Monday, 20 April 2009

Why Go On Killing?

Dir: Edoardo Mulargia / Jose Antonio De La Loma


A man is led, tied by the neck, by a gang of men to a spot outside of town. Here he is bound to a tree and shot, one by one, by each of the gang starting with the crippled patron who urges his men on, calling each by name until the deed is done and the victim hangs slumped against the ropes holding him up against the tree's bullet riddled trunk. Lopez, the patron, has had his revenge but the cycle of vendetta has, in reality, only been given another spur to keep it rolling around; another act of brutality to feed on. Thus opens Why Go on Killing? A Spaghetti Western full of despair and bitterness and decidedly downbeat in nature. Traits which became common in the genre over the next few years, but for a 1965 production this was still something of a rarity. Especially in a film with such a heavy Spanish influence. And, along with its status as Edoardo Mulargia's first western and one of the first for its star, Anthony Steffen, this little revenge flick is of more interest than it might at first appear.

And a revenge flick is what this film is, first and last. From the above described opening scene to the final, bloody denouement there is no other factor at play in the entire narrative. Well, maybe a little bit of greed and gun running, but nothing worth mentioning. Apart from that the story consists of one act of vengeful violence answered by another, without respite or attempt at finding a peaceful solution on the part of either of the two main protagonists in the struggle. Senor Lopez (Pepe Calvo) is not a man to bury the hatchet lightly and when the son of the man he has ritually executed comes home to settle the score he proves himself to be equally unwaivering in his sense of justice. This character is Steven McDougall (Anthony Steffen) and he feels strongly enough to desert from his post in the army to settle matters with the Lopez family despite having had some romantic link with Pilar (Gemma Cuervo), the daughter of the clan, before he went away. What ensues is a relentless stream of tit for tat actions from both sides which, if it wasn't so bleak in nature, could remind one of a Larel and Hardy comedy where someone's broken window is answered by a ripped off car headlight or a poke in the eye. The two mens' bitterness is seemingly bottomless and yet, surprisingly, the roots of this feud are never illuminated for us. We know that old man Lopez is confined to a wheelchair as a result of an attack by Steven's father but we never find out what caused that attack or whether it was an accident or a deliberate act of violence. Rather the film opens 'mid feud' so to speak. We are dropped into a pot boiling over with spite and recriminations and we just hold on for the ride as the two mens' hatred feeds on itself until there is nothing left to devour.

This sounds like all very hefty stuff and, to be fair to those involved, it is a pretty decent example of an early period spaghetti punching above its weight and attempting some down and gritty drama. But let's not get carried away. It's a Steffen film after all and so, although the solemn revenge theme runs through its core, action is never far away. Indeed, our man Tony is only on screen a few moments after his initial opening credits ride across the desert when he gets his first 'roll and shoot' opportunity and the bullets start to fly with abandon. This is all to the good. Steffen does a good job in the role of Steven but it would be unwise to ask more from his well of acting talent than is reasonable so plenty of running around, shooting and looking determined is a smart move all round. Anguished looks are better left to the bloodhound eyes of Calvo and the experienced victim of so many Italian genre films, Ida Galli, who plays Steven's unhappy and much abused sister. Altogether these personel cover all the bases required and when you add in the excellent Aldo Berti as the hired outside killer, Gringo, an extra tinge of nastiness completes a first rate cast for a film of this type.

Who should get the directorial congratulations is less clear. The copy I watched of this film credits the Spaniard Jose Antonio De La Loma as the man in the chair but it would appear that in reality it is just as possible that Mulargia helmed the show. Certainly Berti is on record as saying so but with these Italian / Spanish co productions it is very difficult to say with any real conviction who did what behind the cameras as so many credits were given for financial rather than creative reasons. Giusti credits them both, which is probably safest, but I sense the greater
hand of Mulargia. There is an air of darkness here that I have never seen in anything else released under De La Loma's name. If this is so it is a pretty good effort on his part and is an early sign of what he would be capable of with the right material in the right circumstance.

Speaking of credits, I found myself re-examining the opening credits closer than usual after watching this film. Why? You may be asking? Simple (If a little sad). Anyone familiar with the work of Anthony Steffen will know that in most of his westerns up until around 1969 he sported one of the worst hats ever seen in the genre. Small, folded up at the back and tilted forward this sartorial abomination was more akin to a battered and badly designed triby and meant that Steffen often appears less like a mean, cool hombre and more like a slightly drunk embarrassing uncle at your sister's wedding. Now, the only western Steffen made prior to this, as far as I can tell, was the German co production Der Letzte Mohikaner where he was garbed up in frontiersman buckskin as the character Deerslayer. So, Why Go On Killing? would appear to be the debut appearance of the 'Hat from Hell'. Therefore, unless our man Tony supplied the hat himself (the product of an ill advised or drunken bet perhaps) it would seem reasonable to assume that the person in charge of wardrobe on this production must carry the can for first introducing the dreaded Titfer to an unsuspecting cinema audience. As I said, I scanned the credits closely for this purpose and can state that Sergio Celi, costume designer for Why Go On Killing?, would appear to be the man to blame. Of course Steffen has to shoulder his share. If for no other reason than that he agreed to put the damn thing on and didn't have Celi thrown off the set. Either way, I feel strangely cleansed for having finally solved the mystery and put the issue to bed once and for all.

Why Go On Killing? is an important film I believe. (and not just because of Steffen's hat) It's the first western for Mulargia, Berti and others and one of the first for Steffen. But it is also a very good example of how the genre was developing away from the American mold and focusing on a clearly more mediterranean view of the old west. It still has traces of the previous style but the influences of Leone and a south european sensibility are becoming more and more dominant. The music in the film is a good example of this. Felice Di Stefano's score features a lamenting trumpet theme and electric guitar sequences which had become features of the spaghetti style but also includes incidental stuff which would seem more at home in a Bob Steele saturday matinee oater. Something of a strange mix but it still works just fine. It is not a great film. The characters have no real arc to speak of which, with subject matter this dark, is kind of essential for a film to show any real depth. But it holds its mood well and everyone involved conducts themselves competently. I certainly enjoyed it and would like to see it get a proper DVD release.

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