Dir: Nick Nostro
There are a number of actors whose consistantly high performances are also matched by their consistantly wise choice of material. Whether through sound judgement or sound advice they manage to maintain, and often increase their reputaions through choosing one solid vehicle after another. Richard Harrison, sadly, is not one of those actors. His career is peppered with roles he really should have steered clear of and as a consequence his is a filmography with as many duds as hits. But occasionally he made good choices and in these films he proved himself to be a solid leading man with qualities which suited him to a number of action genres and particularly to the western. One After Another is not only one of his better choices, I would argue it is very possibly his best.
At first sight the ingredients don't look overly promising. Nick Nostro is not exactly a household name in the spaghetti western director stakes, the budget is clearly on the lower end of what was already a 'seat of the pants' genre and the rest of the cast (apart from a couple of stand out exceptions) doesn't inspire great hopes. But somehow from these modest roots a very solid piece manages to emerge which will reward any fan lucky enough to get hold of a copy of this often under rated film.
Town banker Jefferson (Jose Bodalo) outwits blackmailing local bandit chief Espartero (Jose Manuel Martin) by robbing his own bank and blaming the crime on the mexicans. Things are complicated by the arrival of Stan (Richard Harrison), a lone Pistolero with an unknown connection to Ross, a bank clerk murdered during the robbery. Jefferson seizes on the chance of getting Stan to wipe out the mexicans, thereby removing any evidence of his own guilt but things become even more convoluted once Stan enters the bandits village and learns that all is not as it seems. What follows is a constant stream of cross and double cross with large spoonfuls of revenge, cowardice and intrigue and a smattering of romance and melodrama for good measure culminating in Stan picking off Jefferson and his henchmen 'one after another'.
The twists and turns in this film are relentless to the point where you come to suspect that the creative team behind it decided to shoe horn every possible genre element into it they could. Evil town banker, Mexican bandits, a stolen fortune in gold, revenge for a murdered family member, a lone gunmen working between two warring factions, a vengeful woman and a cowardly, treacherous ex army officer who sold out his own men for his own personal gain. All of these items are seen in countless spaghettis throughout the period. To have them all working at once in one story and still have some room left for a couple of original touches too takes some doing and I take my hat off to them for managing it so well.
One of the original touches here is having the tough, taciturn gunman lead character wear glasses throughout the film. A spectacled pistolero is not a common sight. In fact I can't recall a single other film which features a four eyed tough guy hero of this type. But it works extremely well and allows for some moments of genuine wry humour. The scene early on when Stan is confronted by Jefferson's chief henchman in the saloon and loses his glasses after taking a number of cracks to the jaw is an excellent case in point. Obviously used to such occurances, our man reaches into his coat and unfolds, Colonel Mortimer style, a selection of replacement specs before choosing a pair and returning to the affray with eyesight restored. Gladly, the film does not rely on humour for its merits however. It is a gritty and action filled drama with all of the above mentioned elements keeping it moving along at a decent pace and if we are in any doubt that this is no parody western there is some torture and the massacre of women and children thrown in for good measure. But as in most good spaghettis there is an element of ironic and somewhat black humour underlying the piece which contrasts the violence and allows for a balance of light and shade.
As mentioned above, this film does not enjoy an obviously stellar cast but the three main protagonists all carry their parts very well and more than make up for the lack of other names. Jose Bodalo is excellent as usual as the cowardly and treacherous banker while Jose Manuel Martin makes the most of one of his rarer leading roles. Although not required to act out of type, he manages to combine menace with sentimentality in his portrayal of the Mexican bandit Escartero. Martin is always a welcome face for me and it is a shame he didn't get to play lengthier parts more often. He always added value to every film he appeared in for my money and was worthy of greater use.
But this is primarily Harrison's film of course and he carries it well. Never an actor of great range, the role of Stan suits him admirably and allows him to play to his strengths. Taciturn without being wooden, his character is an interesting mix of self serving loner and justice seeking avenger and his bespectacled look gives him an air of intelligence and vulnerability which contrasts well with his gun toting ruthlessness. This was an ideal mix for Harrison as his physical size and presence was offset by a slightly childlike face which I always felt hinted at a softer side to any character he played. It certainly works for him here. I like Harrison. Some of his films, Vengeance and Gunfight at Red Sands spring to mind, are excellent examples of solid spaghetti fare which he works very well in. But he was ultimately an actor who relied heavily on the work being done around him in order for him to shine. He was never an actor who was likely to transform a weak film into a classic merely by his presence or charisma the way the very best of his contemporaries were sometimes able to do. And he sometimes made poor decisions as to what films to make. (Acquasanta Joe springs to mind in this context) But he was a good genre actor and in the right vehicle could be excellent value. One After Another was just such a vehicle and it brought the best out of him.
The work of the creative team behind the camera is equally solid. The direction of Nostro is competant if not inspired and I certainly wish he had made a few more westerns in his shortish career. He is remembered more for his peplums with Dan Vadis or the couple of spy pictures he made but on the evidence shown in One After Another he could have contributed a lot more to the western genre if he had been more prolific. Likewise, the music delivered by Berto Pisano is catchy and effective if a bit derivative and hinted that he too might have been better remembered in the genre with a few more outings.
As an all round piece One After Another is a well constructed example of the genre. It is no masterpiece by any standards but it is well paced, full of action and has enough twists and turns to hold anyone but the severist critic's interest for its duration. It is gritty and on the dark side for the most part but its odd moments of humour work well and are in keeping with the film's general tone. If I were to aim a single criticism at it I would say it borrows most of its ideas from other works but all genre films do that to a certain extent (that's why they are considered part of a genre) and what it borrows it uses well. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend to all fans.
The version I saw of this film was a DVD-R obviously taken from the Japanese SPO release. A beautiful widescreen print if occasionally a little dark, it does the film proud.