Sunday, 28 February 2010

Arizona Colt Returns

Dir: Sergio Martino


The Spaghetti Western genre is littered with pseudo sequels; films which purport to be a follow up to a previously successful one but which, in reality, have no official attachment, only a purloined character or name in the title. So it will come as no surprise that Arizona Colt Returns bares little resemblance to its 1966 predecessor. What is a surprise is that the makers did try to make at least a passing attempt at linking this story with Michele Lupo's original and despite some obvious failings wound up making a reasonably watchable film.

Arizona (Anthony Steffen) and his friend Double Whiskey (Roberto Camardiel) are living outside the town of Blackstone living off the gifts of food and booze provided by local landlord, Moreno. All is nice and easy for the pair until Keene (Aldo Sanbrell) pays a local drunk to testify that Arizona has robbed a stagecoach. Arizona is arrested and hanged but cheats the hangman and escapes. Meanwhile, Keene attacks Moreno's ranch and makes off with the old man's gold as well as his daughter (Rosalba Neri). Moreno offers Arizona a reward to retrieve the girl. He refuses but after Whiskey is captured and tortured by Keene and his gang our hero changes his mind and sets off to put things right. He tracks down the gang and finds the girl but there are more tribulations and surprises afoot and Arizona needs all his skills plus a little help from a pretty barmaid before the game is up.

As I said, the makers of this film did at least make an effort to make links between this film and the original. Just not many. The similarities are short and sweet.

1. The lead character has the same name and maintains his catch phrase of "I'll have to think about that".

2. His sidekick is called Whiskey, provides comic relief and is played by the versatile character actor Roberto Camardiel.

3. Rosalba Neri is in it.

And that's about it. Not a great deal really but, to be fair, a lot more than many 'sequels' of the time managed. Its differences are, of course, far more numerous and so I decided to approach the film, not as a continuation of the original, but as a completely different animal so as to better be able to judge it on its own merits. This proved to be an easy task and one I'd receommend to anyone looking to get the maximum enjoyment from the film.

To begin with Anthony Steffen, fond of him though I am, is no Giuliano Gemma. So accepting Steffen as the same character as the original was always a non starter and it was an automatic reaction to consider this as just another stock Steffen part. One of his big hat rather than little hat ones obviously as it doesn't take long before we get that slow 'looking up from under the hat brim' shot that we all know and love from Tony's many westerns. Approaching the film in this way meant it started paying dividends for me right off the bat rather than being constantly compared to a film which is a personal favourite and which it was never likely to match. It also meant that I started judging it based on what I expect from a good Steffen flick and in those terms it performs pretty well. Apart from the aforementioned 'look from under hat brim' shot we are also treated to the high action quota expected from any Steffen vehicle and, of course, the obligatory 'roll and shoot' moment without which no Steffen film is complete. In fact, the anticipation for the 'roll and shoot' proved to be one of the great pleasures of the film for me and one which the director wisely held out on as long as possible to add that heightened sense of delayed gratification to the patient viewer.

The cast in general is also a big plus for this film. Steffen aside (he is, I accept, an actor not to everyone's taste) we have Aldo Sanbrell getting a decent size part for a change as the chief bad guy and the ever welcome Raf Baldassarre as his right hand man. There is, as mentioned above Roberto Camardiel in a reprise of his role as Arizona's drunken sidekick and the divine Rosalba Neri as the kidnapped daughter of local bigwig Moreno, played by the equally welcome Jose Manuel Martin; an actor whose mention on the opening credits of any film immediately increases my likelihood of enjoyment a hundred fold. For the most part these fine bunch of Spaghetti regulars live up to expectations too. In fact it is only the under utilisation of Miss Neri and the over utilisation of Camardiel that left me disappointed in any way. Neri was often given marginal roles in these films when her greater presence would have been a clear benefit so this comes as no surprise. Camardiel though, is a very versatile actor who can bring a lot to any film he appears in but who tended to split his appearances between wide eyed villains and burly comic relief parts. This is one of the latter and does not show Roberto at his best. For that see his homosexual bandit leader in Django Kill!. Here he is largely irritating and it was noticeable to me that the film got off to a slow start as a result of his domination of the first reel but got much better by the half way mark when his character is wounded and bedridden and Steffen sets off alone to sort things out. At this point the action kicks in proper and we get the pseudo serious film we had been hoping for.

It's also worth noting that it is around the same time that Bruno Nicolai's score markedly improves. For some reason a theme song was written and utilised throughout the film that can only be described and toe curlingly cringeworthy. This is a song which would have even been rejected for the Luxembourg entry for the Eurovision song contest and, in fact, sounds like that is where it may have originated. Any song that has the following lyrics deserves nothing less than an acid bath death. Consider:

I guess I gotta get my gun,
I guess I gotta shoot someone,
Bang bang, Hey yippee yippee ay.

But that's not the half of it. We then get the chorus:

Beng bang bing bang
Bong bang bing bang
Beng bang giddy up eeyay. (repeat)

You get the point. And it needs to be stated that anyone with a weak constitution should consider avoiding this film for this song alone. But if you are made of hardier stuff and can get past this musical monstrosity there is definitely pleasure to be had.

The film has other faults of course. Some of the plot makes no sense whatsoever. Arizona's immediate falling in love with the barmaid, pretty as she is, is one case in point but this is irrelevant stuff really. The film is short and sweet (coming in at under an hour and a half) and delivers some pleasing set pieces while clipping along at a steady pace. In truth, I wasn't expecting anything nearly as entertaining as it turned out to be and Sergio Martino is to be complemented on a decent effort in what was his first of only two westerns. It's certainly not a film that will ever threaten to disrupt the cannon of 'greats' in the genre but I, for one, have sat through much, much worse. Even with that god awful song.

The version I saw was the Koch Media German release which, as always, benefits from a beautiful widescreen picture with Italian audio and English subs. One or two short scenes seem to be of inferior picture quality but overall it is an excellent release of a reasonable film.

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