Friday 31 July 2009


Dir: Edoardo Mulargia


Cjamango (Ivan Rassimov) wins a pile of gold from a laughing Mexican bandit in a poker game but has his winnings instantly swiped when two more villains arrive at saloon spitting lead in all directions. Somehow surviving this ambush our hero follows the bad guys and discovers them at each others' throats after falling out over the gold. Tiger (Piero Lulli) has taken the gold for himself and Don Pablo (Livio Lorenzon) is out to get it back. Meanwhile a black clad whiskey seller (Mickey Hargitay) has also arrived whose real purpose is a mystery and Pearl (Helene Chanel), the daughter of the local drunk is carving out a precarious existence in the middle. Cjamango sets about playing one rival gang against the otherin his quest to retrieve his stolen fortune until the final and inevitable shoot out settles the matter once and for all.

Cjamango is a film seemingly made from disparate ideas from other films. The central premise of a town with two bosses and a lone outsider playing them against each other is obviously lifted straight from A Fistful of Dollars and the character of Cjamango, has more than a passing resemblance to Eastwood's Man with no Name character. Especially in the opening saloon scene where he is sporting a poncho. But there are also obvious nods to Corbucci's Django too. Rassimov's character quickly replaces the poncho with a cape and the name itself is an obvious variation on the man made immortal by Franco Nero the previous year. Fistful is also recalled in the role Pearl plays as protector of local orphan, Manuel (Giusva Fioravanti); mirroring in some ways the parts of Marisol and Jesus from that earlier film. And just for good measure, Mickey Hargitay seems to be wearing Lee Van Cleef's costume from For a Few Dollars More. All in all then, it would be fair to sum up the whole affair as derivative. It certainly is anything but groundbreaking or original but it would be wrong to dismiss it completely on those terms. There are many very good spaghettis that get most of their ideas from previous productions. It is pretty much par for the course in genre film making and always has been. Cjamango should be judged then for what it is. And, on those terms, despite a few faults, it's not half bad.

Much of the film's charm can be attributed to Ivan Rassimov. This was his first lead role, in anything as far as I can tell not just in a Spaghetti, but he carries it off with real confidence and is already exhibiting the qualities that would go on to cement him as a firm favourite among genre film fans. Rassimov does the strong, taciturn type well and is athletic enough to be convincing in an action role. It is unfortunate however, that his performance is somewhat spoiled by an illfitting english dubbed voice. Cjamango is not the first film to suffer from such a fate (Django springs to mind) but it is always a shame when an otherwise solid performance gets lessened in this way and makes you wonder who was in charge of casting the voice actors on some of these films. The guy who does the voice for Rassimov sounds about twenty years older.

The film also benefits from a solid supporting cast with the always reliable Pierro Lulli and Livio Lorenzon delivering bad guy bravura with consumate ease and Helene Chanel providing the kind of mussed up, smouldering beauty we all like in such pictures. Chanel made a handful of Spaghettis but, unfortunately, most were of the Franco and Ciccio comedy variety. Outside of this film her only other Spaghetti of note was Killer Caliber .32, one of Peter Lee Lawrence's better westerns. On the down side we are also put through the ordeal of suffering the appearance of a 'cute kid' character played by Giusva Fioravanti. It's not that young Master Fioravanti does a bad job it's just that I disagree in principle with the inclusion of such characters in any way shape or form. For my money Leone had the right idea in Once Upon a Time in the West when Frank wiped out the cute red headed McBain kids before the story even got properly started. Not that I've got anything against children in reality. I've got a bunch of them and love them all to bits. I just don't think they belong in films like these where they invariably are given awful high pitched dubbed voices and bring nothing to the story except an overdose of sentimentality. I don't mind a fair helping of corn with my spaghetti but I tend to gag on too much syrup. In Cjamango the youngster provides the hero with the chance to show he is a full on white hatted good guy which, I guess, is ok. But I can't help but feel that once this was established the director missed a golden opportunity in not having the kid blown up with dynamite when he had the chance. In one of those strange coincidences that you couldn't make up the scene where the youngster is strapped to dynamite has an eery reflection in real life as the child actor later grew into a covicted terrorist, jointly responsible for the bombing of Bologna Station in 1980 where some 85 people died. Truth really is stranger than fiction sometimes.

Cute kid not withstanding, most of the film is pretty solid, if not outstanding. It is probably best described as one of those films which is unlikely to over impress but is a decent enough picture which gives enough rewards to merit the time spent watching it. Mulargia's direction is ok but the film does seem to jump around somewhat, giving me the impression it was rushed through the editing process. But this is a minor criticism. As I said earlier, the film has no great pretentions to anything loftier than an entertaining programme filler and that's what it delivers on. It did reasonably good box office business in its day too; surprisingly squeezing into the top 20 Spaghetti Western box office performers back in 1967 and posting numbers similar to those of Requiescant and $10,000 Dollars Blood Money. These latter two films have stood the test of time somewhat better than Cjamango it must be said but with Koch Media's good looking new release now available you could do a lot worse with any spare hour and a half you may find yourself with.

The aforementioned Koch Media release was the one I saw the film on and it is of the sort of standard in terms of picture and sound quality which we have come to expect from this excellent German company. 2.35:1 ratio with Italian, German and English audio options plus some nice extras which unfortunately only have italian audio with german subs. Well worth the purchase price though for any fan.

Wednesday 22 July 2009


Dir: Giovanni Grimaldi


1966 was a time when the spaghetti western was really finding its feet and the style we have come to know and love was becoming engrained in the genre. The pseudo american style was being well and truly left behind and the mediterranean sensibilities that have become synonymous with these films was now firmly established. Starblack then, comes as something of an anachronism. Its look and feel is not just traditional in style but harks back well beyond the 50s heyday of the american B western to an even more simplistic time and plays more like a serial or 'poverty row' film of the 1940s. And yet, like so many spaghettis, just when you think you've got it categorised there's a sting that leaves you wondering.

Johnny Blyth (Robert Woods) and his deaf and dumb sidekick return to Johnny's home town to discover that his father has died and a ruthless banker come saloon owner (Franco Lantieri) is now controlling the town and squeezing the financial life out of all and sundry. Meanwhile a masked vigilante known only as Starblack is thwarting the town boss' nefarious activities and has become a Robin Hood figure to the local people. Johnny, although a popular fellow, has a reputation as something of a coward and when his uncle, who has subsequently married his widowed mother, advises him to avoid any trouble it seems like advice that Johnny can take relatively easily. However, Johnny soon discovers that his father's death was not caused by the accidental means he was first told of but rather by a bullet in the head and so he begins his own investigation into who was responsible. So who is the real killer? And who is that masked man? No prizes for guessing right on either count. This movie is nothing if not predictable in plot development. It is in its mix of styles where the real surprises occur.

From the very beginning of the opening credits sequence you know you are in for a very different ride with this movie than you would expect from a spaghetti western. Starblack, sporting a full face mask (no simple eye covering a la Zorro or the Lone Ranger for this guy), turns up in the nick of time in a series of vignettes showing the local ranchers being terrorised by bad guys. He saves the day, sends the bad guys packing (either back into town or into an early grave) and is lauded with doe eyed wonder by the happy recipients of his valour. In one vignette a grateful woman gazes at him adoringly, clutches her hands to her chest and sighs "Starblack" like some lovesick school girl. The corn syrup is ladeled on so thick here you can almost feel your liver going fatty and it would be understandale to think you had popped the wrong movie into your machine. This can't be an italian western from 1966. The guy in the mask is clearly going to turn out to be 'Crash' Corrigan or Buster Crabbe or some well groomed smiling cowboy who will be doing a song for us before the third reel. Well, you would be wrong. About the first bit anyway. Our hero, amazingly, does get to do a song. But I'll get to that later. The story proper opens and the style continues. When Robert Woods rides into town he has a sidekick in tow and immediately runs into a suspect character who lets us all know he is no good by slapping folks around and generally acting the bully. Woods, moreover, is so well groomed and smiling he could pass for Woody out of Toy Story and is wearing enough brylcreem in his hair to lube the suspension of your car. He goes on to meet up with an ornery old local rancher (Gabby Hayes anyone?) and his beautiful daughter and, just for good measure, shows us all that he is devoted to his mother. Phew! All we need now is for Smiley Burnette to show up and the package will be complete.

But wait. The next thing you know a different flavour is added to the mix and this time it's pure pasta. Despite the clean cut image of our heroes, events take a genuine turn towards the nasty. I've seen a lot of old forties poverty row westerns and, in spite of my admittedly derisive tone above, I really enjoy them. They have a nostalgic value for me as reminders of my childhood visits to the saturday morning pictures and early sixties kid's TV. And in all the movies I have seen of this type I do not remember once a villain getting his hands pinned to a door frame with knives so as to leave him hanging in a state of crucifixion. Johnny Mack Brown or Bob Steele would have cuffed the fellow sternly around the ear not given him a ready made stigmata. This is the twist in Starblack's tail. This is where the 60s italian sensibility comes in. And this is where the whole film takes on a more interesting tone. The juxtaposition of the two elements makes for an interesting experience in that you never quite know which way the film is going to turn next.

Nowhere is this exhibited more obviously than in the scene about two thirds of the way through when Woods, who has been toting a guitar around ominously for much of the picture, finally launches into song in pure Roy Rogers style. This is not such an odd thing for Woods the actor; he made his living singing long before he ever went in to movies, but is genuinely incongruous in a spaghetti western. A genre where you are much more likely to see the leading man get someone in the eye with a knife. But wait, come movie's end the bad guy's eyesight is impaired in just such a fashion!

The key element here is that the overlying style of this film is not just traditional, it is old time hokey traditional. And according to Marco Giusti this was exactly what Grimaldi was after. There have been many spaghettis, especially from the early period of 1963-65, which bore close resemblance to their american predecesors. But this movie harks back much further and therefore its cocktail of hokum and nastiness is something quite unique. As a result, I found it an enjoyable ride but I am well aware that this is not a serving of spaghetti that will be to everyone's taste. The old time style, the romantic subplot, the singing cowboy will all be elements which will put many off who like their westerns strictly downbeat and gritty. This is understandable but a pity as Starblack, when taken on its own terms, is an entertaining and interesting entry into the genre. It's certainly not a fantastic film but it is odd enough, and to be fair, well crafted enough, to be worth a look.

Unfortunately, like so many, this film does not enjoy a good quality DVD release and I suspect won't be getting one soon. Spaghetti westerns have marginal enough appeal as it is without narrowing the potential audience down further by going down the Gene Autry route. But I'd like to see it get one anyway and we can always live in hope.