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"And my friends - for gold they died"
9 May 2006
I must confess to "umming and ahhing" a fair bit as to whether I really wanted to see this film. I've got nothing against James Garner, but he just didn't say "spaghetti western protagonist" to me. He doesn't have that certain "kill" look in his eye (think Eastwood, Nero, Gemma, Steffen et el). However, having always respected Howard Hughes' "Essentials" book, this was one of the few films that he had covered so far that I had not seen - and his recommendations had generally not disappointed. I am really glad that I did dispel these initial reservations, because Man Called Sledge makes great viewing from beginning to end.

Luther Sledge (Garner) is introduced to us as he enters a bar with one of his cohorts. Leaving his colleague to participate in an ill-fated card game, Sledge reunites himself with his lover Ria (Laura Antonelli). After a night of passion (lucky man!) he is woken by the sound of a gunshot. He returns to the bar to find his partner dead, and forced to defend himself against the killers. An old timer witness (John Marley) confirms that Sledge has merely defended himself.

Sledge and the old timer soon cross paths again, with the former assuming that he is being tracked due to the price on his head. However, it soon transpires that the old man has been spying on a delivery of gold. This gold is transported by a posse of armed guards and stored in a top security prison overnight. The old man recounts how he spent time in the jail, with his cell sitting side by side to the safe.

The lure of the gold is too much for Sledge, and he is soon devising a scheme to get his hands on the horde and allow him to settle down and lead an honest life with Ria. And what better way to get access to the treasure than to find ones self imprisoned in the jail......

A simple yet highly enjoyable idea for a story, with double crossing aplenty and a cracking soundtrack. If truth be told, I am still not completely sold on Messrs Garner and Weaver in the spaghetti genre, but the film itself more than makes up for such minor grumbles. There are some great scenes, with Sledge's wilful imprisonment (with some very shady characters forming his prison mates) a particular highlight.

Highlighly recommended, and grasping at a possible "must view" berth.
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One eccentric character too many, but a great view
2 November 2005
Any film with a title as memorable and eye-catching as "Heads You Die, Tails I Kill You" has a lot to live up to. Luckily this one does.... well, for the first half at least.

The story centres around George Hilton's character named "Halleluyah" (thus the films alternative title "They Call Me Hallelujah"). He has been hired by Mexican general Ramirez (Roberto Camardiel) to steal jewels from the army, allegedly to help fund the revolution.

The beginning of the movie is very strong, as Ramirez is led to the firing line by the army, to Ciprani's fantastic score. Some onlookers are already grieving, but proceedings are intervened when Halleluyah appears with his very novel machine gun. Great stuff.

The plot has more twists and turns than, ummmmm, a very twisty turney thing! It is not just Halleluyah searching for the jewels, but a secret agent disguised as a Nun (Agata Flori), the Russian Alexei (Charles Southwood) and a gang of arms dealers led by Fortune (Paulo Gozlino).

Whilst the movie is a real roller-coaster of a ride, it does reach new levels of stupidity with the introduction of Alexei. As I said at the beginning of this write up, the film doesn't disappoint - it just (in my opinion) has one eccentric character too many. This makes the second half just a bit too farcical to me at times.

Most of the best scenes are based around Halleluyah's interaction with the gang - particularly near the beginning where disguised as monks they successfully steal the jewels (and soon face a confrontation with "Brother" Hallelujah). There is also a hilarious scene in which our hero poisons the gang's food, resulting in much belly ache and diarrhoea enforced swift exists! As far as the cast are concerned, Hilton makes a good leading man for the less serious westerns. Regular spaghetti stalwart Federico Boido is also well cast as the weasel like gang member Slocum.

I would definitely recommend this film (despite my reservations about the Russian!). It is a well plotted, good fun view, with enough double crosses and twists to keep you interested and entertained throughout.
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Nero stands out in watchable western
20 October 2005
Set in 1830's Texas, Erastus 'Deaf' Smith (Anthony Quinn) is an ageing but trusted spy for the president, despite the obvious handicap of being a deaf mute. His friend and companion is the sexually charged Spaniard Johnny Ears (Franco Nero), seemingly on a constant mission to obtain another notch on his bed post (or should I say, someone elses!). In fact, unlike your usual Spaghetti Western hero, he is probably more likely to be found in bed than in a bar brawl or gunfight.

The two have been sent by the president to halt the uprising down south, where a rebel by the name of Morton is rallying a rebellion to create independence and domination, with the help of German backing.

The whole emphasis of the story is the great bond between Nero and Quinn, which is quite enjoyable throughout. Comically, Johnny Ears is constantly throwing stones at the laid back Smith in order to get his attention. Ears' relationship with the luscious local whore Susie (Pamela Tiffin) is also a fine display of character play, as their interplay changes from flirtation to sexual tension, and from lust to love. Hell, by the end, Ears seems willing to quit his womanising ways and settle down with the blonde beauty.

There are entertaining one-liners throughout (all obviously left to Nero, who is in fine comic form). As for Quinn, the whole idea that a deaf gunhand can survive and be held in such esteem is entertaining in itself (as he walks away completely unaware of the explosions metres behind him, and sneaks up on opponents oblivious to the fact that the bells on a whores garter - given to him whilst he awaited the return of the promiscuous Ears from the local brothel - are jangling together).

Aside from these highlights, the film is fairly average fare. At times Smith's inability to communicate can be as frustrating to the viewer as it must be to Smith himself. The Director does however highlight this disability to some effect, with silence at any time when the story is shown from Smith's eyes. Too much weight is also placed on the final action-packed climax, which goes on for an age with a maximum explosion count (although it does contain a priceless moment when Ears is unable to operate the enemies' machine gun - a skill mastered to great effect by Nero's Django).

In summary, this is an entertaining little film, high on cheese but low on substance. And there are days when that is exactly the sort of "popcorn" movie that you want to watch. If you are in that mood (I was) you will probably enjoy it (I did!). But it is definitely more "watchable" than "recommended".
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The Hills Run Red and Madness Ensues!
17 October 2005
Directed by one time film critic Carlo Lizzani, "The Hills Run Red" is a welcome addition to anyone's spaghetti western collection.

The film begins with ex-confederates Jerry Brewster (Thomas Hunter) and Ken Seagall (Nando Gazzalo) fleeing by stagecoach from soldiers following a successful heist. They agree that the only chance for escape is if one of the partners bails out with the cash. To decide who should get away the two draw cards, with Brewster the unlucky loser. Seagall promises to look after Brewster's family before leaping from the stagecoach. He successfully hides with the money, whilst Brewster is captured and imprisoned for five years.

On his release, Brewster returns to his now derelict family home. He finds a diary from his wife, and learns that she has been living in poverty during his absence, struggling to bring up their son alone. Seagall had shunned them, keeping the money himself and starting a new life under the name Ken Milton.

Brewster screams out his intention for revenge, and is soon faced by gun-hands sent by Seagall. Luckily for him, an ageing gunman Winny Getz (Dan Duryea) is on hand to help out - a mysterious character that is never fully explained (although some assumptions can be made that I won't spoil here!) but acts as Brewster's "guardian angel" throughout the film.

Learning that his wife has died and his son is missing, Brewster decides to settle his score with Seagall. On beginning his search he discovers that Seagall is attempting to drive out the local inhabitants of Austin, and in particular the leading light and saloon owner Brian Homer (Geoffrey Copleston). Aided by the demented Garcia Mendez (Henry Silva) and his gang. To confront Seagall and get his revenge, Brewster is forced to infiltrate the gang.

"The Hills Run Red" certainly has some interesting characters. Silva plays Mendez as a black clad demented psychopath. Hunter's lead role is not too far behind in the madness stakes (presumably bought on by that five years stretch, which appeared quite a gruelling and cruel imprisonment). Lets just say that both have some serious issues!! Of the two, Silva is particularly convincing, and his is the stand-out performance of the film. Hunter meanwhile could be accused of over acting at times here, although it is still an enjoyable display. Duryea's portrayal of the mysterious Getz also merits much applause.

The love interest is provided by Nicoletta Machiavelli as Seagall's sister Mary-Ann. Constantly having to dismiss advances from Mendez, her attraction to Brewster is immediate.

Music is courtesy of one Leo Nichols (better known as Ennio Morricone to you and I). In truth it is not one of his better scores, but still adds great atmosphere to the film, as one would expect from the master. It just does not have anything to make it unique, and is not as memorable as his more heralded efforts.

All in all "The Hills Run Red" makes for a great viewing. At times it can be quite brutal (such as the saloon massacre). And how I winced as Brewster's tattoo is cut from his arm whilst he is awake! But it is a gripping story, well directed and well worth watching.
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Yes its as bad as they say - but it doesn't make it unwatchable!
5 October 2005
"Ah aha aha ahaaaa - they call him Captain Apache".

"Well any film that provides you with an opportunity to hear Lee Van Cleef singing not just once, but twice has got to be worth a viewing" I thought to myself. "I'm sure it can't be as bad as I've been told". Well in truth it IS that bad. But it doesn't make it unwatchable! Lee Van Cleef plays an Apache Captain within the Army that is sent to investigate the murder of a Commissioner, and discover the meaning of the dying man's last words "April Morning".

It plays like a murder mystery in a western setting, with numerous characters introduced throughout that appear to have heard the phrase "April Morning", but are either attempting to solve the riddle themselves, or are shot before they can speak. These include gunrunner Griffin (Stuart Whitman), the blonde temptress Maude (Caroll Baker) and the equally teasing Rosita (Elisa Montes). And from a plot perspective, that is pretty much it (well, without solving the mystery that is!). Yes, it sounds very simple, but in actual fact the story is quite convoluted.

The soundtrack is hysterical - the title track in particular being so bad that you just love it - with Lee Van Cleef narrating to a tune so catchy that it would put professional purveyors of pop to shame! And you still get his rendition "April Morning" at the end of the film to look forward to.

Whilst it is quite poor Spaghetti Western fare, and a perfect example of the deterioration of the genre during the seventies, it does have three main factors that make it quite watchable :

1 - Lee Van Cleef himself - although this is a real LVC by numbers effort, the man has a screen presence that can rescue even the worst of films.

2 - The afore-mentioned theme tune.

3 - Caroll Baker and Elisa Montes (thats just the male hormones working! And anyway ladies, you get the bonus of a near naked Lee Van Cleef, so no accusing me of gawping!).

Aside from this, there are some really good moments (Captain Apache insulting the two twins, the death of the Mexican General (played by Jose Bodalo) and a handful of other scenes that I chuckled at at the time but have since left my mind). At times the editing between scenes was quite poor (at one point jumping from Captain Apache in bed with Maude, to them discovering the hanging body of the key witness). Well hung!

Don't let me put you off watching it, because it is an example of a film being so bad its good. I would never have imagined however that Lee Van Cleef crooning would be the highlight of a film!
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Haunting Morricone Score is Highlight of Comedy Western
30 September 2005
Ah, such beautiful music!

This film opens with a classic sequence. A stagecoach is attacked by a gang, with all the passengers brutally massacred. Cue Morricone's haunting soundtrack as the camera focuses on the dead, and in particular the face of a blonde girl. A hand brushes the dust from her face,and the camera pans up to show the sorrowful face of Billy (Giuliano Gemma). A truly moving scene, but made particularly so because of Morricone's music.

In a way, this opening sequence is quite out of place with the remainder of the movie. The rest is a light-hearted affair, based around the partnership of Billy and Larry (Mario Adorf). Billy is a smart, world-wise man, whilst Larry is not gifted with the greatest amount of intelligence. This is a perfect foil for Billy, who is a convincing conman and successful in getting the better out of his gullible partner throughout the film (including robbing him of his entire life savings).

The action really hots up when the character of Roger Pratt (Federico Boido) is introduced properly (until this stage, he is purely the face of the gang leader from the opening ambush). He is a brutal man, tracking down Billy on behalf of his father Samual Pratt (Anthony Dawson). The second half of the movie concentrates on this pursuit, with Samual also arriving on the scene and proving to be as barbaric as his short-fused offspring.

Director Giulio Petroni (of "Death Rides a Horse" fame) adopts a similar style to the one used in his later Milian cast "Life is Tough, Right Providence?". It shares its episodic structure, and "clever man/thick man" partnership. Anyone that has read my other reviews will probably have noticed that I do not generally like the more light-hearted westerns. However, I did very much enjoy most of this particular film (the same could not be said of "Providence" incidentally).

Gemma does not look as comfortable with the more comedic role as he does to that of an angel-faced gunman. But he still looks and acts the part - as likable in this film as ever. Adorf meanwhile is suitably oafish (in a role that would have been perfect for Bud Spencer), as Boido and Dawson are villainous.

A particular highlight of the film is a superb scene as Billy cons his way into the house of a beautiful Widow (played by the frankly gorgeous Magda Konopka). Another very beautiful Spaghetti Western actress, part sorrowful and part sexually teasing.

As my review closes, I must dwell further on that opening sequence. The background to this massacre is never fully explained - perhaps those killed have been unfortunate acquaintances of Billy, and suitably punished by the Pratt gang. I don't know. And, in its serious nature, it perhaps feels like a scene that doesn't really belong in this film. But... if you watch it for no other reason, then watch it for this powerful prologue (even close your eyes just to hear Morricone's score). I am also quite confident as you sit through the whole film that you will find other scenes that you will enjoy.
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A welcome and superior return by Tony Anthony's Stranger
23 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Tony Anthony returns in his "Stranger" guise, in a film that totally eclipses the qualities of its predecessor, "A Stranger in Town".

To the sound of Cipriani's superb score, the Stranger rides horseback (astride the interestingly named "Pussy") through the desert, protecting himself from the sun's rays with a pink parasol, and greeting a passing traveller. The sound of gunfire alerts him to a nearby ranch, where he finds the traveller lying dead. A great gunfight scene ensues, and three dead bodies later he learns of a bandit gang's gold heist plot.

The gang, led by En Plein (Dan Vadis) are known as the Treasure of the Border, on account of the size of the bounties that rest on their heads (although quite how some of his goofy comrades manage to generate such a vast reward is beyond me). They successfully ambush a stagecoach, which is soon revealed to be made of solid gold. The Stranger tracks down the gang, in an effort to claim the bounty, assisted by a deranged local preacher with a pocketful of fireworks.

The story itself is very simple, but delivered in a great style. Like the other films in the Stranger series (well, those that I have seen), it combines the feel of the Leone films (in its poncho clad protagonist and its morricone-mimic soundtrack) but injects an extra dosage of humour. This humorous side is particularly well crafted (such as the enjoyable scene at the beginning of the movie, when the Stranger is forced at gunpoint to dig a grave both for the dead traveller and himself). "Returns" does not borrow so heavily from the Dollars trilogy as "A Stranger in Town", but still its clear where its influences lie. And why not - it does it very successfully and makes for great viewing.

Anthony is never going to exude the same level of cool as Eastwood's Man With No Name, and therefore deliberately plays the role in a more clumsy comical fashion. But there is still no denying his character's appeal - or his fast-draw and accurate gun-play. The supporting characters also really add to the enjoyment, with Vadis particularly well suited to the role of the merciless gang leader.

Perhaps the highlight of the film though is Cipriani's score which, as mentioned earlier, owes more than a passing nod to Ennio, but aptly captures the mood and feeling as the action unfurls. It's one of those soundtracks that could make even a bad film worth watching.

Anthony's Stranger series eventually collapsed into the medieval farce that is "Get Mean". But this particular episode of the Stranger's adventures is a truly enjoyable and highly watchable western. And one that nearly reaches the highlights of Anthony's finest hour - Blindman. "Returns" is the best of the Stranger films that I have seen, and one that I would definitely recommend.
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Italian Made Old Style Western - Worth a Fair Few Dollars
20 September 2005
Confederate soldier Gary O'Hara (Guiliano Gemma) and his brother Phil are released from a prisoner of war camp following the end of the civil war, the barrels of their guns removed by their captors. Gary returns home to his wife Judy (Evelyn Stewart) whilst Phil is not ready to live such a quiet life and heads off west.

Gary soon decides to follow his brother to the town of Yellowstone, and to find work to support his family. On arrival, his combat prowess is soon put to practice, which brings him to the attention of local banker McCory (Pierre Cressoy). McCory offers him a ranch and money if he can kill local outlaw Blacky, which he agrees to do. Gary is taken to the local saloon and advised that Blacky is the man at the bar with his back to him. On confrontation, Blacky turns around, firing his gun - and revealing himself to be Phil O'Hara. McCory and his men open fire, leaving both brothers dead.

By a stroke of good fortune, Gary survives the ambush, his life saved by the single silver dollar in his pocket. He sets out to discover why McCory wanted Blacky dead, and to aid the local villagers that are suffering at the hands of a group of marauding bandits. Meanwhile, Judy O'Hara travels to Yellowstone in search of her husband, and soon finds herself in the unwelcome company of McCory.

As with Gemma's role in his two Ringo films, the character of Gary O'Hara would sit quite comfortably in an American made western. This is no bad thing, and he does always make for a likable hero. The same point could be levelled at the film in general - it is a likable flick, with a true old American western feel. That said, Ferrio's enjoyable whistled score clearly sits within the euro-western genre, and it does share a level of violence with its fellow Italian movies.

The story itself has a few clichés (for one thing, a fair few screen characters have been saved over the years by an inanimate object conveniently placed on their person) but does that really matter? Clearly not. And there are some great scenes, particularly both the opening (great gun-play as the brothers are released) and final sequence. From a personal perspective, I was also intrigued to note a great visual likeness between Evelyn Stewart and my own girlfriend!!! Not that that should be of any real relevance to this write up.

In summary, this is one of those nice easy to watch movies (legs up on the sofa, with a wine or beer for company), and certainly worth a few silver dollars of anyones money.
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Weird but wonderful - a unique Euro-western experience
8 September 2005
Now, there are many euro-westerns that would fit into the "weird" category, but woh this one is weirder than most!

The story starts with Whity Selby (Thomas Hunter) being confronted by a solicitor whilst leaving a saloon (inside which he has just thwarted an attack by killing all three opponents with one blast of his three barrelled pistol - one of many gimmicky weapons in his arsenal).

The solicitor advises Selby that his father, who had died ten years ago and he had never met, had left him his goldmine as part of a will. The document is accompanied by a picture of a young girl. Selby travels to Laredo to reclaim his father's legacy, and to identify the identity of the girl.

On arriving at the goldmine, Selby encounters two men on a similar mission - Etienne Devereaux (Nadir Moretti), a man of french origin with magical powers of magnetism (honestly!) and Lester Kato (James Shigeta), a kung-fu kicking oriental. As the three men fight it out for what they consider rightfully theirs, they are accosted by an old local man, and it soon becomes clear from the ensuing discussions and matching wills/photos that the three are unlikely brothers. Their father enjoyed the company of women, and many of them!

The men are informed that their father fought bitterly to retain his land, but had been forced out of Laredo by powerful landowner "Julius Caesar" Fuller (Enrico Maria Salerno) - a man obsessed by the history of the great roman leader, likening him to the power that he himself possesses. Fuller is quite possibly the strangest character of all the euro-westerns that I have seen - he lives in a replica palace, has a penchant for young girls, surrounded by scantily clad ladies from around the world as his lolls about in his toga. He is guarded by a gang of pistoleros all clad in black (reminiscent of the equally bizarre Django Kill which, incidentally, I believe this film predates).

All in all "Death Walks in Laredo" makes for quire compulsive viewing! Not just because of its unique and bizarre take on the genre, but also for its interesting story with its subtle twists and turns. Thomas Hunter is pretty convincing in the main character role, but not as enjoyable as Salerno, who hams his Caesar role in a style reminiscent of Jack Nicholson.

There are also some moments of great humour - with some priceless dialogue as the old man explains why it has taken ten years for the wills to reach the brothers. The confrontation between the two ladies is also very pleasing on my male eyes!

Can I recommend this? Well, of course! But there is probably as much a chance of you hating it as loving it. Personally, I had a love in.
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Predictable yet enjoyable western train heist flick
5 September 2005
The Five Man Army are "The Dutchman" (Peter Graves) and four colleagues from previous escapades - Mesito (Bud Spencer), a big brute of a man that can knock out an opponent with a big thump to the top of the head (so, the usual Bud Spencer character then!); Samurai (Tetsuro Tamba), a ruthless sword bearing oriental; Captain Augustus (James Daly), an expert with dynamite; and Luis Dominguez (Nino Castelnuovo) an acrobat turned outlaw and the "baby" of the group.

The Dutchman has gathered the clan with the promise of a $1,000 reward if they can successfully carry out a robbery of a train (bearing gold to the value of £1 million) on behalf of the Mexican Revolution. The catch is that the train is heavily guarded by soldiers, with the military posted at regular intervals along the journey to resist any attempted theft.

This film is an Italian/American co-production, and it does bear traits of both nations particular western styles. It is at times highly entertaining, mostly pretty dumb but always very watchable. The highlight of the movie is the contrasting characters, who are all very likable (albeit fairly clichéd). James Daly in particular has a good role as the ageing Captain Augustus, constantly doubting his (and his colleagues) ability to carry out the heist.

The actual robbery itself takes up nigh on half an hour of this movie, with very little dialogue. The scene is well filmed though and does not drag too badly at all. It also features a great scene where the bodies of the armed soldiers are waved about frantically as a signal to the nearby patrolling military that all is well.

Ennio Morricone's score is rousing (of course), but does sound like a muddled jigsaw of many of his other works. It fits perfectly, however.

It may sound like I am being critical of this film, and I guess that there are a few shortcomings with it. But if you ignore its occasional predictability and just take it for what it is - a highly entertaining yet simple western - you are pretty much guaranteed to enjoy it from beginning to end. I know I did.
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"Fair" film playing off the Cliché of the Dollars TRilogy
25 August 2005
"A Stranger in Town" is the first of Tony Anthony's "Stranger" films - a character heavily borrowed from Eastwood/Leone's "Man With No Name". As I understand it, the aim of these films was to take the European vision of a western to a wider American audience. Which it successfully achieved.

The Stranger (Anthony) arrives in town to witness a brutal massacre of Mexican soldiers by a gang of bandits led by Aguila (Frank Wolff). Before the execution, Aguila assures the soldiers that he is "a fair man" - a regularly uttered pronouncement throughout the film. The death of so many men demonstrates otherwise.

The Stranger agrees to work with the bandits, who are now clad in the soldiers uniforms, to help steal gold from the US army. The plan is successful, but the Stranger is soon double-crossed once he arrives to collect his 50% share (despite Aguila being "a fair man"). After a beating, he escapes with the gold, and is pursued by the gang......

Whilst there are obvious similarities between this movie and the Dollars Trilogy - in particular a Fistful of Dollars - this is an enjoyable film in its own right. It lacks the class of Leone, and the cool of Eastwood, but Anthony and Director Luigi Vanzi never tried to mimic these aspects, concentrating instead on the action and violence. Indeed, Anthony's Stranger never appears invincible, and remains likable throughout what is a very simplistic story.

The star of the show however is Frank Wolff - a man that does not know the meaning of a bad performance. Based largely on Volente's Ramon, Aguila is equally as barbaric, but just a little more clumsy. And "a fair man!". Of course!

There is very little dialogue in the whole movie, playing on the cliché of what we (or I imagine, more realistically, what the general American audience of that time) expect from a Spaghetti Western. Quite intentionally. The fact that there are few words puts great pressure on the quality of Benedetto Ghiglia's score - which thankfully stands up to this task.

All in all, A Stranger in Town makes up for what it lacks in class and story with entertaining characters and good fight sequences. The beginning sequence where the Mexican soldiers are led into town by a group of singing monks - who soon cast off their robes and reveal themselves as Aguila and his gang - immediately persuades the viewer that this will be an enjoyable film. The final confrontation between the two main stars is equally as effective.

It is not (and doesn't pretend to be) one of the greatest Spaghetti Westerns. In fact, Aguila would probably proclaim it as a "fair" film. And this time he wouldn't be lying. Good fun, and recommended.
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A rarity! A Django film that stands up proudly to the class of the original
18 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Whilst Viva Django is one of many Spaghetti Westerns to steal the "Django" moniker following the success of Corbucci's classic, this particular outing is a rarity in that it both captures the mood and effect of the original and actually contains the same character.

The story presumably acts as a prequel to the Corbucci movie, with Django (on this occasion played by Terence Hill) hellbent on revenge following the murder of his wife at the hands of Lucas (George Eastman) and his gang. Django was sold-out by his former friend and politician David Barry (Horst Frank).

Years have passed and Django is acting as the local hangman, whose job is to execute 'innocent' locals who have been framed by Barry for the thefts carried out on his behalf by the Lucas gang. Both are unaware that Django is faking the executions, and recruiting the condemned for his act of revenge.

Few of these men can be trusted however, and whilst Django's back is turned (during the rescue of the innocent wife of one of the group members from the hangman's noose) a number sabotage Django's plot and beat Lucas' gang to a proposed ambush of a cash shipment. I shall ruin the plot no more.......

This is perhaps Terence Hill's greatest role (albeit in effect playing Franco Nero playing Django) as I personally often find his slapstick styling of later movies difficult to grasp. Here however he oozes class, clad all in black and convincingly playing the character second only to the Man With No Name for pure charisma. The rest of the cast is also a real treat - with both Eastman and Frank as brilliant as ever. Eastman's characters alway manage to be quite likable regardless of their bad morals and actions, whilst Frank just oozes with evil. Two of the great great supporting actors of the genre.

Ferdinando Baldi's direction also merits much credit, managing to both keep the feel of Corbucci's original whilst also firmly stamping the movie with his own "comic book action" trademark. The final scene in the graveyard deserves particular mention - a real "fist in the air" moment of excitement, with some great dialogue also.

Gianfranco Reverbi provides a really recognisable score, and the title theme track "You'd Better Smile" will stick in the head for days. And quite rightly so! Whilst not all the Django films are worthy of much mention at all, this particular Django is one that should most definitely be viewed. Great entertainment.
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A rare and little known gem from the spaghetti western genre
15 August 2005
This is an extremely entertaining film from a director (Angelo Pannaccio) and cast that I know very little about.

Burton (Michael Forest) returns to his ranch to find his family have been raped and murdered by a gang of cattle rustlers, with his daughter Susie the only survivor. Vowing revenge, Burton soon encounters a lone gunslinger, known as Whistler on account of his flute playing, who indicates that he saw the faces of the culprits. Burton does not realise that Whistler was part of the gang that night, and agrees to pay him to help him track down the murderers. The gunslinger has his own agenda, and agrees to Burton's proposal.

The two start to track down the gang, but Burton soon becomes suspicious once Whistler starts to kill the gang members before they can talk.

This is a very dark film throughout, with the grim scene set right from the outset as the gang graphically attack the family ranch. The movie's black theme is suitably set by its compelling guitar driven soundtrack, with its quirks owing as much to the horror film industry as it does to the Italian western.

At times the editing leaves much to be desired, but lets face it that can be quite an expected (and somehow appealing) trademark of the spaghetti western genre. It certainly doesn't detract from the feel and mood of the film.

The character of the flute playing Whistler is a very interesting one. Despite his prowess with the gun (and of course the flute!) he always seems to demonstrate a level of vulnerability. And on the English soundtrack rarely speaks without a nervous laugh.

In summary, this film is gripping throughout, with its dark and bitter mood continuing until its great climax. It is not a movie that I had previously heard of, and in such cases I am usually dubious as to the likely quality. However, this turned out to be a really pleasant surprise, with a compelling yet grim and downbeat feel. For those searching for a hidden gem, I would definitely recommend it as a film to try and unearth.
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A better film than I think it is
8 August 2005
Based largely on the Kennedy Assasintion, Director Valerii's The Price of Power is quite a hard going, albeit very well made, film.

President James Garfield (Van Johnson) arrives by train in the state of Texas to debate his political reforms. His anti-slavery stance is extremely unpopular with the locals, particularly the corrupt Sheriff and the banker Pinkerton (Fernando Rey), who secretly plot his assassination, knowing that his probable successor can be bribed by incriminating evidence that they hold.

Ben Willer (Giuliano Gemma) discovers that his father has been murdered by the Sheriff, because he knew of the plan to kill the president. Despite his efforts to provide some protection, the assassination is successful, with Willer's Negro companion (a staunch believer of the President's cause) blamed and imprisoned. Willer attempts to seek justice, assisted by the President's aide Arthur Macdonald (Warren Vanders).

In truth, Valerii's film is an outstanding piece of Italian cinema, with a fine performance from Gemma, and an enjoyable Bacalov soundtrack. Despite this, I struggled to be really convinced by the movie, even though it is so highly respected in euro-western circles. I think in particular I found that some of the more typical Spaghetti Western fare (such as the rifle hidden in the crutch of the disabled newspaper employee) sat uneasy within the context of the film.

That said, there were a handful of great scenes, such as the failed initial assassination attempt as the President's train arrives, the flashback and the court sequence. But in the end, I couldn't help but find the whole thing disappointing - probably because I expected so much.
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Confusing yet rewarding movie, straight out of the bargain bin
29 July 2005
This film starts in spectacular fashion as a gang of rebels gun down the entire congregation of a church, young and old, including the priest. The barbaric nature of this opening continues throughout "A Town Called Hell".

The majority of the movie is set in the Mexican town of Bastardo, which is under the leadership of Don Carlos (Telly Savalas). A hearse arrives at the gates, with an empty coffin and two passengers - Alvira (Stella Stevens), a blonde widower clothed in black, and her mysterious unnamed companion (Dudley Sutton). She is searching for the man that killed her husband, and offers Carlos gold if he will hand over the guilty man - who she believes to be named Aguila.

The town priest (Robert Shaw), who we immediately recognise as one of the leaders of the rebels that carried out the massacre in the first scene, appears to have a knowledge of Aguila's identity. When the town is overrun by the army, also looking for Aguila, the Colonel (Martin Landau - the other rebel leader from the prologue) threatens to execute all the town unless the identity is revealed. The Colonel advises the Priest that he swapped sides, as the army provided better rewards than the rebels could ever offer.

Much of the film centres on the strained relationship between Shaw and Landau's characters. Shaw's whiskey guzzling priest is particularly well played and likable, with a guarded past that is revealed throughout the film. Albeit a fairly short lived role (facing execution by one of his own men about half way through the film), Savalas' character is very enjoyable to watch, both calm but merciless. There are also small parts for Spaghetti regulars Fernando Rey and Aldo Sambrell.

Whilst the film is pretty barbaric throughout, with the town's inhabitants showing little honour or mercy for their own kind (just ask Don Carlos!), it also has a dark and mysterious feel - particularly well portrayed by the widow and her mute protector.

It is fair to say that I am often sceptical of a film's worth when I find a copy in a bargain bin or for £0.01 on ebay. I purchased "A Town Called Hell" for a single penny on ebay, and therefore thought it was likely to be a lesser western, and became even more sceptical when I discovered its British involvement (oh me of little faith, but I couldn't picture my homeland creating a western successfully). I was pleasantly surprised to find a well thought-out movie, with a well developed (if sometimes confusing) plot, and some great character acting. Well worth a view.
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Companeros (1970)
Spaghetti heavyweights Franco Nero and Tomas Milian join forces in fantastic Mexican revolution escapade
28 July 2005
With a dream cast of Franco Nero (as Swedish mercenary Yod Peterson aka "penguin") and Tomas Milian (Mexican rebel Vasco), a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and Sergio Corbucci at the Directors helm, this film was always likely to deliver. And it delivers 100%.

The story centres around the town of San Bernardino, and a fight for power between General Mongo (Bodalo) and Professor Xantos (Fernando Rey). Xantos, a pacifist with a young and dedicated following, has been imprisoned at Fort Yuma by the Americans. His absence has left the town, and its safe, at the mercy of Mongo. However, without the combination for the lock, he is unable to access the wealth of the town.

Mongo enlists the help of Peterson to rescue Xantos, for both the combination code and probable execution. Vascos is sent to accompany him, having already suffered much humiliation as a result of an earlier confrontation with the Swede. This makes for a very uneasy relationship.

A brief fracas with Xantos' followers at a hold-up on a train enables Peterson to escape from Vacos' close watch. However, he is soon relying on his companion to rescue him, after he is captured by a former partner John (Jack Palance) - who he had previously betrayed some years ago to save his own skin. This betrayal had resulted in John being nailed to a tree, and relying on his faithful pet falcon, Marsha, to rescue him by biting off his hand. Not surprisingly, John holds a grudge (as well as a wooden hand!).

On escaping John's grasp, the two make an assault on Fort Yuma in an attempt to free Xantos from the Americans. As the adventure really heats up, they're paths will soon cross with the American army, General Mongo, Xantos' followers and, of course, John and Marsha.

The first third of the film is perhaps a little slow and episodic, but does successfully reveal the characters of Peterson and Vasco to the viewer (with fantastic character play by Nero and Milian respectively). Once the background is established, the film soon explodes into action with a series of exciting and highly effective chases and battle sequences. Corbucci at his best.

Probably the strongest element of this movie however is its subtle use of humour. Much of this is provided by the chemistry between the two leading roles, but the laughs really reach a crescendo with Peterson and Vasco's final liaison with Jack's falcon Marsha. Just one great scene in a film full of them.

It is no doubt a crime to have got so far into my review without mentioning Jack Palance's performance in much detail, because his performance as the unhinged, marijuana smoking John is scene stealing. Quite possibly one of the greatest villains of all the Spaghetti Westerns I have seen.

Music is provided by Morricone, and as always the score is a perfect accompaniment to the action - both memorable and rousing. In fact it always amazes me how the man could be so consistent! In summary, this is a must view film from the ever reliable Corbucci. And my mouth waters at the prospect of watching his other Mexican revolutionary movies ('A Professional Gun' and 'What Am I Doing in the Middle of a Revolution')..... very shortly, hopefully!
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Classy western with more than a little nod in the direction of Mr Leone
22 July 2005
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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Z-list Django and Sartana stand face to face in combat
13 July 2005
Django (Tony Kendall) returns to his hometown of Tombstone to find his brother, local banker Steve, hanging from a noose. Steve has been executed following accusations that he had teamed up with Sartana (George Ardisson) to empty the safe of the bank, and had assisted his new colleague in the murder of bank manager Mr Singer (Bernard Faber). In reality, Singer had entrusted Steve with the task of confronting Sartana, and paying him to leave Tombstone rather than raiding the bank. A disgusted Sartana refuses this offer.

Believing his brother to be innocent, Django sets out in pursuit of Sartana to discover the truth. The two heavy-weight protagonists stand face to face in combat, before learning that all is not as it seems with Singer's murder, and team up on a quest for justice and revenge.

On locating a copy of "Django Against Sartana" I was immediately convinced that it would be a low budget, fairly average flick, name-checking the established characters in a vain effort to generate interest. But there is no denying that my squinting eyes display the threatening figures of Django and Sartana in front of me. It must be said however, a recent visit to the opticians had highlighted that I have clearly needed glasses for sometime (yet my vanity had prevented it). Reaching for said specs soon confirmed my original expectations - this Django is certainly no Nero (and not even a Hill or Steffen), and Sartana is no Garko. We are talking Z-list Django and Sartana here! Only the vague costume resemblance provides a hint to the identity of these feared gunfighters.

Despite my obvious mickey-taking, I must say that I did really enjoy this film - probably largely because it was such an unintentional parody of the genre to which it belongs (it certainly wasn't for the wooden character acting!). The story did provide some great entertainment though, even if it was fairly predictable. I did also enjoy the effect of the freeze-frame grand entrance of the main characters.

However...... I couldn't hold my hand to my heart and recommend it to anyone. And I guess, truth be told, I never thought I would be able to.
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Good spaghetti western tale, but with direction often lacking in substance
9 July 2005
This film starts with that Almeria backdrop that we love so much. Ringo (Anthony Steffen) and his colleague Davy (Eduardo Fajardo) rescue Fidel (Armando Calvo) from a certain death at the hands of a posse of gun-hands. Their motive? Well it had nothing to do with Fidel's safety, but an assumption that there must be a reason that the gang would be so keen to pursue him.

This intuition is well founded. Once they have rescued Fidel for a second time - after a full on bar brawl - they discover that he has a map tattooed on his back. It turns out to be just half of a map for hidden gold, with the second half on the back of a crook-turned-sheriff following a pact whilst the two were captive in prison. The aptly named "Trikie"(Frank Wolff) has overheard the conversation, and insists on joining the three on the trail of the gold. The group successfully track down the Sheriff, who double crosses them - the first of many double-crosses as they follow the map and the film develops.

"Ringo - Face of Revenge" is pretty watchable, although in truth fairly average spaghetti fare. With not a hint of revenge! The story itself has many twists and turns that successfully kept my attention, but the actual delivery of Caiano's direction seemed often lacking. I couldn't help feel that certain scenes were simply added in to cement the gaps in the story, and help the viewer realise what was actually going on (but unfortunately the cement was weak and lacked substance).

That said, there are some great scenes - my favourite being the moment when the captured group decide that the only way to prevent the double crossing sheriff from learning the secret of the other half of the map is to burn the tattoo off of Fidel's back. Ouch! As far as the acting is concerned, Fajardo really excels in the role of the eccentric Davy. Both Wolff and Steffen on the other-hand both appear quite subdued (although, I guess that was largely Steffen's style).

If you enjoyed "Some Dollars for Django" you will probably enjoy this movie also, as it has a similar feel (and not just because of Steffen's lead role). To me it remains in that group of westerns that I quite enjoy watching, but would be in no particular rush to watch again.
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Shock horror euro-western delivers on all fronts
1 July 2005
The Stranger (Tomas Milian) arrives in the town known by the local Indian tribes as "The Unhappy Place" to see the bodies of his recent partners in crime hanging in front of him. Flashbacks have already revealed that he had been betrayed and left for dead by the gang, led by Oats (Piero Lulli), following a theft of gold from the army.

The two most prominent townsfolk, Tembler (Quesada) and Hagerman (Sanz) have split the stolen gold between them, and are keeping it hidden from Sorrow (Camardiel), a larger than life bandit whose "muchachos" dress all in black and, lets say, presumably enjoy the pleasures of men. Throw into the pot the mysterious figure of Hagerman's imprisoned wife, who beckons the Stranger from her cell window, and you have a very strange, yet apt, setting for this highly entertaining and frankly bizarre movie.

In fact, this film is straight out of horror territory, from the Stranger's first screen appearance - clawing his way out of an open grave - until its bitter ending. The mood is ably assisted by Ivan Vandor's score, which adds suitable suspense and tension, particularly during the scenes portraying Hagerman, his wife and her relationship with the Stranger.

The cast is quite superb, particularly Sanz in the part of the treacherous Hagerman. Milian meanwhile plays the Stranger role competently but fairly static without the mysterious charisma of a Nero or Eastwood. I am a huge fan of Milian, but much prefer to see his characters portray a little more humour (as he does so brilliantly in Face to Face and the Big Gundown, to name just two performances).

At times graphic (like the notorious scalping scene, or the sight of Oaks' body being torn apart by the locals desperately clawing at the gold bullets within his barely alive body), at times obviously low budget (such as the scene in which the Stranger is tortured, by being subjected to blood sucking bats and other creatures), but captivating throughout. One of the "must view" euro-westerns, in my view.
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The Ugly Ones (1966)
Great things follow the slow beginning
29 June 2005
This film was oh so close to nearly losing me. Maybe my attention span was limited - it had been a pretty tiring day after all (but thats another - and highly uninteresting - story!). But anyway, for pretty much the first third of the movie I was convinced that it was notable purely for being Tomas Milian's first foray into the Spaghetti Western genre that he is so renowned for (and rightly so).

Milian plays Jose Gomez, an outlaw treated with reverence by the small population that make up his hometown. He is freed from captivity by Eden (Zalewska), who looks at Gomez with wanting eyes, seeing him as a local hero. However, bounty hunter Luke Chilson (Wyler) is on his trail, and arrives at the town ahead of the escapee, to the wrath of the very protective townsfolk. When Gomez does arrive in town, with a group of bandits at the helm, the locals begin to experience that he is no longer the great man that they believed him to be, and begin to witness first hand why he has the bounty on his head.

Whilst the opening sequences are slow and stretched to near yawning point (even for me and, hey, I like slow films!), the second half of the movie more than makes up for it. The film really hits the heights as the locals witness the transformation of Gomez' character. Milian plays this role expertly, demonstrating clearly the promise that was to blossom fully in the very near future. Wyler's bounty hunter on the other-hand is far more restrained, yet apt for the character he portrays. There is also a fine supporting cast that includes Spaghetti favourites Mario Brega and Frank Brana, and a pretty powerful soundtrack provided by Cipriani.

All in all, I am relieved that I sat through the slow beginning, because the film does have so much going for it once it does get going. May day improved considerably. Well worth viewing.
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Much heard soundtrack to little known western
22 June 2005
As soon as the Forgotten Pistolero starts, the theme tune is instantly familiar - with the whistled score probably surpassed only by Morricone's Dollars trilogy soundtracks, or maybe the Magnificent Seven, when it comes to being used as the backdrop to western sketches everywhere. It is made all the more beautiful by the mountainous Almeria backdrop.

The film itself is equally impressive. Directed by the prolific Ferdinando Baldi, it begins with Rafael (Pietro Martellanza) being pursued by a gang of Mexicans. Surviving the ambush (to the sound of that glorious theme), he finds himself finally locating child-hood friend Sebastian (Leonard Mann).

Sebastian is informed that the woman he believed to be his mother, and who had raised him since a child, had in fact rescued him as an infant from the brutal attack and mass murder that had cost his father his life. Rafael tells him that this attack had been arranged by his real mother (Paluzzi) and her lover.

Sebastian's sister, who had witnessed the massacre all those years ago, had since fallen in love with Rafael (for which he had been severely punished and hounded). The extent of this punishment becomes clear later in the movie when, whilst captive, he is forced to lie next to a beautiful lady, and taunted that he now only has his muscles to prove his manhood.

This revenge story follows a different path to the majority of Euro-westerns, with emphasis on the tale rather than action (that said, there are some great action scenes). It is a highly captivating and atmospheric movie, gripping from start to finish. Well worth the watch but - warning - you'll be whistling the music for days!
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Fine fictional account of the Belle Starr Bandit Queen legend
15 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This film is a rarity in the euro-western genre, in that it has a female lead. Whilst I know very little about the real life "bandit queen" Belle Starr, I gather that the story itself bears little resemblance to actual events (although the rumoured father of her first child, Cole Younger, becomes her rustling partner Cole Harvey in this movie).

The story itself begins with a game of poker between Belle (played by the fantastically foxy Elsa Martinelli) and equally renowned bandit Larry Blackie (with George Eastman as endearing as ever). Having already won all of her money, Blackie offers Belle a final game with her body being the only thing she has left to gamble. She throws the game, disposing of her best cards and leaving her at Blackie's mercy (and bed). From here on, the story concentrates on the relationship between the pair - which is sometimes loving, sometimes rough, but always displaying great rivalry.

The film is in two parts, the first relaying Belle's past to Blackie in flashback, with the second half containing more action as the two rivals each aim to loot a transportation of diamonds.

The flashbacks in the film are particularly engaging, as you gradually learn how Belle Starr gained her bandit queen reputation. However the second half is also a good view (with Blackie's torture at the hands of the Pinkertons a particularly well filmed scene). Even when the film does reach the occasional point of mediocrity, the fine interplay between Eastman and Martinelli prevails.

Not a classic, but all in all a highly enjoyable western worthy of my recommendation.
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He is your Pallbearer
8 June 2005
Sartana (played superbly by John Garko) has one of the greatest entrances on screen of all the Spaghetti protagonists. When accused of looking like a scarecrow, he utters the classic line "I am your pallbearer" before gunning down all the bandits facing him. A classic moment, with the black clad Sartana setting the scene perfectly for this Gothic tinged western.

The story itself is a very complicated affair, and one which I'm not completely sure I followed from beginning to end (I blame the wine consumption). In simple terms, the story evolves around a stagecoach robbery and murder (with the culprits themselves hijacked and massacred by Lasky - played by the ever brilliant William Berger - and his gang). Enter Sartana, in the midst of further double crossing and more double crossing. And cue bloodshed aplenty!

Sartana combines the gadgetry of Parolini's later Sabata movies, with the darkness and brutality of Django. There are classic performances from Garko and Berger together with the familiar faces of Fernando Sancho and Klaus Kinski.

The success of Sartana is clearly demonstrated by the string of sequels (and name-checks) that followed. And rightly so, the character is in equal parts cool, mysterious and deadly. Much like the film. I just wish I understood it better (time to put away the bottle, and rewind the video perhaps).
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Obscure western is watchable, but not life changing!
31 May 2005
Texas Ranger Johnny Ringo (Brett Halsey) is sent to investigate and expose a counterfeiting ring in the town of Eagle Pass, following the theft of plates from the Federal Bank. The town is owned by Jackson (Dessy) who, along with his gang of hoods and other respected townsfolk, is responsible for this counterfeiting operation.

As well as owning the town, Jackson "owns" local performer Annie (Polyn), who has a secret relationship with one of the counterfeiters, Ray Scott (Fuscagni). Once Jackson becomes aware of this affair, he plans for Ray to be the man that swings on a noose for the crime. But Ray is also the key man in Ringo's investigation, and the link to identify the real culprits.

This is quite an obscure western that feels more American than European, although the soundtrack is clearly one of the Spaghetti Western genre (albeit, by no means with the class of Morricone). The cast play their roles quite competently, and in particular the relationship between Ray and both Annie (his lover) and his sister Christine (Loy) provides an effective and integral part of the story.

The film itself is fairly watchable, although letdown by some seriously bad editing (this may, of course, be restricted to the version I have seen). There are moments where I became quite hooked on the story, and throughout believed that some great excitement may be ahead. But in truth, it never really reached this pinnacle. In summary "Kill Johnny Ringo" is quite a passable way to spend a few hours, but is in no way going to mount a challenge for the best film you have seen (either ever, this year, or quite possibly this month!).
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