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Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation!

a great, fun watch that works on several levels
You can watch NOT QUITE Hollywood as an eye-opening history of a somewhat under-appreciated subgenre or as simply a "greatest hits" of mind-blowing genre film moments. You will quite literally lose track of all the boobs, explosions, car crashes, mutilations, exploding heads and insane stunts offered up here. (I wanted to immediately watch it again to see all the stuff I missed!) A fantastically entertaining documentary, highly recommended to fans of action, horror, or any kind of exploitation film.

The film serves as a great starting point to research some fun flicks (I immediately sought out TURKEY SHOOT). But if you just want to watch a string of crazy, outrageous movie moments regardless of appreciating their context, go for it. You win either way.

Oggi a me... domani a te!

Standard revenge western brightened by fine cast
Bill Kiowa (Brett Halsey) practices his pistol-handling everyday in prison, using a carefully carved wooden replica gun. Kiowa was framed, we learn, and up to the very morning of his release, he repeatedly whips the gun up and out of an imaginary holster, hoping to perfect his draw for the one moment he has dreamt of: facing the man who framed him.

TODAY... opens as Kiowa gets his release, and the story unfolds with Kiowa rounding up a gang of mercenaries to help track down and confront the man who framed him, James Elfego. (The character's nationality is never mentioned but he is played by the Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai. Elfego dresses and acts like the other cowpokes in his gang -- minus a hat -- so the casting might be a lark, or meant to have some deeper subtext.) Kiowa's father gives him a stash of loot to use for paying off the hired guns, and dad is happy to recommend four top-shelf men for the job. Each man is a colorful, distinct personality, and each is played by a legitimate Euro-Western leading man, making the team an all-star squad of sorts. We have Franco "Chet Davis" Borelli, star of DEAD MEN DON'T MAKE SHADOWS, as a clean-cut ladies man; Wayde Preston from BALLAD OF DEATH VALLEY portraying the no-nonsense sheriff; Western stalwart William Berger as a frilled, bejeweled, card-shark; and lastly, the legendary Bud Spencer in full-on "Bambino" mode in the part of a Herculean giant.

The first third of the film, wherein Kiowa assembles the gang, is kind of light-hearted, and has a BLUES BROTHERS-esque "let's get the old band back together" feel to it. Despite Halsey's menacing demeanor, the gang is seemingly primed more for a rip-roaring good ol' Western adventure than a fierce, intense showdown with a band of violent savages. Particularly curious is the conceit where Kiowa will meet with a prospective gunman, lay out the terms of the job, and, BANG, we cut to a shot of them riding together side-by-side. So first it is Kiowa alone, then he picks up his first hire and it's two men riding, then another hire and bang, three men riding, etc. Set to the pic's spritely, bouncy, main theme, it's definitely more mirthful than menacing, though hard to determine if that's due to the director's intent or his clumsy touch.

Finally, Kiowa's gang set out on their cat-and-mouse chase of Elfego and his gang. Will Kiowa finally get his chance to kill his rival? The story has been given much attention by fans and students of cinema, due to it being an early writing effort of horror film master Dario Argento. But truth told, it is a very ordinary and generic revenge story, one that could have been done by anybody. The interesting aspect of a Japanese man playing the villain is never really addressed within the story itself, so we don't know if it's a "choice" by the writer, or what.

Direction by Tonino Cervi is efficient if unremarkable. This film is the only Western on his resume, and its direction is straightforward, and notwithstanding the sepia flashback setpiece, pretty ordinary. The scenery lends a bit of moody and distinctive ambiance to the action, especially in the final showdown sequence, which is set in a lovely, densely-wooded forest. And as mentioned previous, the pic's recurring title music is a little bit too bright and happy to be a good match for the revenge setting of the story. Angelo Lavagnino is the composer. Yet despite the ill fit of the pic, it is a catchy theme.

Brett Halsey (billed as Montgomery Ford), an American TV veteran leads the cast as the morose and intense Bill Kiowa. This is the first I've seen of him in a Western, and I am impressed. His style here is straight from the Franco Nero Django school, with bright brooding eyes, stubbly beard, and big over-sized scarf. He is the lone member of the "good guys" that is played straight, that is to say, without a wink or smirk, and he's very good in the part. Wayde Preston is good, bringing a John Wayne-type swagger as the quick-shooting lawman. Bud Spencer is as ever, the wry, sarcastic behemoth of a man, always fighting with his fists rather than engaging in gunplay. (And just an aside, but why does Spencer never wear a hat in any of his roles? Vanity? Who knows.) The standout among Kiowa's men is the delightful William Berger as Colt Moran. His sideways grin and dapper styling are a delight to watch, especially in a scene where he confronts an underhanded poker cheater in a saloon. Toward the film's climax, Berger dispatches a bad guy and betrays no emotion other than to bemoan the blood splatter on his fine, frilly shirt.

The villains are led by the evil Elfego, played by Tatsuya Nakadai, a veteran of the Japanese screen including several appearances in Kurosawa pics. His performance here is pretty brilliant, all wide-eyed, intense, and deeply felt. He is a good match for Halsey's low-key, brooding hero. Elfego is dressed like a western gentleman (no hat, though) and packs a big machete in addition to his pair of six-shooters. Was the machete intended to bring to mind a samurai sword? Maybe, but I really wish we had some explanation to his character's origin and backstory. It might have opened up a new level of intrigue to an ordinary plot.

It's not an essential eurowestern, but I would call TODAY WE KILl... a solid entry in the genre. Worth seeking out for a standard tale efficiently done, and for fine turns by Halsey, Berger, and especially Tatsuya Nakadai.

Un fiume di dollari

a forthright, spirited and easy-to-watch Spaghetti Western
Here is a Spaghetti Western that is from early enough in the genre's brief history that is seems colorful, fresh, enthusiastic and straightforward -- much more like a "traditional" Western that its later, more cynical counterparts.

The little-seen American actor Thomas Hunter stars in a lush Dino DeLaurentiis production that is a brisk and intensely violent if simple revenge saga. Hunter and Nando Gazzolo play robbers that are apprehended by soldiers after a big heist. The men quickly determine one can run with the loot if the other takes the rap for the crime. A simple draw of the cards (Hunter picks an 8 against his partner's Jack) means that Hunter is sent away for five years. Upon his release, Hunter finds Gazzolo has become a wealthy miser with no inclination to share his bounty. With help from American Western veteran Dan Duryea as a helpful Samaritan whose intentions seem to good to be true, Hunter sets to battle Gazzolo and his henchmen, led by the outrageously evil Mendez (Henry Silva).

I really liked Thomas Hunter's squinty-eyed ferocity in this flick -- he is like a flipside of Clint Eastwood's brusque-demeanored persona. Hunter narrows his eyes and grits his teeth plenty, but also manages to cut loose with wildly flailing fists in several nice hand-to-hand combat scenes, including an exciting ambush of Hunter in his family's abandoned barn. He also has a few maniacal outbursts in which he literally howls to the sky in frustration, which you definitely do not see in a Western very often. In fact, both hero Hunter and villain Silva are enthusiastically intense in their performances with Silva especially chewing scenery like he hasn't eaten for days. Silva's portrayal of Mendez is halfway between a posh, refined Mexican Caballero and a proud, crazed, black-leather-clad savage. As his men unsuccessfully attempt a capture of Hunter early on, Silva gleefully holsters his pistol so that he may fervently applaud his adversary. One great moment of many for Silva in the flick, he is terrific.

Also noteworthy in the cast are Duryea, as Hunter's ardent and everpresent ally, playing it solid and simple; Gazzolo in his small part as the cowardly, weirdly effeminate turncoat; and lovely redhead Gianna Serra as a two-timing saloon singer, whose sassy bravado and piled-high hair bring to mind a wild west version of B-52's singer Kate Pierson.

The scenery and photography here are lavish for the genre -- filled with beautiful vistas and big-scale, epic sequences suggesting the pic was not done on the cheap. One of the most impressive scenes is the bad-guys' dramatic horse-trail ambush which includes huge, flaming bundles of tinder rolled down a mountain to scatter the horses. The acting business is well-handled, too, with a highlight being the intense scene where Hunter finally reveals himself to his rival, verrry slowly lifting his head til his eyes are visible from under his hat.

The big, brassy theme by Ennio Morricone also aids in the film's cause, as it is a powerful, unsubtle blast of a tune that is reminiscent of the famous MAGNIFICENT SEVEN sound. It is an appropriate scene-setter for the brisk, bold vibe of THE HILLS RUN RED.

The verdict? A forthright, spirited and easy-to-watch Western and one to recommend. 7/10 stars.

I quattro dell'Apocalisse

A weird, ambitious western opus from Lucio Fulci
A weird, ambitious western opus from Lucio Fulci, a veteran of the horror genre best known to western fans as the director of Franco Nero's MASSACRE TIME. (His signature horror pic is probably 1979's ZOMBIE.) Fulci here delivers an episodic, dreamy, somewhat languorous picture, marked by bursts of emotion and drama.

We find gambler Stubby (Fabio Testi) tossed in a jail cell with a hopeless drunk; a loopy, hallucination-prone black man; and a winsome prostitute. During a raid on the town, the four prisoners are set free to escape, and wander the desert to ponder their next move.

(Spoilers follow:) In a series of vignettes, the group discovers the prostitute's pregnancy, meets up with a pack of religious settlers, is set upon by cruel bandit Tomas Milian, holes up in an abandoned town during a rainstorm, aid in the delivery of the baby, and eventually have a showdown with Milian. This might seem like a pretty straightforward checklist of events, but the presentation and mood of the picture make it all feel like a fevered, surreal dream.

The cast features some familiar faces in fine performances: Testi (A/K/A Stet Carson) is handsome and charismatic. We expect Stubby to be a cocky wisecracker, he turns out to be pensive and brooding: Testi's wide-eyed good looks are perfect for the character. Michael Pollard (of BONNIE AND CLYDE) is appropriately pathetic as the town drunk; Harry Baird, who I know from TRINITY AND SARTANA, THOSE SONS OF... does a great job of being earnest and bright-eyed at the start and escalating into full-on freak-out. As the mysterious and evil bandit Chaco, Tomas Milian is mesmerizing as always, and brings a rock-star swagger to the part of a merciless thug.

The direction by Fulci is such that scenes shift from one setting to the next rather jarringly; we may go from a dusty, sun-drenched vista to a fog-heavy valley just like that. It helps to paint the story as a weird, disorienting dream. You can almost imagine that the four leads are being depicted making their way through the afterlife, or purgatory, or judgment of some kind. Not a straightforward narrative, but really engrossing.

There is not much action or western-style stunt-work in the picture; however, several scenes of violence are conveyed with the aid of very gory, bloody makeup effects, which are shocking but effective. The unusual song score also aids in the film's impact. Several soft-rock-style narrative songs, whose lyrics mimic the action on screen, are initially unexpected and off-putting but seem to fit well the more you hear them. The songs are done in English by what sounds like a typical mid-70s acoustic rock ensemble, led by composers Vince Tempera and Massimo DeLuca.

I would suggest this to Fulci fans first and foremost. But definitely not for newcomers to the Spaghetti West, you folks should see MASSACRE TIME by Fulci instead. Also, if you are a fan of dream-like, trippy western epics like KEOMA or of David Lynch-style weirdness, you might want to take a look.

B-/C+, 6.5 out of 10 stars.

L'ultimo killer

engaging and brisk, a solid "programmer"-type picture
Ramon, a peasant farmer, is suffering under the thumb of the greedy land baron Mr. Barrett. He has been beaten and run out of town by Barrett's henchmen. Worse, he has seen his family farm burned; his elderly father killed. On the outskirts of town, he comes across the solitary hit-man known as Django, another man with no place in Barrett's town. The two strike up a friendship, with the elder gunman teaching Ramon the ways of the gunslinger. Eventually, will each man settle a score with Barrett … and possibly with each other? This modestly-plotted western by Joseph Warren/Giuseppe Vari features some nice dramatic action at the beginning and end of the film; with a long, deliberate middle section detailing the grudging friendship between the two outcasts. Despite a simple story, the film is engaging and brisk, a solid "programmer"-type picture.

Ramon is played by George Eastman, a tall, lanky Italian who bears more than a passing resemblance to Tomas Milian. Ramon is a generally decent, gentle but proud peasant who resorts to violence not as a matter of course, rather, only when he is pushed to his emotional limit by cruel, evil men. Probably safe to say that by 1967, when this film was made, the "Tomas Milian" type was already emerging as a western archetype, and Eastman plays to that standard. That said, Eastman's depth of charisma and ability to channel emotions, while passable, cannot match the natural ability of Milian. Much like every squinty-eyed loner was compared to Eastwood; every peasant turned violent would be matched against Tomas Milian.

As the gun-toting loner Django, we have Lorne Greene look-alike Anthony Ghidra. Ghidra's Django is not the miserable black-clad outcast as is often seen; the character here is a handsome, well-kept loner with a stiff upper lip and stylish neck scarf. The portrayal is that of a resigned, world-weary soul that would rather stroll the streets of his hometown than commit murders-for-hire. Ghidra is good in the part. He spouts the philosophies and axioms of the Gunfighter's Way in a sincere fashion; a lesser actor might have sounded ridiculous saying this dialogue, but Ghidra pulls it off with straight-faced charm. (Apparently the name Django was added to the character after the fact for marquee value – in the original Italian version Ghidra's character is called Rezza. That explains the un-Django-like mannerisms and wardrobe.) Daniele Vargas as Barrett provides the film with its villain, and he is a good one, all smug and cowardly as greedy land barons all seem to be. On hand as Barrett's love interest and the girl from Ramon's past is Dana Ghia as Lola, strikingly attractive and effective in her small role.

Director Giuseppe Vari, billed as Joseph Warren, keeps the slow middle section of the picture engaging despite little action. Notable is a series of "Karate Kid"-style training sequences in which Ramon learns to handle a gun. During the initial "in-town" setup of the story, Vari utilizes a few quick zooms and cuts here and there to increase dramatic tension; at other times (the "outskirts" scenes) he languidly captures some nice wide vistas. The look of these latter scenes is great, with especially bright blue skies and green trees laid bare.

The score, by Roberto Pregadio, is particularly unmemorable. In fact, as I type, I cannot recall a single theme or musical motif. Guess that's better than a terrible score.

The film is in public domain, and is readily available to view in full on YouTube and other similar sites. As a run-of-the-mill "programmer"-type of Eurowestern, with no real star power to boost it, THE LAST KILLER is still pretty good. It is never boring, is ably acted and directed, and is pleasingly photographed. 7/10 stars.

Four Rode Out

Nielsen shines in American-made, filmed-in-Spain melodrama
Unusual American-made, filmed-in-Spain melodrama that for intents and purposes can be considered a "Spaghetti Western", bearing many notes common to that genre.

Pernell Roberts is a Marshal hunting a wanted Mexican man. Leslie Nielsen is a bounty hunter of sorts after the same man. Sue Lyon is the wanted man's white girlfriend. These three disparate characters head out to the desert where the wanted man is hiding. After his capture, the four must make their way back to town, all the while battling the elements and each other.

The setup of the film reminded me of JAWS, with an initial setup followed by a long, protracted, isolated showdown. Not much happens after the first 20 or so minutes (the fugitive is captured rather quickly), so the drama of the pic comes out of the various tensions and shifting allegiances between the four people.

Pernell is solid as an honest-to-a-fault lawman. Despite a lack of charm, he is a good foundation to lay the picture on. Julian Mateos has the least to do here, but brings a Tomas Milian-style empathy to his bandit. I wish we had heard more from his character, rather than him being somewhat of a device to move the story along. As Myra the girlfriend, Sue Lyon is appropriately lovestruck, defiant, and impetuous, leaning toward shrill overacting at times.

By far the standout among the cast is the handsome, devilish Leslie Nielsen, whose Mr. Brown turns more and more creepy and craven as the story moves along. Early on, he is merely a callous and smug bounty killer; later in the show we are given reason to question his true allegiance.

I might have found a way to trim 10 minutes of desert walking out of this; at times the film does drag its feet. However, these instances are contrasted by sequences of intense drama as the cast fight over water, hidden weapons, saddlebags of cash, etc.

Not a hidden gem by any stretch but a solid C+, with special mention again of Nielsen's fine performance.

Also of note is the title music performed in 1970s folksinger fashion by Janis Ian. A very unusual choice, adds to the unique character of the film.

6/10 stars

T'ammazzo!... Raccomandati a Dio

too slow, too boring, everything takes too long to happen
I like Hilton and Gordon Mitchell so I gave this one a try. The DVD I saw is an ugly, full-frame transfer, probably from VHS. English dub. It's a "funny" story of a man (Hilton) that runs afoul of a gang of three bank robbers (Mitchell, John Ireland, Piero Vida). The robbers are busy trying to double-cross one another and Hilton joins the party. A pretty blond (Sandra Milo) takes her turn at tricking each of the men also. The story is very reminiscent of double-cross pics like ONE DOLLAR TOO MANY or ANY GUN CAN PLAY. However, this film is a little tedious, a little boring. Some of the comic scenes are pretty well-done but the action sequences are slow-moving, boring, very poorly staged. Generally the pacing of the film is too slow, too boring, everything takes too long to happen. Music is an annoying carnival-style motif which is supposed to sound whimsical but features too much acid rock-style organ and guitar. Mitchell's part FWIW is basically a cameo, he is dead after 15min of the film. Hilton is charming but can't save the film on his own. As of this writing the full film is available on YouTube. 5/10 stars.

Una pistola per Ringo

Gemma's performance is the best thing about the pic
One of the very first hit Spaghetti Westerns, directed by a co-scripter of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. The very likable and attractive Giuliano Gemma stars as Ringo ("Angel Face", as he is nicknamed), a milk-drinking pretty-boy that also happens to be a ruthless mercenary.

Gemma is sprung from prison to help the sheriff capture a band of bandits holed up, with hostages, at a nearby ranch. Much time is spent on the setup and planning of various raids by each side, and on the drama between two women (one hostage, one bandit) and the men that fancy them. Ringo eventually connives and conspires his way through the story and eventually produces the desired result, netting himself a nice payday in the process.

I liked the great contradiction of the Ringo character: so nice and handsome, polite, well-dressed... yet also a deadly pistol shot, a wisecracking sarcastic SOB, a cutthroat negotiator. Gemma is gifted at bringing the laconic, edgy charm this character needs to come alive. He is great at acting with his body, whether in dramatic scenes that show his cockiness, or the slam-bang stunts that require his full athleticism.

As for Sancho, the head bandit, played by Fernando Sancho, I don't get it. Sancho (the actor) is renowned for his great charisma and charm as a thug in dozens of Western features, but he has never won me over. Yes, he is usually poorly dubbed in a cartoonish voice, he can't help that; it's his wildly flailing reactions to every punch, every gunshot... he strikes me as a big, floppy, rowdy buffoon that is incapable of any dramatic subtlety. Sancho (the character) here shows himself to be undisciplined, hot-tempered, dumb, not at all like the ringleader of a successful gang. A poor performance by (in my opinion) a poor actor.

The picture features fine widescreen photography, and also a nice score (with dramatic stings at appropriate moments) by the great Ennio Morricone. The color schemes of the sets and costumes are, however, a little gaudy and stagy, not the usually grime-and-grease look one associates from this genre; it makes the film feel a little more "Hollywood" than other Italo-westerns.

This is, overall, a good early-cycle Spaghetti. A little slow and stagy, maybe, but enjoyable. Gemma's performance is the best thing about the pic. 6/10 stars.

Anche nel west c'era una volta Dio

Rework of TREASURE ISLAND is a tedious Spaghetti
Several problems plague this overlong, tedious flick. For one, it takes an ideal premise and draws it out interminably as to make it excruciating. Also, your protagonists are a motley, poorly-rendered bunch for the most part.

The story is a basic rework of TREASURE ISLAND. Transpose a literary classic to a new genre, I get it. Should be fun, right? A boy whose family runs a boarding house discovers a treasure map hidden by a traveling bounty hunter. The boy, along with his own old uncle, a dapper caballero, and a wandering preacher, set out across the mountains to find the gold. They must fight off a gang of roving bandits as well as their own paranoia and suspicions of each other. The story seems to take forever to get started, and once the crew gets started on their trek to find the treasure, nothing really happens for the next hour til the inevitable showdown.

An action/adventure film like this that centers around a little boy is going to rise and fall on the performance of the boy, and here, young Humberto Sempere as Tony is sniveling, wide-eyed, unlikeable. Plus, he is voiced in a shrill, broad manner by an obviously adult female actor. That alone kills the vibe of the flick from the get-go. Similarly, the boy's uncle is given a "goofy" characterization which is truly grating. Among the other leads is the blank-faced American Richard Harrison as Pat the Preacher, who has very limited, Chuck Norris-esque range, and who doesn't even show up until 30 minutes into the show. The best of the cast is the super-classy, mucho macho Gilbert Roland. Imagine the Dos Equis Guy with a pencil-thin John Waters-style mustache and a gaudy vest, that's him! Roland is dignified and sympathetic in all his parts, and to this one he brings subtle shadings to a shady gunslinger that is at heart a decent man.

Aside from Roland's performance, the other part of the film I enjoyed is the initial setup featuring bounty killer Folco Lulli coming into town, scoping out his next mark, killing an informant and an outlaw along the way. Lulli's character, however is killed off pretty quickly, setting the scene for annoying Tony to find the map and begin the main thrust of the pic's story.

Maybe the original Italian cut of this film favors the actors better than the English dub, but even if that's so, you'd still have to deal with the tedious pacing and lack of action. For the English dub anyway, I call it a generous 5/10 stars.

Continuavano a chiamarlo Trinità

Everything that was good about the first TRINITY is better here
Quite honestly, after seeing the first film in this series (THEY CALL ME TRINITY), I was a little underwhelmed, perhaps sold out by my own high hopes. That pic was the breakthrough buddy-comedy-western smash that made Hill and Spencer into superstars. I enjoyed it, liked its meandering pace and whimsical attitude, but was not blown away.

Now, after having seen the follow-up, I get it. Everything that was kinda shaggy, kinda loosey-goosey about the first film has been finely groomed here and the difference is notable. The story plays out slowly but steadily, with proper amounts of both slapstick and action, not to mention some damn fine slapstick action.

Spencer's Bambino is introduced first, duping a group of crooks out of their freshly cooked beans in hysterical fashion. Not long after the thugs have regrouped from the incident, along comes Hill's Trinity to do the same exact thing! These two gags set the tone for things: The two protagonists are never cocky or cruel in getting their way; rather they use their charm, and occasionally, Spencer's beefy fists if necessary.

The boys head back home in time to hear their father's deathbed wish, that they work together to find their way in the world, rather than constantly bickering. Their resulting adventures lead them to aid (repeatedly) a lost farming family, pose as federal agents, and get involved in a monks-versus-gunrunners battle.

The general spirit of the film is kind and genial, and for this reason it reminded me of the films of Jackie Chan's Hong Kong heyday. Much attention is paid to intricate gags (several involving food); there are numerous well-staged and complex fistfights; even a running bit with a flatulent baby that would have seemed right at home in a JC flick.

Terence Hill's Trinity is a happy-go-lucky layabout that is too lazy to even ride his own horse (he prefers to be dragged slowly behind on a makeshift cot). Trinity is handsome, charming, funny … a great character to be sure. Hill is capable of doing intense (e.g., VIVA DJANGO), so his embodiment of Trinity speaks as much to his acting chops as it does his personal charisma. As for big Bud Spencer, as Bambino he is the sour to Trinity's sweet. Perennially grumpy, the character owns an underlying air of geniality that seems at odds with his willingness to swing his fists around. You get the feeling Bambino begins each fight with a big resigned sigh, as if he'd really rather be elsewhere. The two actors had appeared together in films several times before this series, but it was the Trinity and Bambino personas that really clicked with audiences of the day.

So if you are curious about the fuss over TRINITY, I'd just as soon recommend that you skip right to TRINITY IS STILL MY NAME to get the full gist of Spencer and Hill at their best. 8/10 stars.

Indio Black, sai che ti dico: Sei un gran figlio di...

Brynner supplants Van Cleef as The Man With The Gunsight Eyes. Does it work?
The director, writer, and producer are all the same, and we have several supporting players returning, but Brynner supplants Van Cleef as The Man With The Gunsight Eyes. Does it work? Well, yes, to a point. ADIOS SABATA is, like the other movies in this series, a densely plotted, somewhat tongue-in-cheek western yarn. In each of the Sabata films, I promise you, you will lose track of who is plotting against whom, and with which ne'er-do-wells on his side. There will also be moments of wry humor, along with acrobatic stunt work. And stuff will blow up, and people will be improbably shot from a long distance away.

All of that happens in ADIOS, but it happens with Brynner at the helm, so the charisma factor is lessened by a notch or two. Where Van Cleef had steel-eyed machismo and a barbed tongue, ol' Yul provides an exotic gypsy-style appeal, all flowing frills and phallic rifle. For real, this Sabata looks like a backup dancer in a Vegas revue, with his all-black outfit and open-shirt styling. As for the sense-of-humor aspect of the character, Brynner's unusual accent tends to give those sardonic Sabata one-liners a bit of a Schwarzenegger feel, but still yet, he's charming, so it works.

Brynner, like LVC, has a great supporting cast to back him up. Returning from the first film (in different roles) are the stolid Gianni Rizzo and the boisterous Pedro Sanchez. American ex-pat Dean Reed is present as a handsome, sleazy sidekick; Gerard Herter portrays a cruel Colonel; and the wonderful Sal Borgese shines as Sabata's mute, music-box-obsessed cohort. All are excellent, with Borgese and Sanchez really notable for fine work.

Gianfranco Parolini/Frank Kramer, who handled the direction of all three Sabata flicks, is equally capable of staging big, booming explosions and a subtle eyebrow tilt; I'd say he's more adept at the latter. He gets a lot from a knowing glance, curious peek, or simple crossing of legs, putting each actor's business to great use in moving the story.

At 1 hour 44 minutes, ADIOS SABATA gets a little long, with its protracted showdown and search for gold. That said, the pic is an ably-produced, entertaining Spaghetti Western, good of its type, and recommended to fans of its star and genre enthusiasts. 7/10.

Quel maledetto giorno d'inverno... Django e Sartana all'ultimo sangue

Tedious effort from Miles Deem
Director Miles Deem (AKA Demofilo Fidani) delivers a tedious, overlong western opus with very little going for it. 82 minutes long, feels like 182. Handsome Fabio Testi is Ronson, the new sheriff of Black City. Ronson learns that the notorious gangster Willer and his cohort Sanchez are the de facto law in Black City; the townsfolk live in fear of their (modestly- staged) rampages. Meanwhile, the mysterious stranger Django (Hunt Powers) also arrives in town to settle an old score against Willer.

The set-piece of the movie is a fairly brilliant (compared to the rest of the pic) showdown at dawn between Django and Willer's men, which occurs maybe 2/3 of the way into the show. The two sides wordlessly face off in the town square as composer Lallo Gori's music swells to a passioned, foreboding crescendo. Credulity is strained, however, as Django fells all six men he faces before they get as much as a single shot off! For a moment, we see Fidani at what must be the height of his abilities -- a real, exciting Spaghetti Western standoff. Fidani obviously liked the scene, as he re-stages it again at the climax, with Ronson facing Sanchez in the almost-exact same fashion. Second time around, not so great.

Otherwise, the flick pads out its running time with several lengthy, pointless hand-to-hand rumbles, which are neither exciting nor essential to the story. Also filling the time is an extended, narrated "flashback" of how Willer and Sanchez met during a bank heist. This sequence plays out over about 10 minutes, and is so protracted that you will forget you are in a flashback. (I sure did.) And as for Sartana? The very last line of dialog in the picture has Ronson admitting to Django that he is "known as Sartana in some parts". What was the point of that?

Dino Strano as Willer is effortlessly menacing in a cool way, mostly playing things grim but occasionally breaking into a cackling, taunting laugh. Powers is a miserable Django, with little charisma and tons of pancake makeup on his creased, craggly face. The likable Testi is frankly not given much to do rather than look exasperated. He has proved himself an able protagonist in several other genre films, but here he is basically a tall guy that looks good in a cowboy outfit.

The production betrays its modest budget by boasting a tiny cast playing the story out in cramped, cheap-looking sets. The town square is forever dark and muddy, which may have been a choice by the filmmakers or may just mean they couldn't afford to wait for the sun to come out, to begin filming. The overall cheapness makes the score by Coriolano (Lallo) Gori seems that much richer and full-throated in comparison. Gori, as usual, delivers a fine, robust series of cues.

This is one of about a half-dozen flicks that Fidani cranked out with pretty much the same cast and behind-the-camera personnel. Of that bunch, none are great, and ONE DAMNED DAY may well be the least of them. 5/10 stars.

Trinità e Sartana figli di...

affable, meandering, buddy-western comedy
First things first: get past the exploitive title, as this has no bearing on either the Terence Hill "Trinity" or the Gianni Garko "Sartana" series. You'll notice straightaway that Trinity is played by a black man (given his name, it is quickly explained, because he hails from Trinidad). And Sartana, although a handsome blonde, is more vagabond scoundrel than Garko's finely- dressed card-sharp. At least the two men are called by their titular names in the picture, which is untrue of some cash-in Western characters.

You'll find the film to be an affable, meandering, buddy-western comedy with no grand aspirations, but yet an agreeable watch for the genre fan.

The loose plot of the pic has our two partners-in-crime planning various schemes in order to line their pockets, and specifically to raise the $5000 necessary for Trinity to return to his homeland. Along the way, our heroes encounter the usual bumps in the road: crooked town bosses, pretty girls with bottles of wine, crusty old traveling musicians, Mexican bandits, etc. After numerous starts and stops, their final heist involves robbing a stagecoach headed for the US/Mexico border.

Despite the impediment of dubbed performances, I was quite enamored of Harry Baird as Trinity and Alberto ("Robert Widmark") Dell'Acqua as Sartana. Widmark, who we can only assume took his stage name from his slight resemblance to Richard Widmark, is a fresh- faced, grinning SOB who brings a spirit of mirth to his antics. He is also quite adept at acrobatic hand-to-hand combat and leaping stunts, bringing to mind Jackie Chan during the film's various brawls. Baird is more the straight man, with deadpan one-liners and reaction shots appropriately scattered throughout the proceedings.

A "funny", circus-like theme (by Carlo Savina) repeats here and there just to remind us not to take any of this too seriously -- the music is infectious and is one of the film's assets.

I saw a cropped, non-pan&scan version (101min) of this on a budget DVD, which detracted from the experience a bit. Don't know if a widescreen version is to be had anywhere but would be a great improvement.

TRINITY AND SARTANA, THOSE DIRTY SONS OF B****** (as the on screen title reads) plays as a genial, unimposing Spaghetti Western buddy comedy. Taken in the correct spirit it serves its purpose, led along by its two fine leads and a what-the-heck attitude. 6/10.

Il momento di uccidere

too dull to endorse
I sure like the pedigree of this one, as director Carnimeo (a/k/a Anthony Ascott) is behind several fine Sartana films as well as FIND A PLACE TO DIE; and George Hilton is one of the Spaghetti Western genre's most laconic and charismatic stars. But despite very capable and creative direction, a hooky theme song and score, and the presence of Hilton's winning smirk, the film is a dud.

Hilton plays a notorious bounty hunter (Lord) who, with his burly, sloppy sidekick Bull (Walter Barnes in a Jack Black-style role) aims to discover the location of a missing fortune in gold. Horst Frank is the hot-headed young man that stands against them.

If you were to make a list of the pic's assets, you'd think, wow, must be great: There is an intriguing mystery to the story, as the heroes must decipher various arcane clues and enlist the help of a long-missing crippled girl. The title song, "Walk By My Side" by Francesco DeMasi, is supremely infectious, and repeats throughout in a variety of forms, notably plucked on an electric bass guitar. Carnimeo's varied camera set-ups feature numerous unusually-composed and visually-arresting shots and interesting points-of-view. Hilton is sarcastic and charming. Barnes is goofy and funny, in a Bud Spencer sort of way. Still, the picture bored me to tears in each of two separate attempted viewings. (I was made so catatonic the first time around, I stopped halfway through and tried again from the beginning on another day. No Luck.) If I had to put my finger on it, I guess I'd say there is a distinct lack of dramatic tension and/or action on hand. We seem to follow Lord leisurely from from one scenario to the next, never sensing any danger, import or panic to what's happening. The very few action sequences are of that most boring variety: The Shootout. Is there anything less exciting than two teams of gunmen firing at each other from darkened buildings? In several such scenes here, various pistoleros crouch behind their hiding spots, peek out and fire, crouch back down again, maybe somebody does an overly dramatic fall ... you get the idea. Furthermore, these scenes are usually edited such that there's no perspective on who's shooting whom, from where, adding to the viewer's dissonance. Let's have some some action, guys! A chase on horseback, a fistfight, a daring escape, a dramatic leap from a building, a tense river crossing ... stuff that makes the runtime fly by, not just fill the time.

By no means a failure, you may like this film if you are specifically locked in to Hilton's particular charm, or can forgive its clock-stopping dullness. I wouldn't recommend it otherwise. 5 out 10 stars, C-.

Route 9

Simple, efficient B-noir thriller
I found this one just flippin' through the pages of a video-on-demand site ... and what a find. A solid, very entertaining noir B-thriller.

Cop Kyle MacLachlan and his partner aim to steal a cache of loot from a crime scene ... think they'll get away with it?? Kyle Mac is sort of bullied into the scheme by his bumbling, loudmouth, forever-in-debt partner. And as soon as the idea is hatched, things go wrong, Murphy's Law-style, for the next 90 minutes. There were plenty of twists and turns in the plot: many were quite predictable, but some were real shockers, and the intrigue carried through until the final scene, with the viewer never *really* sure who would come out on top.

This is a made-for-cable movie from the '90s but does not feel lowbrow or shot on-the-cheap like many such movies do. MacLachlan is joined in the cast by familiar faces such as Amy Locane, Peter Coyote, the striking Roma Maffia (who is terrific as a very sharp DEA agent), and Miguel Sandoval, later to star in TV's "Medium". There are a few very nice stunts including a big gun battle to start the pic, a mountainside car chase, and numerous big explosions. Director David Mackay manages a few very clever setups and cutaways as he keeps the story moving along. The music score features a prominent bluesy slide guitar dropped in for effect here and there, it is very nicely done.

This is in the end a B-movie, but B-movies when done well can be as exciting and diverting as a pic of any stripe, thanks to simple, efficient construction and skilled execution. ROUTE 9 has those in spades. B- or 7 out of 10 stars.

Il mio nome è Shangai Joe

weird mash-up of 2 exploitation genres
Ahhhh, the Kung Fu Spaghetti Western, a weird hybrid that existed for a brief flash in the world of exploitation cinema. This film, known by various titles including DRAGON STRIKES AGAIN and most commonly THE FIGHTING FIST OF SHANGHAI JOE, came out in 1974, probably the zenith year for such attempts. (FYI, 1992 was the peak year for the Cyborg/Kickboxer mash-up--but that's another story.) Directed by undistinguished Italian genre hack Mario Caiano, the pic presents the tale of a Chinese loner ambling his way through the American Old West. The lead is played by the little-seen Chen Lee. Lee has only three movie credits to his name, each in an Italian film, which begs the question of whether he is an actor per se or merely a expert martial artist that happened to be living in Italy at the time. But whatever the explanation, Lee manages to acquit himself rather well in this performance. He has an easygoing, laconic presence that is pleasantly free of the stiffness sometimes on display among non-acting fighters. (Of course his dialog is dubbed, but so is everyone else's here, so it's hard to judge him in that respect.) After a few vignettes depicting Lee's troubles in finding transportation, food, and ranch work due to the locals' bigotry and bullying, we settle in to the main thrust of the story, wherein Lee aims to help liberate Mexican peons who are being enslaved by evil rancher Spencer, played by the familiar Piero Lulli. Along to help him is the pretty Mexican Cristina (Carla Romanelli), and she turns into a sort of love interest for him.

There are a few weird quirks about the pic that are worth noting. First, our hero goes unnamed for about the first 3/4 of the film--no one asks his name an he is never addressed by anyone. Then out of the blue, he offhandedly refers to himself as "Shanghai Joe" in a chat with Cristina. OK, after 80 minutes we learn his name... the in the very next scene, Spencer calls for "Joe" to be killed and shouts, "Go get Chin Hao!", a name by which "Joe" is referred for the final few minutes. What the heck? How did Spencer learn this guy's Chinese name? Is this a sloppy scripting gaffe, a botched dubbing mistake, poor exposition? Whatever the reason, it's weird.

Another oddity is the plot twist where, late in the story, Spencer and his men meet to decide how to deal with Joe. They opine that four notorious hit men would each be perfect for doing away with the Chinaman. What follows is a quick series of pretty ridiculous vignettes as colorful baddies with names like "The Cannibal" are dispatched by Joe. Among these hit men are top-billed stars Gordon Mitchell as "Buryin' Sam" and Klaus Kinski as "Scalper Jack". Their scenes are so brief, basically cameo appearances, that neither of the two have a real chance to flex their wild, woolly acting chops. A wasted opportunity.

The hit men sequences display another unusual aspect of this picture: a great number of grotesque, gory and explicit wounds and deaths. Kinski's character, obviously, relishes cutting his victim's scalps off; Mitchell builds a spiked grave-trap for his victim to fall into. Also seen elsewhere in the film are an eyeball gouged out, homemade acupuncture on a bullet wound, and a man's hand shot off. Gruesome stuff and oddly disconcerting, these shots don't give a visceral thrill or gasp, rather, they make you do a double-take in disbelief, like, "what was *that*?" Also unusual to the modern viewer are the camera tricks and staging used to suggest Joe's jumping and fighting prowess. Quite a few times we see the ol' "reverse footage" trick to depict someone jumping from a standstill up onto a tall perch. In '74 that might have wowed 'em, but by now we can see right through that trick.

In the end, the various exploitation elements can't make this a cohesive, engaging feature. Caiano's pacing is suspect, as little momentum carries over from one scene to the next, giving the 93-minute picture quite a plodding pace. And with no protagonist other than the stone-faced Joe, there is no charismatic heart to the story. As capable as Lee is, an effervescent sidekick or partner might have livened things up. What we do have to stir the soul, however, is the absolutely BRILLIANT theme music by Bruno Nicolai, which plays several times throughout. As great as the Morricone-trained Nicolai is, I will without hesitation call this the greatest theme (that I've heard) of his career. It is a rousing, epic delight that will stay with you long after the flick is done.

In all, I think the idea of this film is better than the actual finished product. Kung Fu, cowboys, cartoonish violence and gore, eastern philosophy, gunfights ... it ought to add up to a better picture that what it is. Not on anybody's must-see list, but a watchable curiosity. Call it a C+, or 6/10 stars.

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