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Ringo Carson has a tough life. First, he has a falling out with his best friend, Frank Sanders, after saving Jane, the girl he loves, from Mexican kidnappers in order to extort a ransom from her gunrunner father. Frank goes off to the Civil War. Ringo reconciles with his estranged mother who needs his fast gun to protect her land from greedy land-grabber Daniels. Then Frank returns from...
I love European made westerns and agree with critic Roger Ebert when he describes them as "the new old west". The vistas are different, the faces are different, and the approach to making them is different, even if the plots/stories/characterizations usually turn out to be the same. Which is actually a somewhat amusing contradiction: In spite of how different they are compared to Americanized/Hollywood westerns they have a kind sameness to them that's quite reassuring to fans of the genre. One can almost always count on having the quota of classic spaghetti elements accounted for, and the interest comes from seeing how the various directors, writers, composers and performers arranged the usual elements.
In spite of what a wretched movie it probably is on a formalistic level, THREE BULLETS FOR RINGO appealed to me immediately for a lot of reasons that don't have a lot to do with the film itself, starting with when it was made: 1965 - 1966, during what might be called the "experimental" era of the genre. There is no doubt in my mind at any rate that spaghetti westerns are a genre unto themselves, quite separate and different than the Hollywood John Wayne approach. 1964 - 1968 is a particularly fascinating period from the genre's history because the conventions that would coalesce into the "classic" form of the genre were still being established. Examples of the form from that era have a sort of daring recklessness to their execution that is different from the more mature forms that are regarded as the classics of the genre. The high water mark in the development of this genre are probably Sergio Leone's THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966) and more importantly ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1968), after which Italians no longer necessarily had to prove that they could make an epic western on the same plane of artistic consideration as the John Ford favorites, even if the approach to how they were being made is decidedly different.
So THREE BULLETS FOR RINGO is an example of the genre when it still was evolving from just another offshoot of B grade genre cinema into an art form of it's own, and has what I'd call a typical mid 60s edginess to it that you just don't find in spaghetti westerns after 1968. The cowboys still dress in color coordinated costumes and their grime level isn't emphasized. The interior sets are garishly decorated and lit. The use of exterior locations is minimized, and there is an air of artificiality or make believe to the production that reminds me of playing cowboy as a kid rather than some pithy artistic vision. In many ways THREE BULLETS FOR RINGO has more in common with a classic era episode of "Star Trek" than it does THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY even, which was released in the same year.
There is a different aesthetic sensibility at work here that seems more closely related to the Italian/Spanish sword & sandal Peplum film craze, a first impression borne out by the fact that THREE BULLETS FOR RINGO stars two of the Peplum craze's biggest matinée heroes: the late Mickey Hargitay and big, grinning Gordon Mitchell, who gets to play the town sheriff for a change. Director Emimmo Salvi also got his start as a production designer and writer for sword & sandal potboilers, while composer Armando Sciascia's musical score has little or nothing to do with the stylized approach of the genre heavyweights, i.e. Ennio Morricone. Instead there's a kind of cheapness to the film's execution that is less concerned with making epic impressions than in just filling 90 random minutes.
Notice I haven't mentioned the story, and that's simply because the story really isn't even important. There's some nonsense about desperadoes being paid in gold for a kidnapping and the hidden deed to a ranch or something equally uninteresting. The plot does have a gimmick, however -- an important aspect of the spaghetti approach -- which is that hero Mickey Hargitay finds himself blinded at one point and must figure out a way to avenge a murder without being able to see who he's shooting at (an idea that had already found form in Sergio Corbucci's first spaghetti western MINNESOTA CLAY from 1965, and would find it's ultimate expression in the Tony Anthony/Ringo Starr vehicle BLINDMAN in 1971). And like a good Peplum there is an abundance of what might be termed horror movie elements, most noticeably the repeat use of a wolf call in the background that lends an eerie edge to some of the nighttime scenes.
The Peplum connection is further established by what is essentially a Veil Dancing scene, which in a sword & sandal would be the scene where the hero is treated to wine and victuals by the evil king/queen while his/her troupe of dancing young nubiles perform for their pleasure. Here it's a tribe of local peasant Mexicanos, but its essentially the same thing and as usual the scene serves as a bridge to set up a sequence of torture or suffering. There is an ordeal for the hero to undergo and he must summon his inner resolve to survive, and then nurse himself back into fighting shape for the big climactic showdown.
If none of this sounds particularly original you are correct, though that is half of the appeal of these things in the first place. What makes this one interesting is that it was working to establish that formula rather than simply relying on it, and along with the Corbucci film mentioned above is probably an excellent example of the spaghetti western in it's toddler years, just learning to walk on it's own.
5/10: Available from Wild East Productions on a splendid widescreen DVD release of the full original 100 minute version.
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