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Like THE PRICE OF POWER (1969), which I watched a couple of years back, I've found this to be a hidden Spaghetti Western gem of which I was completely unaware until just a few days prior to purchasing on R2 DVD! Though, ultimately, not quite as weird as DJANGO, KILL IF YOU LIVE, SHOOT! (1967), as arty as MATALO! (1970), or as extreme as CUT-THROATS NINE (1972) which seemed to be the case judging by the few online reviews that I came across in the interim the film is certainly one of the most unusually-styled outings in this most prolific of "Euro-Cult" genres. With its frequent use of ellipses (notably a shock cut to the mangled body of a young woman) and even audaciously moving away from crucial moments (for instance, in the course of a duel), the choice I made to blind-buy DEATH SENTENCE proved to be entirely justified.
The revenge plot is actually quite typical, being particularly reminiscent of DEATH RIDES A HORSE (1967): even the curiously milksop hero (played by the anonymous Robin Clarke and, thus, making for a good contrast with his famous adversaries) looks more than a bit like John Philip Law from that film! Given its episodic structure, the formidable quartet of villains are introduced one by one: Richard Conte (the most sympathetic of the lot as an aging farmer aspiring for stability even if it's coming via the proceeds from a robbery which ends in cold-blooded murder!), Enrico Maria Salerno (as a compulsive gambler who likes to humiliate his opponents but, obviously, finds his match in Clarke), Adolfo Celi (whose unscrupulous gang boss-cum-fanatical preacher may well have influenced Samuel L. Jackson's character in Quentin Tarantino's PULP FICTION (1994) incidentally, he's ingeniously dispatched by way of an ostensibly empty gun which actually contains an extracted bullet that had previously been lodged in Clarke's own thigh!) and Tomas Milian (an especially memorable role for him as an epileptic albino with a taste for anything golden, be it money or women his inherently campy qualities here anticipated some of the star's outlandish later roles in various poliziotteschi!). Though not figuring prominently in the narrative, the three attractive female presences of the film are nonetheless given reasonable characterizations enough to provide the whole with some much-needed humanity, serving as respite from the general bleakness and dominant feeling of machismo. Characteristic of the Spaghetti Western genre, one of the undeniable assets of DEATH SENTENCE lies in the excellent score by "Euro-Cult" stalwart Gianni Ferrio (highlighted by an especially haunting theme tune).
Mario Lanfranchi was a distinguished stage director who worked only fitfully for the cinema; an opera enthusiast, he brought a number of these to the screen but, apart from the film under review, he also made such genre efforts as the erotic drama IL BACIO (1974) and the poliziottesco MERCILESS MAN (1977). In the amusingly theatrical interview included on the Koch Media DVD, he comes across as something of a self-promoter but remains nonetheless a most affable host throughout (and remarkably fluent in English). He mentions a number of interesting anecdotes pertaining to the shooting of the film: the fact that Milian bore him a grudge because he considered Lanfranchi too intellectual; Salerno would only work for a specified number of hours each day and often left the set in mid-sequence!; Lanfranchi felt that the presence on set of Clarke's current girlfriend (Ali MacGraw) was proving an intrusion, so he had her fly back home to New York unbeknownst to Clarke the actor's subsequent fury at this affront came through in his performance, thus effectively achieving just what the director wanted for the character!; the writer/director also hilariously mentions a surreal incident involving a cow that took place at composer Ferrio's house, and which seems to come straight out of Luis Bunuel's L'AGE D'OR (1930)! After viewing this delightful and informative reminiscence (lasting nearly half-an-hour), I look forward now to listening to Lanfranchi's Audio Commentary.
One final note: the DVD, unfortunately, was plagued with a couple of playback glitches freezing at the disc's layer change and occasional audio dropouts during the interview; these were quite glaring on my Pioneer model but, thankfully, proved less conspicuous when I tried the DVD on my other (cheaper) brand of player!
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