Monday 30 November 2009

Brother Outlaw

Dir: Edoardo Mulargia


After the sad passing of Tony Kendall I felt I should watch one of his westerns in memory of his illustrious and varied career. In fact I actually watched my own little Tony Kendall double bill, starting with a western, Brother Outlaw and finishing with one of his Kommissar X eurospies, Strategic Command Chiama Jo Walker. Unfortunately for the sake of this review, the latter was far better than the former.

In fact reviewing a film like Brother Outlaw is always going to be problematic. In particular the reviewer is faced with the dilemma of how to approach it in the first place. As an example of the Spaghetti Western in general or just as an example of the 1970s, end of cycle, El Cheapo film which were the death knell of the genre. Perhaps both. As compared to the better films of the genre it is pretty weak but if you are a fan of the films of this period a la Demofilo Fidani and his ilk you may find this an entertaining ride. Maybe.

Dakota Thompson (Tony Kendall) is sheriff of Tombstone. But during a stagecoach robbery in which all his men are killed his life is mysteriously spared while the money is carried off by bandits led by Alvarez (Dean Stratford). On his return to town Dakota is accused by local lawyer Donovan (Omero Gargano) of masterminding the robbery and is sentenced to 15 years hard labour. In fact it is Donovan who is directing the bandits' activities and with Dakota out of the way they continue their nefarious deeds. Meanwhile Donovan forces his beautiful young ward Jean (Sophia Kammara) into an agreement of marriage. All seems perfect for the villainous lawyer but Dakota's brother Slim (Jean Louis) manages to free his sibling from Gaol and the two team up in their quest to sort out the bad guys and clear Dakota's name.

The above is a pretty standard 'revenge for a wrongful imprisonment' plotline and Mulargia doesn't try to complicate matters any by dressing it up any further. In fact, the whole thing is so loose and erratic that I couldn't help but feel that everyone involved had simply gone through the motions to the point of shooting a whole bunch of cliched scenes and then arranging them into a flimsy plot line afterwards. This may sound harsh but consider the evidence. Dakota and his brother turn up at a Mexican pueblo early on asking for the whereabouts of Alvarez. No information is offered in response to their enquiries and as they leave they are involved in an elongated shoot out with various gang members. Soon after, however, they decide to attack Alvarez's hide out while he is busy elsewhere. How did they know where it was? Donovan tells Alvarez to lay low and wait for orders later on only for him to turn up in an ambush immediately after where Slim is killed. Whereupon instead of trying to kill Dakota too he rides off. What the...??? These are just two examples of a patchwork plot that bares no scrutiny but if this was as far as it went I could shrug and let it go. Lack of logic in Spaghetti scripts is a common enough occurrence for me to make allowances for such things. But in this film Mulargia crosses the line into outright sloppiness that builds up into an unacceptable mess.

For instance, a few continuity blunders here and there will not spoil an otherwise entertaining film but when this goes as far as the female lead wearing two totally different wigs throughout the picture, alternating between a shoulder length one with a fringe for interior shots and a much longer, fringeless one for exteriors I can't help but question the level of care taken. These two hair styles were so disparate that to begin with I was unsure if she was supposed to be the same character and at another I wondered whether they had simply used footage from another film to bodge the whole thing together. In truth, I think the actual reason was it was all a bit rubbish and thrown together. Although I also suspected that the interior shots with the shorter wig were shot later, purely for purposes of exposition in an attempt to make sense of the random exterior stuff already in the can.

Mulargia also pads unashamedly throughout. An over drawn out scene like the afore mentioned shoot out is a prime example but, even worse, is the interminable 'waiting for the bank job to start' scene. This time waster lasts almost five minutes without a word being said and is made up of a seemingly never ending series of zooms, close ups and jump cuts which are painful enough but are then compounded by the robbery scene itself which eventually follows and could qualify as one of the most anticlimactic scenes ever submitted to film. Add all of the above to a series of Fidaniesque 'riding between location' shots and you will fully understand what I am on about.

I suppose my biggest problem with this film is that, at the outset, I really wanted to like it. Tony Kendall was a likeable actor and Edoardo Mulargia has made some perfectly enjoyable films along with at least one (El Puro) that I rate very highly. But the truth is that this is one of Mulargia's weakest, if not laziest efforts and Kendall, for all his charm, does not fit well in the western genre. He was far better suited to the campy, tongue in cheek Eurospy stuff and he needed a far better vehicle than Brother Outlaw for him to shine in the saddle. He really doesn't look at home here and doesn't even wear a hat. It's almost as if he knew he was out of place and tried to maintain a more contemporary look despite the trappings of horse, six gun and stage coaches. Whatever the reasonings, Kendall's involvement here was a mistake. The material wasn't the right vehicle for his talents and his talents weren't strong enough to elevate the material.

As I said at the outset, it is difficult to know how best to judge a film like Brother Outlaw. Alongside films from the peak of the cycle, it is horribly inferior. But by 1970, when this was made, the average quality of Italian westerns had dipped markedly. By the standards of its direct contemporaries it is not so bad, but, truth be told, it is still pretty darn poor. It's strongest point is probably its musical score but this is no great achievement either as most of that is lifted straight from Why Go On Killing? A previous film of Mulargia's and one he is far better remembered for.

All up I am glad I opted to watch two Tony Kendall films to honour his passing. If Brother Outlaw had been the only one I viewed it would have been something of a mute tribute. As it is, I will choose to remember him fondly as Jo Walker and pretend for the moment that Brother Outlaw never happened.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Lola Colt

Dir: Siro Marcellini


The Spaghetti Western genre, in fact the Western genre in general for that matter, has always been a male dominated place. These were films almost exclusively made by men for men and the women who took part often did so in a marginalised sense; appearing as victims, eye candy or both. This is undoubtedly one of the failings of an otherwise vibrant genre and it is to the credit of those women who did make a career in these films that their presence became memorable despite the chauvinism of the arena in which they worked. Occasionally though, a female performer managed to feature as a lead and Lola Colt is a prime example, not only of one of these rare occurrences, but also of why they so often failed to succeed.

Like Little Rita of the West of the same year, Lola Colt is a vehicle for a musical performer. But unlike the former, this film is not an all out musical. Rather it shoe horns in a handful of saloon scenes where Miss Falana's talents as a singer and dancer can be showcased. These are the scenes where Lola is obviously most at home and it is clear from them that she was a terrific performer in her own field. Unfortunately, the rest of the film is merely window dressing; a flimsy inconsequential plot played out with little conviction by anyone concerned and as a result you find yourself hanging out for the next musical number. Not something I would often say in connection to viewing a Western.

The plot itself, for what it is worth, is as follows. Lola and her performing troupe arrive in town with one of their party sick with what turns out to be malaria. They need a doctor but the only person available is Rod (Peter Martell) who is studying medicine but has yet to qualify. This is due to his being caught up in the town's problem which is its being held under the boot of local bad guy, El Diablo (Germán Cobos). El Diablo has taken a bunch of the townsfolk hostage at his nearby ranch and is gradually bleeding the community dry with ransom demands while his men generally cause havoc in the area. Lola, whilst taking a shine to the good looking medical student, encourages Rod to rise up against their oppressor but he and the other men of the town are reluctant to endanger the lives of the hostages. Eventually though Lola convinces them to act and leads them in a rescue mission on El Diablo's ranch. A mass gunfight ensues and when the dust settles Lola leaves town with her love interest in tow.

All of the above comes complete with occasional romantic clutch scene and suitable, if chronically cliched, flashback to explain Lola's determined feistiness and unwillingness to be the victim of mean spirited bullies. All reasonable stuff but all equally just a bit half hearted; leaving the impression that the whole thing was thrown together in order to fill the space between Lola's leg kicking, bum wiggling song and dance numbers. Fair enough, one might say and I wouldn't argue for the most part. Miss Falana had genuine talent in this area and was clearly more comfortable singing and dancing than she was acting. But I can't help but feel that with a little more imagination on the part of the producers she could have been offered something more interesting in the way of story and character and, who knows, she might just have proved herself more than capable of carrying a better all round film. Either that or they should have concentrated on her obvious strengths and gone down the full blown musical line a la Little Rita of the West.

The really annoying thing is that, in isolated spots, the film has some genuinely promising moments. Moments which when you look back at the entire film seem completely out of place with the rest of the piece. Foremost among these is the opening scene where we first see El Diablo at his most diabolic. The town's priest walks to the edge of town to plead with the villainous boss to spare the lives of a couple of unfortunates he is preparing to punish. The catch is in how the punishment is set to be carried out. In a film based mainly around a cabaret act it is something of a surprise to open the proceedings with a couple of exploding crucifixions. But that is exactly what we are treated to and as El Diablo rides off to the backdrop of these obliterated unfortunates we could be forgiven for expecting more of the same. Unfortunately, it proves to be an anomaly in an otherwise tame narrative. The only other time we get close to this level of nastiness is during Lola's flashback scene where we witness her family being mounted on wagon wheels and shot at for fun by a bunch of unidentified villains while little Lola watches on tearfully behind the windows of the house. The drama of this scene however is completely counteracted by the fact that the girl playing Lola as a child is clearly of a totally different racial make up to our adult star. Lola Falana is an Afro American of Cuban extraction but the girl in Lola Colt it appears she has a background as a poor white child. I know the budget was probably tight but surely they could have found a black girl somewhere in europe to play this little non speaking part instead of slapping some brown make up on some unfortunate child actor from the Elios backlot?

In reality I suppose it doesn't matter so much and is no more out of place than the soul funk accompaniment to Lola's musical numbers which are not only chronically anachronistic but also clearly feature a saxophone, electric guitar and full drum kit despite the band on show wielding a banjo, squeezebox and piano. At the end of the day it is just a movie and a light weight one at that. It obviously never sets out to be anything serious and as a result should be judged on its own terms. In that way it is fair to say that the film is generally entertaining enough and that based on her musical numbers Lola Falana was a pretty impressive performer in her day. Consequently I could easily see this movie becoming a 'guilty pleasure' for some. For me though, its inconsistencies outweigh its pleasures and I suspect any future viewings on my part will be with the liberal aid of the fast forward button.

Ulimately Lola Colt is an interesting genre entry as a rare female led one but anyone hoping for a quality Spaghetti which upturns all the usual sexual stereotypes of the genre will be sadly disappointed.

The copy of this film I watched was a composite one using an Italian TV widescreen image with English dub from an inferior VHS release laid over where possible. The Italian version is longer and as a result the English audio drops out on occasion but as the film is not of an overly complex nature it had no real detrimental effect on my ability to follow the narrative in any way. If you only get to see the English VHS release though you will miss out on a number of scenes, the opening exploding crucifixions being the most notable among them.