29 August 2006 | rmahaney4
Minor WAI with interesting commentary on genre
Ballata per un pistolero (1967), which I saw under the title Pistoleros, at first appears to be a rather unremarkable if decently executed Western alla'italiana. As is the case with most of this genre, and perhaps any genre, this film is largely a rehearsal of narrative elements form earlier films that proved resonant with audiences. Here, story elements from Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy, especially For A Few Dollars More (1965), are the sources for most the entire film. However, while director/screenwriter/actor Alfio Catalbiano failed to create much emotional resonance with this movie, his movie provides an interesting and surprisingly self-consciousness commentary on the genre and Leone's films in particular which makes this movie of real interest for fans of the genre.
Catalbiano was not a very prolific director and this was his first effort, which must explain the self-conscious imitation of Leone that is evident through the movie. This awareness of the conventions and phases of the western was nothing new in the WAI in and of itself. The early examples all have a strangely surreal feel to them, they are familiar but something is off in the prominence of certain features or their arrangements. Leone, Tessari, and a few others successfully used this awareness in their ironic re-arrangements. Were the focus had previously been on the American western, in Catalbiano's case the focus seems to have turned to the WAI itself. This would explain the increasing amount of slapstick as well as the outright commentary on the world created in other films of the time. Along with films like Vado... l'ammazzo e torno (1967) this may mark a turning point from the sincerity (if ironic style) of the best WAI to the often unwatchable slapstick westerns that came to dominate the genre after Lo chiamavano Trinità (1970).
Most of the story is a based on For A few Dollars More, with an older "mentor" character Rocco (Anthony Ghidra) competing/cooperating with a younger man Blackie (Angelo Infanti). Costume and style are switched, with the younger man in black with a Colonel Mortimer "look" while the older man is closer to the "Man with no name." Catalbiano himself plays an Indio/Ramon Rojo-type character complete with rifle and amoral detachment. Numerous other elements, from the final showdown to the Allentown bank robbery, all have a suspicious similarity to sequences in FAFDM. The comic barroom brawl in the middle of the movie and the funny prospector "Explosion" all point to other sources, however, and are a little out of step with the rest of the plot. However, there is a character who bears a little resemblance to the Clint Eastwood of the Dollars films who is repeatedly beaten and out-shot in what had to have been a deliberate in-joke.
Catalbiano made good use of arches, depth, and lighting in a manner which betrays his reliance on Leone's style. The first sequences in the film also have the flowing camera movements associated with Leone and they help make what might have been an otherwise dull opening into something a little more interesting.
The most interesting aspect to the film, and one that should have been more fully developed by Catalbiano, was the attitude of the older man, Rocco, to the younger bounty hunter, Blackie. It evolves from disgust to curiosity to concern. Both are "traveling the same road" and this correspondence has the same strange fated, quasi-religious character of other WAI such as Requiescant (1967) where it was used to great satirical effect. The resolution of this element to the relationship is something of a rejection of the surreal comic cynicism of Leone's first two westerns. This is further emphasized by the continued focus on the 'collateral damage" of the violence in the film, as at the ranch or the strange street funeral service that Rocco watches. In fact, there was a great deal of concern with the bystanders in Leone's westerns, especially the later ones, but Catalbiano's focus is much more explicit and has to be understood as a reaction to perceptions of the genre. Blackie's first gunfight recalls Mortimer's in FAFDM, but the ending is very different, very cynical, and funny in light of the earlier film.
Overall, the Ballata per un pistolero is not very emotionally involving, but it has several sequences which are definitely pop-western "cool." Rocco's first gunfight, followed by his use of a piano as a flight of stairs, is unexpected and fun. The usual WAI elements are in place, complete with the hidden symmetries and Gothic family western distortions which are an important, if not often noticed, element of the genre. In particular, the relationships between father/son and brother/brother recurs again and again in these movies. Finally, the movie follows the same liminal plot as most WAI with the near-death and resurrection of the main character Rocco. As in many WAI, this involves a literal crucifixion of Rocco on a bizarre spinning target which the outlaws use for guns, knives and harpoons (In a mine?). For genre fans, this film is recommended. Other viewers would probably be not be interested.
Top spaghetti western list http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849907
Average SWs http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849889
For completists only (bottom of the barrel) http://imdb.com/mymovies/list?l=21849890