50 Movie Gunslinger Classics, Disc 6

Savage Journey, 1983, color (for TV). Tom McGowan (dir.), Maurice Grandmaison, Richard Moll. 1:36.

Since this set’s already demonstrated that “gunslinger” means “any movie with a gun in it,” I suppose a 95-minute chunk of propaganda for the Mormons is as suitable as anything—and that’s what this is. It leads us from Joseph Smith being tarred-and-feathered some time in the early 19th century through the many tribulations unfairly suffered by the always-good, always-just, never-vengeful, always-united Mormons (and from this movie’s perspective, Joseph Smith and his buddies destroying the printing press at a Nauvoo newspaper that said bad things about him is fully justified and proper), to the promised land in Utah, which somehow becomes “1,500 miles from the nearest food supplies” when locusts attack. (Didn’t know it was 1,500 miles from Utah to any other part of civilization in 1847? Read up on History According to Savage Journey!)

That said, it’s not a terrible picture. Even after it was obvious that it was an entirely one-sided simplification of the history of Mormonism, Smith and Brigham Young, I found it interesting enough to watch all the way through. (It never occurred to me that Richard Moll was Bull on Night Court; he comes across as a slightly wild-eyed prophet as he portrays Joseph Smith.) I’ll give it $1.00.

Savage Guns (orig. title Era Sam Wallash… lo chiamavano ‘Così Sia’ or His Name Was Sam Walbash, But They Call Him Amen). 1971, color. Demofilo Fidani (dir.), Robert Woods, Dino Strano, Benito Pacifico, Amerigo Castrighella, Simonetta Vitelli. 1:28.

I have mixed feelings about this spaghetti Western—and make no mistake, that’s what it is. On one hand, it’s got an interesting score, lots of scenery, action sometimes so “natural” in pace that I used the 2x viewing mode to get through one excruciating “French singer” ballad and one boxing match faster, and cartoon violence. Oh, and it’s sort-of widescreen. My guess is it was filmed in very widescreen mode (based on credits missing parts of the first and last letters), then trimmed—but not to 4×3, rather to 16×9 (widescreen TV) mode. It’s not an enhanced DVD, so you’re losing some resolution, but it zooms nicely to fill an HDTV screen.

And there is a plot of sorts. A gang busts into a saloon, wearing partial masks, confronts the barkeep, forces him to drink tequila pouring out of a barrel they shot into (barrels of tequila in the Old West? why not?), then shoot him and everybody else in the bar, afterwards burning it down. Except that one guy (Wallash or Walbash) was shot in the arm, fell under a table, and managed to escape. The rest of the picture consists of him hunting down and killing a couple of dozen gang members and, eventually, the boss man, Mash Flannigan (or Mash Donovan). (Along the way, we see a flashback with him as a child, in which his father and mother were gunned down in their home—for no apparent reason—by a gang that must have fired 70 or 80 shots to kill two people. It’s The Gang That Couldn’t Stop Firing.)

But the logic of the plot is so bad as to almost defy belief even by spaghetti western standards. Right after the opening scene, the evil honcho tells his gang that this sends a message to assure that nobody will ever rat on him again to the sheriff (which you’d think he would have sent more efficiently if he shot the barkeep but not every witness)—and then, as soon as he learns somebody may have escaped, he says “but if it’s not a bounty hunter, you can be sure he’ll go right to the sheriff.” Ummm… Later, a bunch of the gang surround the Lone Hero and beat him senseless—but don’t kill him. Still later, this clown who’s ridden off with a bullet wound and been robbed of everything at least once seems to have not only unlimited funds (and guns and ammo) but the wherewithal to, overnight, acquire a dummy U.S. Army paywagon with a hand-cranked Gatling gun and two wax dummies dressed in Army uniforms. Oh, and the gang—which, no matter how many are shot—always seems to be as big as it needs to be. But nobody in the gang finds it suspicious that this U.S. Army paywagon has two drivers and no guards riding in front or in back. Never mind the villain’s girlfriend, who the hero’s confident he can instantly turn in his favor, apparently correctly. The whole thing almost appears to have been written randomly. (I didn’t know bar girls got migraines—and called them that—in the Old West. Come to think of it, it can’t have been that old west—in the boxing match, the challenger is introduced as having won medals in 46 states, The 46th state was admitted in November 1907.

One IMDB review calls Demofilo Fidani “the Italian Ed Wood.” I can see why. The song by the French chanteuse is remarkably awful in every way; there’s an introduction of three major killers partway through—but those killers, not part of the regular gang, are never seen again; and… oh, never mind. The musical score is quite good. I find it interesting that neither IMDB nor the reviewers can agree on the hero’s last name.

It’s also not a great print. In the end, I can’t muster enough enthusiasm to give it more than $0.75.

Death Rides a Horse (orig. Da uomo a uomo or From man to man), 1967, color. Giulio Petroni (dir.), Lee Van Cleef, John Phillip Law, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli, Anthony Dawson. 1:54.

Reviewed in June 2010 (C&I 10.7). That review:

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 sometime? 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 dozens of them won’t 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.

Riders of Destiny,

John Wayne as a singing cowboy? Singin’ Sandy, that is, the notorious gunslinger known across the states—except he’s actually an undercover Federal agent. (And his primary song, done repeatedly in a robust baritone, is about blood and death.)

He encounters a sheriff who’s been shot in the back and saves the sheriff. Cut to…he encounters a scene in which a woman on a horse has the horse shot out from under her by stagecoach drivers…who assume she’s a highwayman (and she did in fact rob them, because they were carrying money meant for her father, and the weekly money loads were somehow getting robbed every. single. week). He saves her.

This all gets into a situation where the evil owner of a land and water company holds water rights to all the water in a valley—except for this woman’s dad’s ranch, which has its own well. The slick villain is trying to buy out the other ranchers for $1 an acre, or will quadruple the price of their water. Meanwhile, his own people are robbing his own stagecoaches and passengers…

Anyway, Singin’ Sandy concocts a quick scheme that saves the day for all concerned and, of course, gets the girl. Wayne is young, the movie’s a classic cheaply-done B programmer, and I guess if you like Wayne at all it’s worth $1.00.

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