Friday 23 April 2010

Clint the Stranger

Dir: Alfonso Balcazar


Clint (George Martin) wants to leave his gunfighting days behind him and settle down with his estranged wife and son so sets out to find them in Wyoming where they have gone to start a new life. On finding them Clint's wife Julie (Marianne Koch) is reluctant to take her man back as she fears he will continue in his violent life and she wants none of it for her boy and her. But Clint persuades her to give him a chance by handing over his guns and promising never to take them up again. She allows him to stay on as a hired hand to prove himself and all seems to be going hunky dory until local rancher, Shannon (Walter Barnes) and his boys start bullying and putting pressure on all the local homesteaders, Clint's family included, to sell up and let him take over the whole valley to run his cattle on. Their tactics get increasingly violent and Clint's resolve to stay passive while still keeping his self respect and that of his young son is tested to the limit before he is finally pushed into action and a large scale showdown settles the matter for good.

It may not be so obvious from the above synopsis but this film is, in large part, a reworking of the classic American western, Shane (even down to the "Come Back!" final scene) and, as such, is very much a western in the classical tradition. Clint, despite his gun fighting past, is strictly an honourable hero figure who attempts to keep to his word and only strays back into violent action in protection of his community and when no other option seems workable. He is also a devoted and loving father and his rekindled relationship with his young son is kept firmly at the centre of the narrative's progress. He also has a clear love for his wife (it's Marianne Koch. Who wouldn't?) and is just a general all round good guy which does not make him a typical Spaghetti protagonist circa 1966. But then this is not a typical Spaghetti film of circa 1966. For starters, despite its Spanish location shooting this has a very different geographic look and feel. It is set in the foothills of snowy mountain country and so was filmed in the Pyrenees not the usual Almeria, Fragas or Manzanares. It is very much a 'green' western but, in this case, that is far from a bad thing a la cheap Fidani. The scenery is magnificent and is used very well by cinematographer Victor Monreal. Indeed this majestic backdrop, in true western fashion, goes a long way in covering up for some otherwise weak material. I don't have a problem with that however. You use what you've got and this scenery is good value. With it's unusually northern setting it also means there is no space for any Mexican bad men so Fernando Sancho, despite still playing an exuberant heavy, has no sombrero here and plays a character called Ross. No matter either; Sancho still delivers his usual sneering, bullet slinging performance and doesn't disappoint.

All in all, this film comes across as very 'unitalian'. Its classical style, romantic content and (spoiler alert) happy family ending harks back to a different era of westerns. But then this is predominantly a Spanish film rather than an Italian one. It's a three country co-production (Spain, Italy and Germany) but is clearly dominated by the Spanish contingent and the traditional leanings of the Spanish producers of the time have their stamp on the entire proceedings. For similar examples see the early films by Joaquin Marchent like Gunfight at High Noon or The Implacable Three. The Spanish westerns of this era were far more likely to try and emulate their American source material than cultivate a distinctive style of their own the way the Italians were doing but their product, if you like traditional westerns (and I do) remains very watchable.

In the case of Clint the Stranger it benefits from an excellent core cast. George Martin was a fine leading man who looked the part and could play villain or hero with equal effectiveness. Here he is the macho good guy with the eyes that belie an inner sadness and he carries it off with his usual aplomb. As mentioned above Fernando Sancho turns in his usual good value performance as one of the heavies and Walter Barnes is equally pleasing as the villainous patriarch rancher. Finally Marianne Koch delivers beauty and feminine strength as Clint's determined and virtuous wife, giving the part possibly more gravitas than the script might suggest. A good bunch of genre stalwarts who lift the film above some of its more corny tendencies in my view and in conjunction with the fine location photography already mentioned equal an enjoyable western of the old school style.

The film is not, however, without its faults. There is a cutesy blonde kid of course (it's a Shane remake after all) and this can become irritating as always and some of the other support cast are not as strong as the central players or, to be fair, some of the other Spanish bit part actors we have come to enjoy over the years. Where are Lorenzo Robledo and Victor Israel when you need them?! And for a film which leads inevitably towards a showdown between Clint, Ross and the Shannons the final shootout leaves a lot to be desired with Sancho in particular falling over almost unnoticed. This is a shame as the preceding large scale shoot out, complete with explosions and a burning town was excellent and should have been topped by a tense climactic showdown. It wasn't and the film has a damp ending as a result.

Despite this Clint the Stranger delivered more than enough to keep me watching and although it is far from one of the genre's best examples it is well worth catching if you don't mind a more traditional style western or a leading man in a hair piece. I have no problem with the first and, in the case of George Martin, no problem with the second either. Lee Van Cleef during his wig wearing phase is another story entirely.

As an aside if you are looking for an English language version of this film you are most likely to find it under the strangely ungrammatical title of Clint, the Nevada's Loner. Lord only knows where that one came from but it is under that name that it is released by Wild East on a good value double bill DVD along with its 1972 sequel, equally inappropriately entitled There's a Noose Waiting For You Trinity. This second film is strangely almost identical in story to the first except that the boy has grown up a bit and there's a part for Klaus Kinski to do one of his drive by performances as a bounty hunter and it could easily be seen as a remake rather than a sequel. It's also, in my opinion, not as good as, despite the addition of Kinski and the retention of Martin in the main role there is no Sancho, Koch or Barnes and the look and feel of the piece lacks the big scope clearly the budget of the original.