Between 1963 and 1988 there were approximately 605 movies made in Europe that qualify as "Spaghetti Westerns", and 604 of them feature scenes filmed in a particular, distinctive valley in Spain (Yugoslavia?) that was the site of a miraculous avalanche or other kind of geologic event untold thousands of years ago. Someday I hope to find that one Spaghetti Western adventure that does not have a single shootout, hell bent for leather pursuit, ambush by hidden Federales troops or Fernando Sancho grilling fresh range turkey over an open fire amidst the distinctive looking spew of white, granite like rocks. Just one.
This geologic feature is to Spaghetti Westerns what Monument Valley is to John Ford, the backlot of Universal is for STAR TREK, or the woods surrounding a summer camp to Jason Vorhees. It's a stomping ground, and one that is re-defined in literally hundreds of movies to be different places that were thousands of miles away from where they were filming. Sartana, Django, Shango, Durango, Ringo, and whoever Richard Harrison was (Joko?) all did their time in these rocks. They are as memorable and real as that giant boulder Captain Kirk fought the Gorn on top of.
I mention the geology because the excellent Koch DVD release of this well made but literally obscure Euro Western by Alfonse Brescia only has German and Italian language options, so I'm sort of following along as best one can without knowing what the hell is going on. There are a lot of dramatic discussions, furious riding scenes and so far two shootouts set amongst the rocks, which also turned up this evening in two movies that both starred Anthony Steffen and Eduardo Fajardo, who must have known their way around those rocks blindfolded. Those guys were pro's, and acting amongst these rocks must have been like playing in Yankee Stadium for them.
This one stars Peter Lee Lawrence, the baby faced gunfighter, and like many of the examples of the form I am drawn to represents a transitional effort between a straightforward Cowboy Movie and what became known as the Spaghetti Western. Spaghetti is often defined by it's preoccupation with style over substance, and while it's pretty easy to figure out what's going on here there is a lot more substance than style. If people weren't talking Italian this could be an episode of Gunsmoke without much work: even Bruno Nicolai sounds like he sort of took it easy on this one, producing a musical score that flavors the movie without really defining it in the usual way one expects. The most startling thing about the film was Rosalba Neri who has her clothes torn from her during an early scene -- anyone who isn't startled by the sight of Rosalba Neri's upper torso freed from the constraints of opaque clothing needs to start snorting meth.
But then it's back to those rocks: Mr. Brescia must have had a specific fascination for them, or maybe there is some interesting story behind why half of this movie consists of panoramic scenes of those damn rocks shot from seventeen different angles to try and make them look like different places. Perhaps it's as easy as they were available to be filmed around without requiring any costly construction or lighting or rent. After all, they are just rocks out in some valley. Set up your camera & start filming, who's to know.
Mind you I'm not complaining, just pointing it out, and indeed having your Spaghetti Western set amongst that marvelous hillside is sort of a certificate of authenticity. Being able to see them with different actors scrabbling around for cover is why we watch the damn things. Brescia is only acknowledging his form, not cowering behind an artifice of reality that might mask the fact that this is just another one of 604 movies that ultimately will all look, sound, and turn out more or less the same, and I find the effect to be somewhat comforting -- Oceans may rise and kingdoms may fall, but if anybody has to ride for their lives in an Italian made Western from the 1960s the chances are pretty good that they will end up on that road which twists between the hills of this rock strewn valley, wherever it really is. And there they go again now.
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