10 January 2014 | bkrauser-81-311064
Entertaining if Flawed Spaghetti Western
Contrary to popular belief, the American west wasn't some lawless prairie/desert where only the strong like John Wayne's Rooster Cogburn and Clint Eastwood's man with no name could survive. While the likes of Jesse James and Butch Cassidy made the headlines, the average day in the life of an American westerner was pretty dull. The majority of people who lived west of the Mississippi lived in urban areas, not out in the boonies. Gun violence was actually less common in the western territories than back east and the majority of those who went out west were first generation immigrants, not idealistic white folk provoked by called for manifest destiny. Beyond the Law (1967) is a movie that may not dispel the myths of the wild, wild west, but like many Spaghetti Westerns it does put a new spin on things.
Lee Van Cleef stars as Billy Joe Cudlip, a craven thief who steals the payroll of a mining community from a naïve Czechoslovakian payroll clerk named Ben (Antonio Sabato). He is of course helped by his gang of thieves and conmen, Preacher (Lionel Stander), who dresses like his name to get rubes to trust him and James (Bud Spencer) a black man with a friendly face. Things go according to plan until Billy befriends Ben and is shoved into helping the locals recover the money. Preacher and James see this as an opportunity to steal more loot but things get further complicated when a rival gang of thieves led by Burton (Gordon Mitchell) comes into town.
Now Beyond the Law is far from a perfect movie. The acting ranges of the supporting characters range from okay to terrible and the cinematography is simplistic. Directed by Italian director Giorgio Stegani, Beyond the Law or The Good Die First brings to mind less severe Spaghetti Westerns. Rather than go the path of A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Stegani and his international crew made a movie closer to My Name is Nobody (1973) and My Name is Trinity (1970). It has the tendency to be funny and even unintentionally goofy at some points with Lee Van Cleef showing he can make the best out of a paycheck that bills him with non-English speakers.
If you're a western buff who's easy to please then Beyond the Law may be a perfect little surprise for you. It's a movie that is comfortable in its own banality. The story itself is strong, partially written by prolific Italians writers Mino Roli and Fernando Di Leo and the feel of the film is small but unique. The film was made only a year after Van Cleef's appearance in The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966) and helped make Bud Spencer a star in his own right. It should at the very least be considered a decent B-movie.
If you're interested, try finding the 105 minute version through Diamond Entertainment and look to avoid imitators with bad digital transfers. There is a colorless butchered version that you can likely find at a bargain bin somewhere and there's a decent letterbox version you can find online. Go check it out before the ghost of Red Ryder comes back to re-mystify the west.