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Condemned gunman Clayton is given a last minute reprieve on condition he murders rancher Matthew for a railway company. Visiting Matthew's ranch, Clayton is unable to bring himself to kill Matthew and leaves, but Matthew's wife, Catherine, believing she has killed Matthew during an argument joins Clayton. Matthew, still alive, and mad as hell joins Clayton's equally angered employers to hunt down the pair Written by
Tom Seldon <elpuro.msn.com>
Another Excellent Monte Hellman Western-Jenny Agutter Fans will Love It
"There ain't no soft-hearted gunfighters" says Matthew Sebanek (Warren Oates) to Clayton Drumm (Fabio Testi) late in Monte Hellman's lyrical western "China 9 Liberty 37" a/k/a "Amore, piombo e furore". The English title reflects the words on a crossroad's sign shown at the start of the film.
Hellman fans will be happy to finally find this film available on DVD, as a 2005 release by Mill Creek Entertainment. Although the IBDb does not yet link to it, Amazon has it listed as "China 9 Liberty 37/Gone With the West". The second movie on the DVD, "Gone With the West" (a/k/a "Little Moon and Old Jug"), is a James Caan-Sammy Davis Jr. western best described as "The Rat Pack on LSD". It is a horrible western made even worse by the condition of the print they used to make the DVD, but it does feature one of the most intense cat-fights in cinema history.
The print for "China 9" is a bit better but suffers from a poor "pan and scan" full-screen treatment and weak audio tracks. It also has some editing glitches, which probably resulted from the need to cobble together a decent print for transfer to DVD. And I suspect the original release was longer than this 98minute version.
Hellman and Oates also collaborated on "The Shooting" and if you enjoyed that effort you should really like "China 9". In "China 9" Oates plays a retired gunfighter mining gold on land he refuses to sell to the railroad. Testi (the best of a long line of English-challenged pretty-boy European actors who worked in the western genre in the 60's and 70's) is hired by the railroad to kill Oates. But the two gunfighters hit it off and Testi refuses to complete the job. In the meantime Oates' wife Catherine (Jenny Agutter) comes on to Testi. They run off together believing she has killed Matthew, but he survives and begins to hunt them down. To add additional complications to the story, the railroad recruits a squad of gunfighters to kill both Matthew and Clayton.
Clayton Drum is good western hero. Although he drinks a lot of cocaine based tonic, he maintains his professional integrity and refuses to sell out to the wild west show promoters or the dime novelists. The world may be changing and making him irrelevant, but he sticks to his principles. "My life is not for sale".
Fans of "The Hunting Party" will find a familiar storyline, Fellini fans will find a nice homage to their favorite director, and Sam Peckinpah fans will find an actual appearance-while a small speaking part it is more than just a cameo.
The action sequences are extremely well staged, although the effects are on the cheap side. The action in the big final showdown scene is totally credible and leaves one wondering why other directors can't exercise their imaginations and come up with equally plausible shootouts. Plus there is an extremely nice twist to the story's resolution that you don't see coming. Finally, Hellman goes out on a slick "mise en scene" shot that actually advances the story a final notch.
"China 9" is an absolute must-see for fans of Jenny Agutter. Hellman liked to give his films an overexposed grainy look (as if the film stock was pushed a couple of steps in processing). Combined with minimal makeup this gave his heroines a strikingly haunting and earthy beauty, check out Millie Perkins in "The Shooting" and "Ride the Whirlwind". Like Perkins, Agutter has never looked better and is more than credible as the catalyst of this love triangle.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
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