Thursday, 21 May 2020
Dir: Rafael Romero Marchent
During the second half of the 1960s the western had become so popular in European cinema that producers in Italy and Spain were falling over themselves to make more. For those of us who love them this meant that a plethora of titles playing along the lines set out by Sergio Leone would be produced; enough to keep us happy to this very day. Films full of grit and passion, blood and vengeance, anti-heroes and bandits, coveted gold and random acts of violence. All played out to rousing, super-cool musical soundtracks. In short, everything we wanted then and still love today in our cinematic western fantasy worlds. But it also meant that every popular European performer during these years would almost inevitably be dropped into the western genre at some point if their ambitions lay in a film career. Singers, dancers and comedians all wound up plonked on a horse and let loose in Almeria or Elios Studios' western town whether they belonged there or not. In Italy a prime example of this was Rita Pavone making Little Rita of the West. In Spain we got Dos Pistolas Gemelas with Pilar and Emilia Bayona.
Pili y Mili, as they were known professionally, were a product of the "Niños Prodigios" tradition of Spanish popular culture. Child stars who enjoyed wide popularity for their singing and dancing on television, records and in films. The Bayona sisters had the advantage of being slightly older than some when they broke through (their first film was made in 1963 when they were 16) as well as the added gimmick of their being identical twins. As a result, their films tended to be assorted variations on the "Parent Trap" scenario where two identical sisters fool various folk around them in order to achieve their, usually romantic, goals. Dos Pistolas Gemelas, their fourth film, falls into this category smoothly while also utilising the tried and trusted western narrative of an evil land-grabber trying to force them off their land.
I start this review with all this context because it strikes me that without it the job of analysing or assessing the film fairly is impossible. Looked at strictly as a Spaghetti (or possibly Paella) Western it is tame and unimaginative. If you're looking for a film with all the attributes I listed in the opening paragraph you will be sorely disappointed here. True, there are a couple of familiar Spaghetti faces on show, Luis Induni as the Sheriff being an obvious case in point. It is also largely shot in Almeria and uses Carlo Simi's western town from For a Few Dollars More so the locations are spot on. But gritty it is not. The story and characters are traditional. As is the music largely. The opening credits even seem to lift the theme directly from Alfred Newman's How the West Was Won. Not sure how they got away with that. The romantic leads are clean-cut, the girls are pure and pretty and the outcome is all a bit predictable from the start.
But surely if we judge it strictly as a Spaghetti Western we are missing the point. This is designed to be family entertainment and showcase the talents and attractions of its lead female stars to its target audience. A target audience different to that which enjoyed Django and the like. On those terms, it's actually quite enjoyable and manages to mix its romance and musical interludes pretty seamlessly into the western narrative without diluting it too badly or descending into the sort of slapstick humour that marred so many of the latter entries of the genre post Trinity. Sure there's an unnecessary bar room brawl but that is mainly included to set up the girls' quite impressive can-can routine. And as the story heats up the action scenes in the final quarter are pretty good.
What really intrigues me is what the Italian audience made of the film on its initial release as the title used there was Una Donna per Ringo (A Woman for Ringo) and, as we've seen, the film centres around two women, not one. Moreover, just for good measure, there's no one called Ringo either and although Sean Flynn is billed as the star he is strictly a supporting player in reality, acting as the love interest of one of the girls. Of course, throwing in a Ringo or Django into a title willy-nilly was nothing new in those times and Sean Flynn may have been better known in Italy due to his father, Errol but the title and accompanying poster is misleading in the extreme.
As a result, I much prefer to use the Spanish title which translates as Two Twin Pistols and fits the film much better.
When all is said and done this is not a film that will wind up in any Spaghetti Western fan's Top 100 let alone Top 20 but it achieves pretty well what it sets out to do. It clips along well enough, tells a decent if somewhat predictable story and lets its stars shine to their best advantage. The Bayona twins are genuinely likeable and the whole thing is surprisingly entertaining even for this old cynic. There are a couple of scenes which don't sit so well, the spanking nonsense being primary among these but I can forgive it these brief failings. It's directed well if unimaginatively by Rafael Romero Marchent which is less than you'd expect from the prolific Spanish helmsman who went on to give such films in the genre as Garringo, Awkward Hands and One Against One...No Mercy.
There is an Italian DVD release of which you can find details at the Spaghetti Western Database here but the version I saw was a Spanish TV broadcast with fansubs.
Tuesday, 19 May 2020
Dir: Carlo Lizzani
The sole survivor of a genocidal massacre, a young Requiescant is taken in by a devoutly religious family and raised alongside their daughter Princy, travelling the west in a covered wagon. When Princy leaves to pursue a life of glamour on the stage Requiescant sets out to find her and soon discovers he has a natural talent with a pistol. Finding Princy has been lured into a world of forced prostitution he tries to rescue her and comes face to face with the perpetrator of his family's slaughter.
Requiescant was Carlo Lizzani's second and final western and instantly appears a more personal project for him than The Hills Run Red, released the previous year. The earlier film has a much more classical American western feel to it and Lizzani's credit is solely as director. In contrast, on Requiescant he acted as producer too and collaborated with friends who shared his left wing politics to make a film which allowed him to explore themes closer to home. Lizzani is on record as saying the film acted as a metaphor for land reform issues in the south of Italy and the parallels are clear as the Mexicans are looked down on and ill-treated by their northern masters (albeit these masters are Southern in their American context) and the denouement suggests an ongoing struggle rather than a clear-cut happy ending.
Metaphors however, are all very well but the question for the viewer is more clear. Does the film work in and of itself as a western and as a piece of cinematic entertainment? Happily, the answer for me is yes, albeit with some reservations.
First among the film's strengths is the performance of Mark Damon in the role of Confederate aristocrat George Bellow Ferguson. Damon made a career in Italian westerns playing clean-cut, gun-slinging heroes armed with a gleaming set of teeth as well as unerring pistols but here he is offered the opportunity to play against type and the result is something of a revelation. Pale-faced and Gothic, there are traces of his days in the Edgar Alan Poe films of Roger Corman. Given full rein to unleash Ferguson's egotism and megalomania he is a tour de force, quickly becoming the most memorable element of the film. Ferguson is supremely confident in his own supremacy. He speaks with the calmness of someone convinced of the indisputable 'rightness' of his philosophy and opinions. When this 'rightness' is challenged or exposed however, he descends rapidly into histrionic rage and the facade of his confidence is exposed. All this makes for a fine, if somewhat obvious villain and his scenes are some of the most enjoyable in the film.
But the central focus of the film is, of course, the eponymous Requiescant and this character is somewhat more problematic. Lou Castel is fine in the part and embodies the mix of innocence and determination required. It is the character itself which is the main problem. In a left wing metaphor for the struggle of the down-trodden against powerful autocrats it is odd to have a protagonist who is offered essentially as the hand of God, sent to liberate the people. How else can a bible reading, corpse blessing hero who never learns to shoot but has a simply miraculous gift for it be described? Requiescant's uncanny skill at shooting surprises him as much as anyone else and he seems to glide through the film simply accepting it as an unfathomable reality however at odds it is with everything else about him. In every other way it is his innate clumsiness which stands forth. He is continuously dropping his hat or fumbling with something. His pistol is worn slung knee-high on a rope belt and turned so far back as to be behind rather than beside him. And yet, when the need arises, he is able to outdraw anyone in the blinking of an eye. Even in a genre as full of unbelievable gun skills as the Spaghetti Western Requiescant stands out as exceptional. And yet, call me naive if you like, as the story unfolds I found myself forgiving this failing and just going with it. Because, for all its faults, (and there are plenty more) the film is an ultimately enjoyable one with some truly standout scenes.
Primary among these for me is the showdown with blonde bad guy (and obvious love interest for Ferguson) Dean Light and Requiescant played out as a shooting/hanging game in the saloon. The game is a nice twist on the gun duel and allows for a build up of tension against the ticking clock as well as an effective climax skilfully handled with the twitching feet of the loser a nice alternative to the usual death throw theatrics. Likewise, the final showdown with Ferguson shows Lizzani to be an inventive and satisfying orchestrator of generic requirements.
To sum up, I can only say that Requiescant is patchy but ultimately enjoyable. It clearly suffers from a restricted budget. The opening scenes with fake cactus and a plaster and cardboard looking Aztec fortress in a gravel pit being a prime example. The central conceipt of the young hero's inexplicable prowess with a gun is difficult to swallow and the script in places is poor. But it's strengths eventually overcome these failings. The performances of the principles are all strong and the set pieces are all handled well by Lizzani. We also get a unique appearance in the genre from Pier Paolo Passolini, some strong if all too brief performances from the female characters including one from Mark Damon's future wife, Barbara Frey and another from ever reliable Luisa Baratto. Add to this a strong score from the great Riz Ortolani and the overall package is undoubtedly strong enough to keep all but the most unforgiving genre fan plenty to enjoy.
I've seen this film numerous times but most recently via the Arrow BluRay release and I can only recommend this release highly as the best possible option. The picture and sound quality is superb and the extra features which include interviews with Lizzani and Lou Castel interesting and informative. For info and links for all DVD and BluRay releases of this film in your region see the dedicated page at the Spaghetti Western Database here.