Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Penultimate Killers

I've been some kind of overdue for sitting down to a heapin' helpin' of the Spaghetti West...so here's a couple I took in recently.

We'll start with The Last Killer (L'ultimo Killer, 1967), a lower budget affair with Anthony Ghidra and Euro-exploitation staple George Eastman.  Now, the title of this Italian oater often has a "Django" slapped in front of it (as in Django - The Last Killer), as it was yet another cash-in on the popular name, which turned Ghidra's original character name from 'Rezza' to yet another in a long line of Django's. (Speaking of changing names, Anthony Ghidra was the stage name for  Serbian actor Dragomir 'Gidra' Bojanić.) 

The story concerns a group of local farmers being persecuted by a wealthy landowner, Barret, whose "business partner" is a deadly gunfighter, Bart (naturally), and his gang; however, Barret hires local gun-for-hire, Rezza/Django, to take out the unstable Bart while keeping his gang. After Bart's gang kills the family of one peaceful farmer, his son, Ramon (Eastman), is fatally wounded by Rezza while seeking revenge. Rezza takes the boy back to his cabin where he nurses him back to health and trains him to finish his plot for vengeance, which inevitably leads to a number of showdowns. 

It's almost 2/3's a strong spaghetti. The first half hour's logic is shaky at best (Ramon's robbed by the hired gang that work for Barret, the man he's going to pay, but this doesn't register before he goes to talk to Barret about why he doesn't have the money?), but once the training begins, Ghidra does a fine job as the wizened gunfighter whose dialogue was reminiscent of a fair few characters played by the great Lee Van Cleef. The rest plays out fairly predictably, but had it shown some of the high atmosphere and theatrics of a Leone or Corbucci, it could've been rather remarkable instead of a second or third tier effort. Also, while Eastman is passable, he lacks a certain earthy quality to be taken seriously as the gun-slinging peone...a role that Tomas Milian played to the hilt in a number of spaghetti westerns.

And by happy coincidence, the second Spaghetti feature I watched, The Ugly Ones (aka. The Bounty KillerEl precio de un hombre, 1967), did contain a strong performance by Milian. This is the only Spaghetti I can think of based on an American pulp novel (also called The Bounty Killer by Marvin H. Albert, not remotely to be confused with Marv Albert). And it contained far more of the tension and drama that The Last Killer almost utterly lacked.

The populace of a tiny town aids an escaped Mexican bandit, José Gomez (Milian), by helping him to take surly bounty hunter, Luke Chilson (Richard Wyler), hostage. The townspeople believe Gomez to be a lost soul forced into a life of crime to survive, but when Gomez's gang shows up intending to take everything they own while destroying their homes in the process, they decide to free Chilson who had been warning them all along that Gomez was not who they thought he was. Helmed by Spanish director Eugenio Martín, who also directed Requiem for a Gringo (another spaghetti I need to get around to), The Ugly Ones holds a great tension that, while it focuses on the unlikable Chilson and the (initially) charming Gomez, relies more on the shift in attitude of the townspeople. The photography of the sandy hills of Almería is strong (with many recognizable locations from other Spaghettis) while the interiors have an almost heavy gothic atmosphere. While still not Top 10 material, The Ugly Ones was an enjoyable effort that definitely fell far closer to the top of the heap than the middle or bottom. 

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