but, sigh, the rest of the flick is pan-and-scan), and other than an extended torture scene (involving Starr’s lustmate), it’s not too bad on the violence part. It’s a Eurowestern, but an unusual one—one of few with a woman in the primary role (and nearly every frame) and almost certainly the only Eurowestern directed by Lina Wertmüller. A little baroque but not bad. (If you’re one who watches spaghetti westerns for lots of violence and gunplay, you’ll be disappointed.) $1.50.

Joshua, 1976, color. Larry G. Spangler (dir.), Fred Williamson, Cal Bartlett, Brenda Venus, Isela Vega, Bud Stout.

Or “oshu” according to the on-screen credits, I think. I almost gave up on this one because, while the print is OK as far as it goes, it doesn’t go very far: not so much pan-and-scan as stare-and-discard, the center portion of what appears to be a very wide-screen movie, such that you get people half off screen, none of the credits are readable, and the sense of scenic grandeur that might have made this sad enterprise more tolerable isn’t there. (IMDB says it was very wide-screen: 2.35:1, so I was saying the center 57% of the picture.

It’s a Fred Williamson movie all the way: He wrote the story and screenplay and he’s in almost every scene, as the son returning from the Civil War to the Old West and a cabin where his widowed mother’s cooking for a farmer, there with his much younger mail-order bride. But before he gets there, five riders appear at the house, say they need water and food, get invited in for supper…and, to show their gratitude, run off with the bride, shoot the guy when he protests (but don’t actually kill him), and shoot the cook because she reaches for her late husband’s rifle.

Enter the son, Joshua. He hears about the situation (from the bandaged farmer), sees a group of lawmen arrive saying they lost the five in the hills, hears the note that there are five of them, says he killed twice that many in the war…and he’s off.

The rest of the movie is riding. Lots of riding. More riding. Some stalking. Some really poor music, repeated endlessly. More riding. And, once in a while, Joshua offing one of the five men—or anybody else who happens to be in the way or is a nuisance of any sort. I lost count, but I think he avenges his mother’s death by killing at least 20 people—including the kidnapped bride. (Who, after being raped a few times, somehow turns willing cohort of the kidnappers—Stockholm syndrome, I suppose.) He arranges several of the deaths in various nasty ways. Oh, and even though he apparently took after these outlaws with just a saddlebag (holding supplies enough for several days), the saddlebag apparently includes the bundle of dynamite sticks that I assume were standard issue for Civil War veterans. (Oh yes: And there’s one big fistfight where each punch sounds like a kettledrum. I never knew flesh was that resonant.)

Pretty bad. For Fred Williamson fans and lovers of scenery, maybe, charitably, $0.75.

Any Gun Can Play, 1967, color. Enzo G. Castellari (dir.), Edd Byrnes, George Hilton, Gilbert Roland, Stefania Careddu, Jose Torres. 1:45 [1:37]

This is more like it. The flick was filmed very wide screen…and that’s how it appears here (once you use zoom setting). It’s a good enough digitization that zooming in doesn’t make the image unwatchable or less than VHS-quality. And the flick itself plays with Western tropes while being a pretty good (and moderately complex) spaghetti-style Western—part parody, part tribute, sometimes straightforward, with some nice touches along the way (e.g., spilling wine on the table to serve as a crude mirror for what’s happening behind you).

The opening is classic Western: three men riding slowly into the deserted streets of a town, sometimes filmed through a swinging wooden gate, with shots of townsfolk peering fearfully out their windows and the whole shebang. The Good, the Bad and the..well, no, these three gunmen aren’t important to the picture, as we quicky learn from a plot twist involving three coffins and the role of The Stranger, a bounty hunter (George Hilton). Then we move to a short train carrying $300,000 to a bank and occupied by armed troops to protect the shipment, a bank employee (Edd Byrns), and—oddly—one other passenger (guess who!). There’s an unusual robbery, and the plot’s in motion. I can’t even begin to describe all of the plot; it’s fair to say that the somewhat-happy ending isn’t at all what I expected. Some extended fistfights (with exaggerated sound effects), some gymnastics (really), lots of deaths but nearly all in the standard Spaghetti Western style (the person’s shot, makes one sound, jumps up and keels over—with maybe a bit of ketchup on his or her shirt). Some humor, some playing with clichés, and generally just enjoyable. Great scenery. (The IMDB synopsis is dead wrong, by the way.) Not quite a classic, but certainly worth $1.75.


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