Sunday 30 December 2007

El Puro

Dir: Edoardo Mulargia


Every now and again I discover a film I haven't seen before and know nothing about. This is always a pleasure, no matter how good or bad the film turns out to be. But if the film turns out to be a winner this pleasure is all the greater. I can happily report that El Puro was just such a pleasure; and a surprising one at that.

Edoardo Mulargia's reputation as a director is not exactly sparkling and I have never been a big Robert Woods fan (the star of this piece) so I wasn't expecting a great deal when I sat down to view this one but some friends had recommended it so I wanted to give it a try. What I found was a genuinely interesting film; leisurely paced, disturbing in some spots and full of surprising twists on the genre conventions without straying too far from what we want from a western. The editing was a bit jumpy in places, but on the whole, this is a well made and compelling film.

To begin with, Woods' eponymous character, despite being the central anti hero of the piece is portrayed as something of a pathetic figure. Chronically alcoholic and fearing death at every turn, he is lying low in a sleepy border town, just trying to avoid the inevitable gunmen who seek to make a reputation from killing the once feared gunfighter. He accepts humiliation and beatings and drinks himself into a stupour rather than bring attention to himself and it is only the saloon girl, Rosie, who shows him any kindness. Having recognised him as El Puro, she takes him into her room, cares for him and plans for a future together once she has saved enough money to set them up.

Meanwhile, escaped convict and vicious gang leader Gypsy arrives in the area with his band of killers, child molestors and 'degenerates', looking for El Puro. Unaware that the former gunman is now a pathetic, drunken recluse Gypsy is haunted by his former reputation and is gripped by an all consuming desire to kill his adversary, collect the $10,000 bounty still on his head and take the territory for his own. Gypsy is a psychopathic figure slightly reminiscent of Indio from For a Few Dollars More and his gang are a genuinely nasty bunch, as is shown very early on when Tim (Mario Brega) rapes a young girl and strangles her grandfather during a short drinks stop on their way to find El Puro. No room for ambiguity there. The ensuing drama follows Gypsy's pursuit of his prey, Rosie's sacrifice to protect her man and El Puro's redemption as he faces the gang to avenge Rosie's death.

A straightforward story on the surface but don't be fooled. El Puro offers some genuine surprises in content and holds the interest of the viewer throughout despite its obviously meagre budget.

The cast here all serve up excellent performances. As I mentioned earlier, I am not a big fan of Robert Woods as a rule. Much of his work falls into the category of 'lesser' films and I have never really warmed to his style but he outdoes himself here and turns in a genuinely convincing portrayal of the worn out anti hero; racked with fear, hiding behind a haze of booze in order to survive his pathetic existance. This is his best work, in my opinion, and raises him in my estimation in one swoop.

Marco Fiorini (billed here bizarrely as Ashburn Hamilton Jr) in his only Spaghetti Western I am aware of, is also convincing as the psycho baddie Gypsy. Exhibiting just the right mix of coldness and mania to keep the character compelling. Too bad he didn't make more. He shows real promise in the genre here.

Rosalba Neri is, as always, excellent as the tragic Rosie. Her statuesque beauty commands every scene she is in and she is as effective here playing the part of the 'warm hearted whore' as she is in her more familiar 'vamp' roles. Her savage and bloody death scene in this film has to be one of the most disturbing I can remember. Not as gory as some, but truly graphic in its brutality it is this scene which highlights the twisted pychosis of Gypsy and his men above all others.

This truly is a film about tortured souls and despite its violence and gunplay is based heavily around the pyschological struggles of its protagonists as much as around their actions. El Puro's emotional outpourings to Rosie early in the film set his stall out very clearly and remain as an undercurrent to everything we see from him as the story unfolds. Equally, it is not just Gypsy's brutal acts or the acts of his cohorts that mark him as gripped by evil but rather the way he responds to these actions. Glorying in their depravity; elated by it. One thing is for sure; there are no laughs in this one.

There is a nice musical score though, served up by the wonderful Alessandro Alessandroni. You suspect he was given the brief of supplying something 'Morriconiesque' in a Dollars Trilogy vein and he duly delivered with a theme tune that is a clear mix of Fistful of Dollars and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It works though and is catchy enough to have me whistling it to myself days after watching the film.

Unfortunately, getting hold of a copy of El Puro is not an easy thing. The only current DVD release I am aware of is a french edition with no english options in either dub or subtitles. I relied on the generosity of a friend to supply me with a burned copy from an old VHS release. The picture and sound quality of which were ok without being very good. (not fullscreen but still a bit cropped on each side) But I would urge anyone to try and seek it out if you can. It most definitely falls into the category of 'hidden gem' and will reward those who can track it down.

No comments: