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Lee Van Cleef,
Classy western with more than a little nod in the direction of Mr Leone
From the opening sequence, as a sepia camera lens captures the pursuit of a single rider by a gang on horseback, I just knew that this film was going to demonstrate class. And, although the story itself probably has little to set it apart from many other films within the Euro Western genre, it more than makes up for it with its effective use of camera work and great character portrayal. Yes, this film has class in abundance.
So to the story itself. Having witnessed her husband Ben (a brief but welcome appearance by Benito Stefanelli) executed by the Rogers family, Maria (played by stunning french actress Michèle Mercier) seeks revenge on the killers. Unable to rely on her two oafish brothers-in-law to assist, she seeks help from Ben's best friend (and, as we find out, Maria's former lover) Manuel (Robert Hossein).
Manuel enlists himself as a member of the Rogers gang, enabling him to capture the only daughter. With this prisoner in her custody, Maria has the perfect ransom to deliver a perfect revenge on the Rogers gang. With the scene now set, the bloodshed and twists to the story soon commence.
The character of Manuel is quite unlike any other main western lead that I have seen. Whilst demonstrating an unnerving ability with a gun, there is a definite reluctance to become too embroiled with Maria's plot. His time as a gunfighter by choice has passed - perhaps symbolically shown by him being the sole resident of "Ghost Town". However, his involvement is spurned on by his feelings for her. Hossein, who both played the part of Manuel and directed the movie, plays this solemn and complex character superbly.
Hossein's direction is really eye catching too, with the camera work demonstrating more than a little nod in the direction of a certain Mr Leone (to whom there is a suitable credit in the end title sequence). This is no copycat Leone film however, and firmly stands up on its own merit. Less is definitely more, as the opening scene proves (it must be a good ten minutes before there is any real dialogue. And in reality, when the picture is this effective words are not needed).
In summary, don't be put off by the simplicity of the story, as the way that this film is crafted makes such an issue completely irrelevant. It can stand quite proudly in that top echelon of Euro Westerns, and quite possibly a perfect introduction to the genre to those that have purely seen the Leone movies.
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