Dir: Giuseppe Colizzi
Terence Hill and Bud Spencer became synonomous with the later, parody dominated phase of the Spaghetti Western cycle with their highly successful teaming in the Trinity films of Enzo Barboni. But their first teaming in a western was a very different affair. One in which their 'little and large' relationship was given its first opportunity to show itself but which was an altogether darker piece of work and one far more fitting to the grittier sensibilities of the 1967 Spaghetti.
A train is robbed of a $100,000 gold shipment, apparently leaving all the passengers and crew dead. But one survives and informs the insurance company of how it was carried out. Hutch (Bud Spencer) recognises the plan as being one which only notorious bandit Bill San Antonio could be capable of. But San Antonio is supposed to be dead. Killed in a gunfight with a mutual acquaintance, Cat Stevens (Terence Hill). Hutch sets out on behalf of the company to track down Cat in order to locate San Antonio but on hearing of the robbery Cat leaves Hutch behind and goes looking for the bandit himself. San Antonio (Frank Wolff) is, as Hutch suspected, still alive and well and living with a new gang just across the Mexican border; sitting on his cache of gold and terrorising the local villagers. So when Cat, and later Hutch, arrive to confront him a three way showdown is inevitable and a lot more people are likely to die.
God Forgives...I don't was Colizzi's first stint in the director's chair but his hand here is surprisingly assured and accomplished. The very first two scenes of the film; the opening, where the train rolls into a station carrying a car load of corpses and it's follow up, a moody and tense poker game in a smokey room instantly set the tone for the whole film and mark Colizzi as a director who knows what he is after. Well shot, superbly timed and exuding just the kind of look and feel your average Spaghetti fan eats up with a spoon this is top draw stuff and worthy of some of the best in the genre. And it doesn't let up there. The story, which at times is quite complex, involving flash backs and mystery, is played out well and a good balance is maintained throughout between the action and its set up. As a result it keeps the viewer engaged and satisfied while never stooping to a constant crash, bang, kablooey onslaught. This is all to the good.
Having a good cast working at the top of their game never hurts either. Both Hill and Spenser perform to their very best here and it is easy to see why theyu became such a successful and long running double act. But for all the success they went on to have, for me, this is by far their best outing as a team. Spencer plays Hutch with the determined but not too bright air that suits him perfectly and thankfully had yet to descend to too much clenched fist head banging antics. While Hill is super cool as the athletic and laconic Cat, showing off his gymnastic skills as much as his shooting ones and acting as the perfect foil to Spencer's dog like demeanour. But despite Hill and Spencer's fine performances it is Frank Wolff who is the star turn of the piece. Bill San Antonio is one of the best bad guys of the genre and Wolff inhabits him completely, exhibiting cool calculation and arbitrary violence in equal measure. Ruling his men with acidic sarcasm and condescension as well as unpredictable cruelty he swaggers in every scene, eliminating those who no longer have use with the casual stroke of swatting a fly. Wolff is supreme here and nowhere better than in a scene in which he appears at a saloon to meet Hill. Arriving to find Hill sat at a table in the corner he calmly states "too many people here" and instantly guns down the only two other inhabitants of the room, the bar man and a hapless customer. This casual dishing out of arbitrary violence is not just intrinsic in his character but seems to speak for the whole genre and by this one act he becomes a metaphor for every proper bad guy who ever murdered with a sneer in the Almerian desert.
The whole thing is also helped along by a good score from Carlo Rustichelli which contains a nice contrast from rousing choral theme to a solo guitar tune, both of which fit the movie very well. And, despite the fact that this is no comedy there are some lighter moments which raise a smile or even a genuine laugh. There is a moment where Rosa, a fading prostitute, looks lovingly at the photo of Tito Garcia in her locket and laments " he was such a good looking man". If you've seen Tito you'll get the gag.
Colizzi went on to make two more films featuring Hill and Spencer in the roles of Cat and Hutch. Ace High followed in 1968 while Boot Hill completed the trilogy the year after. Both these films have their moments and Ace High in particular benefits from the reliable talents of Eli Wallach but neither film, in my opinion, match the quality of this first outing for the team. Watching Hill and Spencer together it is easy to forget that this was their first film as a duo. They have an obvious chemistry and the style of each, in this setting, compliments the other perfectly. It is a film I have seen a number of times and can honestly state I like more and more with every viewing.
The version I watched of this was the Dutch Filmworks DVD. It runs at around 108 minutes which makes it as close to uncut as you could ask and is in the full 2.35:1 aspect ratio with english audio. The picture is reasonable but has not been fully remastered and shows a number of faults from the original print but this is no problem and is a pretty good release although I believe it is now out of print. If you can find a copy though it is worth getting and is probably the best English friendly release available.