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José Luis de Vilallonga
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While credited as an Italian/French co-production, Albert Band and Mario Sequi's THE TRAMPLERS has all the hallmarks of a Spanish tragedy about a power bloated patriarch who'd rather destroy his own children than see them settle up with the times. Joseph Cotten is appropriately blusterous as the patriarch in question, a former Confederate officer who evidently used the Civil War as an excuse to indulge his own bigotry & intolerance of anybody he deems not good enough to sit down in his parlor for a good family dinner with him and his sons -- some of whom are dangerously beginning to question the old man's ways.
Tarzan actor Gordon Scott (in his final film performance) plays the prodigal son who rides into town after a few years in a Yankee prison camp and his horrified to find his father & brothers cheerfully stringing up a local rancher whom pops has set up for cattle rustling, and things never get any cheerier. As another commenter points out, this is a somewhat somber, glum horse opera about a family at odds with itself: Cotten demands unswerving loyalty to his vision of traditions, where the younger son (James Mitchum, who is probably the best thing about the movie) has had enough of the killings, and the younger daughter has even dared to strike up a romance with Franco Nero, playing a kid of mixed blood who dreams of owning his own ranch and is bewildered by the bigotry he finds aimed at him for having fallen in love with the wrong girl. Things turn tragic when the old man sends out some of his nephews to bring the girl back home while Scott & Mitchum side with the young lovers, leading to death and madness.
THE TRAMPLERS reminds me a lot of another Euro cowboy flick, Joaquín Luis Romero Marchent's FEDRA WEST from 1968 with James Philbrook also playing a bigoted patriarch who'd rather destroy his family than change with the times, though that film is more of a Spanish production in terms of both where it was made and the flavor of it's appearance. THE TRAMPLERS is actually what I would term a middle period Euro western rather than an out & out stylized spaghetti affair. There isn't much of the arty atmospherics that permeate the better known Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci affairs, with the family drama taking center stage to the usual choreographed gunfights and subtle nuances that most viewers associate with Italian made westerns, though some of the French locations used for the exterior shots look unique; No gunfights in the same old Almeria boulder field.
The film was made in an interesting manner too with stock footage of cattle drives filmed on location in the American west blended almost seamlessly with the Italian soundstage work to create a sort of pastiche of a traditional cowboy movie. It's also interesting to contrast Franco Nero's role as the young half breed with his "Django" character from the following year, the comparison itself being almost a concise study in how the approach of the Italians changed over just a few months once Leone's artful, cartoonish methods became the predominant form. This is a more character driven approach that presents it's violence as an outcome of conflict rather than the subject matter (though one guy does get blowed up real, real good), with the traditional Americanized approach being the style the film seeks to emulate. While certainly smaller in scale THE TRAMPLERS has more in common with THE SEARCHERS than it does FISFTULL OF DOLLARS, complete with the implied racism of a white man having to come to grips with the world changing around him, clinging to those old traditions even if it kills him or those he loves. It does, and like FEDRA WEST the end results are emotionally shattering on a personal level rather than the morbid exhilaration of watching Clint Eastwood ride off into the sunset on a wagon load of bodies.
Gordon Scott's performance is somewhat thankless, however. Along with a rehash of BUFFALO BILL this was his only western after the Peplum sword & sandal idiom that he graduated into once the Tarzan work dried up. It's too bad he didn't make more of them because he never really developed an identity as a western actor, abruptly leaving the industry after this film's completion in 1965. Legend has it he had his nose broken during a dust-up with a supporting actor during pre-production on a subsequent film, felt that his leading man looks had suffered and withdrew into solitude + obscurity just as the genre was developing it's own voice (Scott spent his final years living anonymously as a house guest of some of his Tarzan aficionados). His casting in the role is arbitrary however and it could have been played by anybody, which is ironic considering that to fans of Italian genre cinema his name is the biggest draw in the cast simply because he made so few films before calling it quits. I would have loved to have seen him in a more rambunctious production.
Sadly the film has also been relegated to what is sometimes called Spaghetti Western Hell, a term used to describe movies that have fallen out of copyright and seem destined to stay that way, though as usual a widescreen presentation might improve one's perception of the results, hence my neutral rating of 5/10. It's certainly not a bad film, the characterizations are somewhat stronger than your average Italo western with an interesting dramatic tension that's usually missing from most examples of the idiom. Unlicensed fullscreen presentations aren't hard to come by, and for Gordon Scott fans it's certainly a must-see experience -- it's is also Franco Nero's first western outing as well, so students of spaghetti westerns will have to seek it out at some point -- though the ending is certainly a bit of a downer for sure. Like, really.
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