Saturday 24 May 2008

Kill or Die

Dir: Tanio Boccia


A violin playing drifter arrives in town and becomes embroiled in the affairs of a pair of feuding families. His killing of the favourite youngest son of the wicked Griffith clan and his budding romance with the eldest daughter of the beleagured Drumonts means that things get a whole lot hotter before they are settled in a showdown at the wedding meant to bring the families together.

Responsible for a handful of Spaghettis, Tanio Boccia can best be described as a journeyman director. Reasonably capable but rarely inspired and usually shackled to a low budget, his work is unlikely to excite anyone looking for a hidden treasure in the genre. Kill or Die certainly fits this profile. Despite its gritty title this is a strictly pedestrian stroll through a conglomerate of cliches interspersed with some reasonable, if not overly invigorating action sequences. The story is based on the 'feuding ranchers' model and has a strong romantic element which gives it something of a traditional U.S western feel. The crusty old man for 'comic' relief and a clean cut younger brother learning how to be a man add to this ambience and then we have the hero's life saved by a cute looking dog for good measure. This may all work in a saturday matinee oater starring Bob Steele or Crash Corrigan but Spaghetti with syrup is a sickly combination and just tends to leave the consumer with a stomach ache and a bad taste in the mouth.

It is clear that the producers were attempting to recreate the success of the Giuliano Gemma films here. The main character turning out to be called Ringo is a clue but that happens in a lot of films from this period that are giving no more than a nod in the direction Tessari's classics. The clearer evidence that we are witnessing near plagiarism is the hero's repeated use of a catch phrase; in this case, "Maybe later, maybe later." This is an unmistakable attempt to mimic the style which had made the original Ringo films such domestic money spinners. Unfortunately, Rod Dana, although not overly bad, is no Giuliano Gemma and Tanio Boccia is definitely no Duccio Tessari. Neither has the panache of the originals and what we are left with is a second rate copy which fails to deliver on all fronts.

This is not to say that Kill or Die is a terrible film. It's just a bit ordinary and falls between the categories of 'decent' and 'so bad it's good', making the final product just a bit forgettable. In fact, it turned out to be so forgettable that, on sitting down to write this review, I realised I remembered practically nothing about it despite having viewed it only a short time ago. I had to watch the whole thing over again (not something I'd recommend to anyone else) in order to be able to write something accurate.

In looking for positives I could say that it is always good to see Andrea Bosic; in this case unusually cast as the honest sheriff. Gordon Mitchell also shows up in a short lived cameo as a black clad hired gun with just enough screen time to fit in a fist fight, a maniacal laugh and a bullet riddled death. Elina De Witt looks OK, if a bit insipid. And Rod Dana, although not up to the grade of the guy he's clearly trying to stand in for, does a reasonable job within the constarints made by the poor script.

On the down side, Rustichelli's score is weak, and badly used, Boccia's direction is no more than adequate and Alberto Farnese (as bad brother Chester) comes off like a pissed off lounge singer more than a mean cow punching killer. All in all, the best that can be said is that Kill or Die is a great title that is not lived up to by the film in general.

But what the heck, not every spaghetti western can be a classic and this one held just enough interest to keep me awake for an hour and a half without thinking about what might be for dinner or wondering what was happening on Gardener's World. And X Rated are to be applauded for putting out a nice quality DVD with english audio on a very clean widescreen print. It's just not a film I could highly recommend to anyone. Let's call it one for the completists among us.

Sunday 18 May 2008

Arizona Colt

Dir: Michele Lupo


Giuliano Gemma created a very successful career for himself during the mid sixties making a series of westerns that showcased his matinee idol looks, athleticism and ability to be gritty and ironic at the same time. These films succeeded, like no others, in marrying action and violence with a certain romanticism and dry humour and Gemma must take the lion's share of the credit as to why these films worked so well. Arizona Colt is one of his best.

Gordo Watch (Fernando Sancho), a bandit Chief in need of new recruits, attacks the local jail and carries off the inmates to his desert hide out. There they are given the choice of being branded (literally) into the gang or die. Arizona Colt, one of the freed men, outwits Gordo and escapes, telling the blustering outlaw he will "think about that". This becomes his catch phrase throughout as he weighs up each situation before exploiting it to his own advantage. On meeting Gordo's right hand man (Nello Pazzafini) on the stage into town, Colt stays quiet, even though he guesses that the town's bank is under threat. What he doesn't expect is that the popular saloon keeper's daughter, Dolores, (Rosalba Neri) will be murdered and that he would come under suspicion. However, once the bank has been robbed he offers Dolores' father a deal. He will bring back Dolores' killer for $500 as long as his other daughter, Jane, (Corrine Merchand) is handed over to him. Filled with a thirst for vengeance, Jane agrees, but when the killer is brought back with the help of the repenting drunken bandit, Whiskey, (Roberto Camardiel) the father (Andrea Bosic) understandably refuses to hand over his surviving daughter. The matter is resolved when Gordo comes back to town searching for his gold which Whiskey has secretly taken with him and Arizona squares off against the evil bandit leader.

A brief glance at this synopsis tells you one thing very quickly. Arizona Colt is far from being a hero in the traditional sense. He starts the film in jail, he soon declares himself a bounty killer by trade, he shows little or no regard for the general welfare of anyone but himself and even stoops as low as demanding a berieved man hands over his one remaining daughter in a trade for vengeance, making it quite clear that he doesn't mean to take the girl for the purpose of marriage. This is not the same avenging hero of Return of Ringo, or even the impressionable stray from Day of Anger. This character is harder edged and darker in tone and it is the dichotomy between his ruthless, mercenary actions and his clean cut good looks with kindly smile that creates a really interesting core to the film.

What is also obvious from a brief glance at the above synopsis is that this picture has a Spaghetti cast to die for. Fernando Sancho, Rosalba Neri, Roberto Camardiel, Nello Pazzafini, Andrea Bosic and, of course, Gemma himself; this lot line up like some kind of Eurowestern super group. But it doesn't even stop there. In the shadows you also find some of our favourite genre 'uglies'. Perenial bad guy Jose Manuel Martin is here and so is Jose Terron; a face once seen and never forgotten. The bottom line is that with all these gems on show this film would have to work very hard to disappoint and in Michele Lupo's capable, if not overly inspired hands, the result is all you could hope for. With everyone playing their part in a first rate package.

But first among equals here is most definitely Giuliano Gemma. It is easy to allow his boyish good looks to overshadow the fact that he was a very capable actor in these types of films. As I mentioned before, his ability to blend action hero, romantic lead and ruthless gunslinger into one role while simultaneously injecting a wry, ironic comic element with seemingly effortless flair is a skill unmatched by any other spaghetti actor outside of Clint Eastwood himself. And as such it is no surprise that he was such a popular actor in Italy during this period. In fact, in terms of box office success in westerns in his homeland Gemma outperformed every other single actor in the genre. His films consistantly made money throughout the cycle and, in Arizona Colt, it is easy to see why. All his strengths are on show, from acrobatic physical agility to comedic timing to gritty dramatic presence; Gemma exhibits it all here and it is hard not to be impressed.

Credit must also go to Michele Lupo of course, not just for his fine direction but also his contribution to an excellent script. The camera work of Francisco Marin and Guglielmo Mancori is also worthy of merit and the music score from Francesco De Masi is excellent.

All round then this is a top notch spaghetti made by a fantastic array of talent who all punch their weight. There are certain similarities here to the Ringo films (especially A Pistol for Ringo) but as mentioned before this one has a decidedly darker edge to it without ever being overly sombre. What's more is that it is readily available on DVD in a number of editions, although usually under it's U.S title 'The Man From Nowhere'.

Definitely not to be missed.