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Crude production, low budget, intriguing stories and themes
Somewhat along the lines of El Uomini dal passo pesante (1966) (and even Leone's Dollar's films if the role of Eastwood's creation of the Stranger character is considered), Tierra De fuego (1965) is an early euro-western that represents a collaboration between European and American filmmakers. In this case, the collaboration is between journeyman actor/producer Mark Stevens and director Jaime Jesus Blacazar. Stevens was a leading man in a number of 1940s film noir while Jaime and his brother Alfonso directed and wrote a number of the better euro-westerns including Professionisti per un massacro (1967) and Gentleman Jo... uccidi (1969). Like many of the early Spanish productions, this film is pretty crudely made. However, it is interesting when considered along other "Spanish" westerns as these films demonstrate a remarkable thematic coherency.
Westerns directed or written by Spaniards seem to have an interesting narrative in them regarding the state, oppression, and violence that is consist throughout. In this movie, a sheriff who had once been an outlaw stands by as a group of gunmen led by his former partner brutalizes the town of Fraserville scared of his past being revealed. This compromised status leaves him impotent and the townsfolk bewildered, leading to a increasingly fast spiral of violence. This situation, whether due to outright corruption or compromise of any sort, is repeated again and again throughout these movies. A good example is El Hombre que mató a Billy el Niño (1968) or El Sabor De la Vanganza (1963) . Adrift on their own, people are forced to fend for themselves as best they might. One act of violence leads to retaliation, then retaliation to retaliation. Jealousies tear at the community's fabric. The contagion is epidemic and replicates itself, turning one act's victim into the next's perpetrator. The bestiality of the outlaws in this movie, in which most brutal rules, also occurs in Condenados a vivir (1972) where it is developed to it's fullest extent. In Tierra De fuego, the sheriff chose to leave his partner in the past, in which he rejected the violence that he was responsible for. In Condenados a vivir, there is no figure that has made a similar choice, only a group of convicts, a vengeful guard, and the guard's daughter alone in the snowy wilderness. That movie represents the end of this cycle, the most extreme description of the dehumanizing effects of violence. In Tierra De fuego, the final exorcism is ambiguous and somewhat strange. The nihilistic finales of Condenados a vivir or El Hombre que mató a Billy el Niño are actually very similar. This is not surprising as the ethos in all of these westerns is the same. Many, though not all, Spanish westerns tend to be fatalistic, trapped in an inevitable sad logic.
It is unfortunate that this movie's execution is so crude, as the story is actually very compelling. That said, the attempts at creating a strong audience response are interesting. People are arranged in opposed masses or are isolated in an attempt to present the relations in the town visually. The scenes of the preacher's beating or the long rape/murder are very extreme, especially as the film was made in 1965. The latter scene brings to mind "Of Mice and Men" and actually achieves a bit more effect than most of the rest of the film. The relationship between the outlaw Abel and the Sheriff is very interesting and complex. Abel was caught immediately after they parted ways and he believes that the sheriff was responsible. He cannot comprehend any motives outside of those debased by cruelty. This inability provides the dynamic tension between the two. With more resources and experience this could have been a very good ingredient.
I actually recommend this movie to genre fans, though only in terms of the thematic interest. Most viewers would find nothing of interest here.
(The version I reviewed was an old, badly faded Dutch videotape)
Top spaghetti western list http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849907
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For fanatics only (bottom of the barrel) http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849890
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