Category Archives: Spaghetti Westerns

A Town Called Bastard (1971)

town

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Where is rebel Aguila?

In 1895 a rebel leader named Aguila (Robert Shaw) massacres a small Mexican town. Ten years later he resides as a reformed priest in a town run by the corrupt Don Carlos (Telly Savalas). One day a beautiful widow named Alvira (Stella Stevens) arrives looking for the man who killed her husband during the massacre from 10 years earlier. Don Carlos agrees to help her despite having no idea who the killer is, or that it might have something to do with the priest. Things get more complicated when the army colonel also arrives determined to seek out justice by finding the elusive Aguila.

The film has many issues most of which is it comes off as a spaghetti western wannabe that has some of the entertaining elements of those films, but put together in a clumsy fashion. The town really doesn’t resemble an actual place, or a destination that people would live in since there only seems to be about 4 buildings, a church, a salon, and a couple of shops, making me wonder where all the townspeople that are seen milling about resided. There’s also an overuse of dubbing. Al Lettieri, who can be a spectacularly great villain especially in his unforgettable performance in The Gatewayand while he plays another bad guy here, but he gets wasted since his voice is dubbed with a high pitched one that takes away from his menacing quality. Even Robert Shaw has his voice dubbed from time-to-time, which is quite disconcerting.

The narrative is confusing as it jumps back and forth from the present to the past, but doesn’t make it clear that it is doing this, so you’ll see scenes with Shaw at the beginning as a rebel leader and then suddenly he’s a priest without explaining how the two are connected. The Fernando Rey character and the actor playing Alvira’s husband look too much alike making me think, especially since the story jumps between different time periods, that the characters were one and the same with one being slightly younger with the scenes done 10 years earlier though that ends up not being the case.

The cast does help particularly Savalas who seems to relish playing the bad guy and although he’s done this type of part a few too many times is still perfect, but his character gets killed-off too quickly and way too easily, which is a big letdown since his presence helps drive the movie. He gets replaced in essence with Landau, who plays a sociopath in the same over-the-top way, but a good film needs only one crazy not two men playing the same character in the same type of way until it becomes like a caricature.

Shaw is of course quite good though his character for the most part hangs back and doesn’t do much until near the end. The opening scene where he leads the attack on the village has energy, but the shot of a long line of spit oozing out of his mouth as he shouts orders left an icky lasting impression. Stevens is quite beautiful in a natural way without the help of make-up and this was the last film where she had a youthful look as she appeared increasingly more middle-aged after this one.

The nasty subtext was the one thing that makes it fun. There’s a lot of stuff shown here that they just couldn’t do today like the opening bit where the townspeople are viciously gunned down inside their church and the gunmen than laugh and celebrate while the dead, bloody bodies lay at their feet. The scene where a desperate man gleefully hangs his own, innocent wife in an attempt to save himself is memorable and it’s this type of element that keeps it interesting because you just don’t know what it’s going to show next and in the process reflects the ugly savagery of the true, old west.

Alternate Title: A Town Called Hell

Released: June 17, 1971

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Robert Parrish

Studio: Benmar Productions

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Import Non-English), Amazon Video, Plex

Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears (1973)

deaf smith and johnny ears

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Deaf mute saves Texas.

Deaf Smith (Anthony Quinn) and Johnny Ears (Franco Nero) are two special agents hired by President Sam Harris to put down any rebel factions that may try to impede Texas from achieving statehood. While Deaf, who lacks the ability to speak as well as hear, works on bringing down the bad guys by sneaking into one of their hideouts Johnny seems more interested in the women particularly a hooker named Susie (Pamela Tiffin) who he meets at the local cathouse.

These are the type of cheap, low grade, generic productions that end up giving spaghetti westerns a bad name. Had Sergio Leone been put in charge of this it might have been something special, but the director here has a poor eye for detail and lacks Leone’s poetic nuance. The action is poorly choreographed and unexciting and during a shootout inside a darkened cave it even becomes confusing and irritating. The music is loud and blares out melodies that do not reflect the period and the villain is bland and not given enough screen time to be able to create any type of effective menace.

Quinn, who doesn’t speak a single line of dialogue, is fabulous and manages to steal every scene that he is in. Nero on the other hand tends to overact especially with his exaggerated facial expressions. Tiffin, who appears nude from a distance during a segment done near a stream, shows a good campy side especially with the scene where she beats up Nero.

There was an actual Deaf Smith that the character here is loosely based on although the real Smith suffered only a partial loss of hearing and was not a mute. His real-life adventures were much more interesting than the ones portrayed here and the film would’ve done better had it stuck to those.

The movie also suffers from some anachronistic errors including having a scene featuring a Gatling Gun even though the setting for the film is 1836 and the gun itself wasn’t invented until 1862 when it was first used during the Civil War. The prop used to represent the gun looks cheap and flimsy while painted in a garish gold color that doesn’t deserve the Gatling name and only helps to cement this as barely watchable tripe.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Alternate Title: Los Amigos

Released: March 29, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Paolo Cavara

Studio: MGM

Available: None at this time.

Minnesota Clay (1964)

minnesota clay 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gunfighter loses his sight.

Minnesota Clay (Cameron Mitchell) is a revered gunfighter stuck in a work camp prison for a crime he didn’t commit. One day he manages to escape and tracks down Fox (Georges Riviere) the man who withheld evidence that would have gotten him off. Fox is now the self-imposed sheriff and extorting money from the citizens of a town in order to keep them ‘safe’.  One of the townspeople is Minnesota’s grown daughter Nancy (Diana Martin) although she is not aware of this and local rancher Jonathan (Antonio Casas) is the only other person that does. As Minnesota tries to figure out a way to exact his revenge while also saving his daughter and townspeople from the reign of terror he realizes that he is losing his sight and doesn’t have much time before he goes completely blind.

For a basic spaghetti western this isn’t too bad. It certainly is no Sergio Leone masterpiece, but it fortunately isn’t the cheap looking, boring mess that some of the ones on the very bottom end of the genre are. The pace is quick with enough gunfights to appease any western fan. Director Sergio Corbucci manages to camouflage the low budget with a background and sets that look reasonable authentic. The plot is nothing special, but has enough twists and turns to keep it mildly interesting although having the Estella character (Ethel Rojo) one minute set-up Minnesota to be killed and then the next minute express her undying love for him gets a bit too dizzying.

One of the chief assets is amazingly Mitchell himself. His acting career started strong in the 1950’s including his critically acclaimed role as Happy Loman in the original Broadway version and eventual 1951 film Death of a Salesman, but a rumored drinking problem lead to a decline in the quality of roles. By the 1980’s he was lodged into doing a procession of grade Z productions simply for the money including shockingly co-starring in a non-sexual role in a porn film Dixie Ray Hollywood Star. Yet here he still shows to be the solid actor that he could be. He carries the picture well and having him a bit older than the conventional gunslinger makes it interesting.

The final shootout done when Minnesota has lost his sight and must rely completely on his heightened sense of hearing is well done and the best moment in the film. It lasts for almost fifteen minutes and has a certain surreal quality due to it happening in the middle of the night and neither man able to see the other. It might have been more interesting though had the character lost his sight at the very beginning, which would have made the entire story more distinctive as the majority of it is pretty ordinary and forgettable.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: November 12, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 25Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Sergio Corbucci

Studio: Harlequin International Pictures

Available: DVD (Mill Creek)

A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die (1968)

a minute to pray a second to die

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: A gunfighter suffers seizures

Clay McCord (Alex Cord) travels to New Mexico where the Governor (Robert Ryan) promises amnesty to all outlaws. Clay finds himself at odds with the other outlaws who are traveling to the state for the same reason, which causes him to get involved in numerous gun fights and although he is an excellent shooter he also suffers from strange seizures that temporarily paralyze his arm. When he has these fits it makes him completely vulnerable to all those who might want to take advantage of him. He tries to keep this condition a secret while looking for a Dr. which he hopes can cure him, but the other outlaws get wind of it and start to track him down.

One of the biggest problems with this movie is that Director Franco Giraldi is no Sergio Leone and you spend the whole time wondering how much better this would have been had Leone directed it. Giraldi fails to have Leone’s visual style or lyricism. Everything is staged and photographed in a very conventional unimaginative way with a lot of choppy editing. The one fun and interesting scene that the film does have Giraldi screws up and it entails Clay as a young boy watching a group of cowboys laughing at his father and dragging him through the mud while he suffers an epileptic seizure. The crying boy becomes so distraught that he steals one of the men’s guns and then turns around and shoots them all dead. Instead of taking advantage of the scene’s irony and showing the men with shocked expressions and even possibly having them getting hit and falling down dead in slow motion Giraldi instead immediately cuts away the second the boy starts shooting, which doesn’t allow the scene to gel and stand out as much as it should.

The music is another issue and in desperate need of Ennio Morricone’s distinctive orchestral sound. Carlo Rustichelli the composer here has a score that places too much emphasis on the violins and creates a heavy, droning melody that would be better suited for a drama. The dialogue is also dubbed. I know a lot of Italian filmmakers did this especially during this era. I’ve never been sure why and I have never liked it although with Dario Argento’s horror movies it somewhat works because it heightens the surreal effect, however here it cheapens the production and cements it as a definite B-movie.

Cord doesn’t have the charisma or presence of a leading man. His deep voice and laid back delivery makes him sound like he is only half awake. He glides through the film with too much of a detached and unemotional persona. The biggest problem though was the character. This is a man who has no idea when his seizures will occur and knows full well the vulnerable position they will put him in and yet he continues to behave in a brash, cocky way with everyone he meets and singlehandedly tries to right every wrong when it would have been much more practical to simply lay low and blend in with the crowd.

Nicoletta Machiavelli is a beauty and although I wasn’t so sure about her acting her face was so appealing that I wanted to see her in more scenes and was disappointed when she got killed off so quickly. Veteran actor Arthur Kennedy who wears a wig gives his usual stalwart performance as the town’s marshal, but it is not enough to save the picture. Ryan is okay as the governor, but I found it hard to believe that a man who looked like he was clearly getting elderly would be able to punch out as many guys as he does let alone even one of them.

There are quite a few gun battles particularly during the first half, but they are generic and the final one really isn’t that exciting. The ending peters out with a whimper and this spaghetti western wannabe does nothing but make you long to go back and re-watch a classic one.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 1, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes (The DVD cover says 1Hour 58Minutes, but they’re wrong.)

Not Rated

Director: Franco Giraldi

Studio: Cinema Releasing Corporation

Available: DVD