Thursday, August 18, 2011

“One half isn’t any good without the other.”

In looking for info on the next entry, 1966’s Johnny Yuma, I came across a whole lot of stuff pertaining to the TV series “The Rebel” and a Johnny Cash theme song. This spaghetti western doesn’t have anything to do with that series, which ended about a decade before the movie was released. What does that ultimately mean for this review? Nothing! So off we go.

Johnny Yuma (Mark Damon) is a happy-go-lucky gunslinger and gambler who’s picked up the nickname of “Yuma” from a shootout he was involved in there. Johnny likes womanizing, shoots well left-handed, wears a vest as his signature costume piece, favors really bright shirts (that, impressively enough, he changes several times through the course of the movie instead of wearing the same thing over and over), and in some scenes seems to be wearing eyeliner. Huh.

Anyway, Johnny’s uncle, Thomas Felton (Leslie Daniels) owns a profitable ranch in Santa Marco and makes Johnny his heir. This doesn’t please his wife Samantha (Rosalba Neri) one bit since she was hoping he’d make her brother Pedro (Luigi Vannucchi as Louis Vanner) the heir. The two don’t waste any time in murdering Thomas and pinning it on a servant. These two have an interesting relationship. Pedro is a sadistic bully, little better than a simpleton. Samantha is much more subtle in her manipulations and the brains of the duo, mixing cunning with evil. Sexy evil.

Felton invited Yuma to the ranch before dying, so Samantha & Pedro figure they have to take care of him. Samantha sends a letter to an old flame, a gunslinger named Lawrence Jerome Carradine (Lawrence Dobkin). Carradine’s a classy, well dressed gent who like chess, fair play, and has an interesting holster where the gun basically hooks onto the belt with a quick release. He agrees to come because she’s offering a lot of money, but he’s quite bitter about how their relationship ended in the past. Despite the fact that she’s crazy hot.

Carradine and Yuma happen to meet up by chance in a bar brawl and develop a mutual respect for each other, even going so far as to trade guns and holsters without knowing who the other is. Johnny’s also (largely against his will) picked up a sidekick in Sorito; a cowardly, sniveling fellow who Yuma tends to browbeat on occasion because of his big talk.

The stage gets set for some confrontation and a lot of goons are going to end up dead by the end of the movie.

Directed by Romolo Guerrieri and cinematography by Mario Capriotto. The film is very well shot. Scenes are well lit and framed, and there’s a fair amount of nice camera movement. The fight scenes in particular are nice, especially the bar brawl which mixes nice stunts and camera work.

Written by Fernando Di Leo, Romolo Guerrieri, Sauro Scavolini, Giovanni Simonelli, the movie covers fairly standard ground for a western. Family member is murdered for his money, hero seeks to avenge him. People cheat at poker, bar brawls break out, there’s showdowns and shootouts, and the villains are villainous. People expect that in a western, and this movie does those elements very well. The interesting stuff comes about with character interactions. Johnny Yuma’s a lovable rogue but there’s not a whole lot to his character other than being fun to watch and root for. Samantha Felton is a stone cold bitch, sending her lover and accomplice to deliver a letter to Carradine implicating him in Felton’s murder with half of a reward just to get him out of the picture.

The real interesting character arc goes to Lawrence Jerome Carradine. He’s got sad eyes and his past with Samantha is hinted at being painful. Apparently she left him because they were poor. He claims to not have any feelings left for her but its obvious he’s got something still there. On the one hand, he’s willing to work for her, but on the other its pretty clear that he’s all kinds of angry at her for breaking his heart. He’s the wild card of the film, and its quite fascinating to watch how his arc plays out.

One other thing the movie does is not pull punches with some character deaths. Not so much in showing gore and gruesomeness, but in the way that when it happens you go “well damn.” It adds a little more weight to the consequences of character actions, but if I say more, we’re getting into spoiler territory.

Music by Nora Orlandi, and the soundtrack is fairly standard Spaghetti Western fare. Trumpets, guitars, and lots of whistling. The score also has a few comical tags for lighter scenes without getting obnoxious, which is appreciated. I have to add that the theme song that plays at the beginning and end titles is also quite catchy.

There is nothing revolutionary about Johnny Yuma, but that’s not a bad thing. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel all the time. Its quite well shot, has a good sense of humor, brings a lot of intrigue to the table and tells a good, if straightforward, cowboy revenge tale. It does its job solidly with some great atmosphere, acting, and good action scenes. And seriously, Rosalba Neri is gorgeous in this. Totally recommended.

See? Catchy.

Monday, August 01, 2011

“You’re lucky today. I never kill on Thursdays. I promised.”

Ah Spaghetti Westerns. Movies Italians made about the American Southwest in the Italian countryside with mostly-Italian casts and crews and a few American lead actors. The very concept is a bit on the surreal side and I’ll admit before recently, I’ve not seen any of them. Inherent goofiness aside, I suppose its time to change that. Now where to start?
I’ll just be an ass and not pick The Man With No Name Trilogy and instead take one of the Sartana films. Who’s Sartana? From what I’ve gathered he’s another mysterious bounty hunting drifter who’s been the focus of a great many awesomely titled films with several actors playing the lead over time (and several knockoff films of much lesser quality). Guy’s got a cult following. Today’s entry is I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns For A Coffin, AKA C’e Sartana…vendi la pistola e comprati la bara AKA Fistful of Lead from 1970. It’s not one of the “Big 4” of the Sartana movies, but it definitely leaves an impression.

We start out with an impeccably dressed rider sitting down for a lunchtime picnic on his travels and witnessing a stagecoach get ambushed, slaughtered, robbed and a stick of dynamite thrown into the wagon to destroy it. Deciding to investigate, since a bounty he was looking to claim just got shot dead, he throws his canteen up into the air and shoots it, the water from it landing squarely on the dynamite, diffusing it. This told me two things: That Sartana is one hell of a shot, and that it’s going to be THAT kind of movie.

Sartana (George Hilton here as opposed to Gianni/“Johnny” Garko who was the original and definitive Sartana) discovers that the bags of gold the coach was carrying were full of sand. He follows the trail of a bandit leader named Mantas (Nello Pazzafini) clearing out one of his hideouts of henchmen and heading to the crooked town of Appaloosa where the head of the local mining company, Samuel Spencer (Piero Lulli as Peter Carter) and his henchman Baxter (Carlo Gaddi) are looking for hired guns to protect the gold shipments to Dodge City. Sartana quickly finds himself surrounded by intrigue and backstabbing and catches the eye of local hotel owner Trixie (Erika Blanc).

Sartana proceeds to outfox his enemies with Batman-like resourcefulness and planning. Things take another turn when another gunman rides into town; the poetry reading English dandy Sabbath (Charles Southwood) who’s no slouch himself when it comes to elaborately planned badassery.

Directed by Giuliano Carnimeo (as “Anthony Ascot”), there are some interesting camera angles used (mostly spins and whip-pans) that add some different touches. Otherwise, visually the film’s not what I’d call innovative, though still well shot.

Tito Carpi on writing duty and the film mixes equal parts badassery and cheesiness. There’s a lot of entertainment to be found between the occasional cheesy one-liners, Sartana’s crazy preparedness for any given situation, and interesting little touches, like the four-barreled Derringer he carries around and a friendly game of checkers…using shot glasses. That’s badass. Horribly, horribly bad for your, but still pretty awesome.

Music by Francesco De Masi, and you know, its pretty good. Nice and catchy with a fair amount of swagger that fits the character nicely.

Fistful of Lead was a fantastic surprise. Sartana is one hell of an interesting gunslinger and I’m going to make it my mission to track down the rest of these films. Totally recommended both as a Spaghetti Western and as a part of “Cinema of the Awesome.”


Oh, and the disc also contained Trinity and Sartana Are Coming AKA Trinità e Sartana figli di... from 1972. You would think it was connected in some way, but no. It’s not. It’s a long, dull, Buddy Comedy Western about two thieves/bank robbers who get into all sorts of not-actually-hilarious hijinks as they score loot and can’t seem to keep any of it. They pretty much used the names of popular gunslinger characters (Trinity’s another Spaghetti Western badass). The fights are childish (and I presume targeted at a younger audience), the music annoying, and everybody seems to have graduated from the A-Team School of Marksmanship. The one interesting thing it does is make “Trinity” a native of Trinidad, but its really not worth putting up with the rest of the movie. This film really isn’t worth your time, nor is it worth a full review write-up.