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DVD SAVANT
Savant Guest Reviews:

The Man From Nowhere
and
Johnny Yuma /
Between God, The
Devil and a Winchester
(double bill)

Separate releases reviewed by Lee Broughton

The box office shattering success of Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars resulted in Italian film producers flooding Italy's popular cinema circuits with more and more home-grown Westerns and the subsequent atmosphere of fierce competition prompted some interesting results: many Spaghetti Western directors strove to produce films which featured reworkings of the genre's most crowd-pleasing formulas and conventions set within increasingly novel and outlandish narratives. Their efforts turned the Spaghetti Western into a continually evolving genre which managed to successfully hold the Italian public's attention for more than a decade. Perhaps not surprisingly, the overall quality of the genre's many and varied entries fluctuated wildly. Here Wild East present three very different, but rare and interesting, examples of popular Spaghetti Westerns.


The Man From Nowhere
Wild East
1966 / Colour / 2.35:1 flat letterboxed / Il Pistolero di Arizona, Arizona Colt / 114 m.
Starring Giuliano Gemma, Fernando Sancho, Corinne Marchand, Gerard Lartigau, Roberto Camardiel, Rosalba Neri, Giovanni Pazzafini, Pietro Tordi, Andrea Bosic, Mirko Ellis
Cinematography Guglielmo Mancori
Production Designer Walter Patriarca
Film Editor Antonietta Zita
Original Music Francesco De Masi
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi and Luciano Martino
Produced by Elio Scardamaglia
Directed by Michele Lupo

Synopsis:

A sadistic bandit, Gordo (Fernando Sancho), expands his gang by organizing jailbreaks and press-ganging the escapees into joining up with him. One such escapee is Arizona Colt (Giuliano Gemma) but Colt is also a fast shooting bounty hunter who is able to outsmart Gordo and go his own way. Some time later, a mission to case the Blackstone Hill bank results in one of Gordo's men, Kay (Giovanni/Nello Pazzafini), silencing a local girl, Dolores (Rosalba Neri). Colt subsequently agrees to track Kay down: for a price. Unfortunately Colt's actions anger Gordo and put the whole town in danger.

Some genre fans complain that Giuliano Gemma's (Day of Anger) Italian Westerns were too similar to traditional American Westerns. This sweeping generalization is not entirely true but it cannot be denied that his clean-shaven matinée idol looks, and his usually chatty characters' Hollywood-inspired wardrobes, did serve to give him the outward appearance of a typical, all-American, Western good guy. But appearances can be deceiving and The Man From Nowhere is undoubtedly one of the Spaghetti Western entries that helped to give the genre a bad name amongst American traditionalists. Those American cinema-goers who liked their Westerns to be historical parables, wherein mythical heroes and cultural signifiers were combined to promote good moral values and confirm pre-existing notions of American nationhood, would have found little to please them here.

Gemma's Arizona Colt represents the absolute antithesis of the traditional Hollywood Western hero: Colt is primarily selfish, greedy and lazy. When Gordo tries to recruit him, he makes good his escape without a second thought for the other prisoners who must join Gordo's gang or die. Later he recognises Kay in Blackstone Hill but he just lets him go about his nefarious business, which ultimately results in the deaths of Dolores and many of the town's other citizens. He does eventually agree to hunt Kay down but only on the condition that he is paid $500 and gets to sleep with Dolores's sister, Jane (Corinne Marchand). He cheats at cards and, when Whisky (Roberto Camardiel) finds him close to death in the desert, he insists that Kay's valuable corpse should share his horse ride back to town. And at the film's finale, Colt doesn't give two hoots that Gordo is ransacking Blackstone Hill in his search for him: he's too busy thinking about what he's going to do with the pile of stolen money that's just fallen into his lap.

Coming a year after Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More, The Man From Nowhere features several references to Leone's film: the jail-break which in turn facilitates the big bank raid, a bounty hunter, the disappearance of stolen bank notes, etc. Fernando Sancho's Gordo has a musical pocket watch that he's obsessed with and he uses a Douglas Mortimer-style long-barrelled pistol to shoot escaping prisoners for sport: this sequence brings to mind Major Jackson's introductory scene in Sergio Corbucci's Django. Rotund and humorous, but authoritative and menacing, Sancho was a talented character actor who was a real natural when it came to playing Mexican bandits. Here he's both convincing and entertaining as a particularly vicious bad guy who will kill simply to prompt or emphasize the punchlines of the crazy jokes generated by his psychotic sense of humour. Elsewhere there are further nods towards Django (Colt's injured hands) and A Fistful of Dollars (Colt's use of some elaborate body armour).

There are a number of familiar faces from the Leone Westerns present here and Roberto Camardiel (Mr Zorro from Django Kill) appears as a roguish but likeable character called Old Man Whisky. Whisky adds a fair amount of comic relief to the film though he eventually winds up becoming the show's moral conscience when his actions finally prompt Colt to do the right thing. He dresses like a mountain man-cum-fur-trapper and he throws around explosives that are disguised as whisky flasks while drinking from a whisky flask that is shaped like a pistol. His idea of a double whisky involves raising two full bottles of the stuff to his lips simultaneously. He's adept at literally sniffing out hidden dollar bills, a talent he is happy to employ when Gordo waylays a group of cowpokes who have just returned from selling their cattle. Whisky reassesses his feelings about the bandit, and his own position in the gang, when Gordo tells the cowpokes that they are free to go before gleefully shooting them in the back as they flee.

This film represents nearly two hours of well-staged, no-nonsense Western action. Some sections have a slightly jokey ambience (most scenes involving Whisky) while others play like a celluloid comic strip (Colt punches a prison guard so hard that he's lifted off the floor and ends up strewn over a fairly high wall). But other sections feature quite extreme violence that is executed in both cruel and casual ways (Gordo likes to wound his victims and point out the errors of their ways before finishing them off and many innocent townsfolk die needlessly when Gordo's men pull the bank job and then ransack the town). There are also some well observed incidental bits of business present too (the preacher's son who sneaks into the saloon for his first drink and a quick look at the serving girls before his father finds him and chases him off, the cowpokes having one last drink in town before setting off on their cattle drive, etc).

Not all Italian art directors were as bold as Leone's Carlo Simi and this film's sets and costumes would be completely at home in any traditional Hollywood Western. However, the key protagonists here all possess an abundance of the existentialist and nihilistic attitudes that are typically associated with Spaghetti Western characters. Fusing the Hollywood look with the Italian attitude makes for quite a curious mix: the film has the look, and often the general ambience, of a superior 'suitable for all ages' Saturday matinée Western but some of its themes are 'adults only' in nature. Francesco De Masi's decent soundtrack score also appears to have been influenced by both the American and the Italian schools of Western theme scoring. Michele Lupo's direction and Guglielmo Mancori's cinematography are spot on for the most part. Most scenes are covered from a number of interesting angles and the camera placements and picture compositions are noticeably good. Lupo appears to have been granted a fairly big budget and a good degree of freedom here. He follows his own path for the most part, resisting any temptation to overtly mimic the now familiar Leone style. The film plays like Lupo was simply intent on producing a solid, entertaining and action-packed Western and I'd say that he succeeded.


The print used here looks like it brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people on the drive-in circuit way back when. There are a couple of fairly rocky splices and a number of jumps due to missing frames present. And every so often the picture suffers from an outbreak of quite deep scratches. The picture itself is quite soft in places (more so on the left side of the frame on some occasions) but the colours are strong, if somewhat over-saturated at times. A previously cut scene has been restored from a slightly more inferior video source. The disc's sound quality is a bit crackly in places and things do get a little muffled on a couple of occasions. The image gallery included here contains an impressive selection of stills, lobby cards, posters, etc.


Johnny Yuma
Wild East
1966 / Colour / 1.85:1 flat letterboxed / 97 m.
Starring Mark Damon, Lawrence Dobkin, Rosalba Neri, Louis Vanner, Fidel Gonzales, Gus Harper, Johnny Solaro, Dada Gayford, Mirella Dugan, Leslie Daniel
Cinematography Mario Capriotti
Production Designer E R Bulgarelli
Film Editors Sidney Klaber
Original Music Nora Orlandi
Written by Fernando Di Leo, Romolo Guerrieri, Sauro Scavolini and Giovanni Simonelli
Produced by Italo Zingarelli
Directed by Romolo Guerrieri

Synopsis:

Infirm Thomas Felton (Leslie Daniels) tells his young wife Samantha (Rosalba Neri) that he wants his nephew Johnny Yuma (Mark Damon) to run their ranch. Samantha responds by having her brother Pedro (Louis Vanner/Luigi Vannucchi) bump Felton off. She then blames a fall-guy for Felton's death and employs her ex-lover-cum-bounty killer, Lawrence Jerome Carradine (Lawrence Dobkin), to shoot the patsy down. When it transpires that Felton has actually willed the ranch to his nephew, Samantha instructs both Carradine and Pedro and his men to eliminate Johnny.

While nobody knew it at the time, Sergio Leone's Dollars films played a key role in introducing notions of what is now referred to as post-modernism to cinema texts. Their influence on other Italian Westerns meant that the genre itself increasingly became a site of much post-modern activity. And, whether by accident or design, director Romolo Guerrieri and his writers were way ahead of the rest of the post-modernist pack when they cooked up the funky, spoofy, inter-textual delight that is Johnny Yuma.

One of this film's writers, Fernando Di Leo, had previously worked on the treatment that For a Few Dollars More was built around and he appears to be deconstructing key elements from that film here. When Johnny shoots three drifters who try to take his horse from him, his avaricious Mexican side-kick Zorito (Fidel Gonzales) gleefully declares that the trio are wanted men with bounties on their heads. But Johnny isn't interested in bounty killing or reward money. He killed the men because they attacked him and he tells Zorito to simply bury them. Later, a quite humorous scene shows a group of bounty hunters languidly hanging around outside of a law clerk's office, waiting for news of the best reward prices in the same way that gamblers stand around bookmakers' offices waiting for the best racing odds to be announced before placing their bets. Johnny also has a Douglas Mortimer-style musical pocket watch but he uses it as an alarm clock(!).

But it's not only other Westerns that get referenced here. This film boasts quite a Film Noir-ish vibe. Rosalba Neri's (Lisa from The Castle of Fu Manchu) Samantha is a real femme fatale, so much so that the film's English tagline ran "blood on her hands, seduction on her mind, nothing on her conscience". She's the one who gives Pedro the nod to shoot Felton dead and she subsequently sleeps with a servant before sending him to meet his doom as the patsy she has chosen to take the blame for Felton's demise. And she effortlessly wraps Lawrence Jerome Carradine around her little finger when she tells him that they could be a couple again. He's a solitary, hard-boiled killer for hire who plays chess with himself and has a fetish for receiving his payment in dollar bills that are torn in two (half now, half when the job's done). He knows that Samantha is bad news because he's had his fingers burnt by her scheming nature before but he simply cannot resist her charms. By contrast, some of the incidental dramatics at the Felton ranch play like typical bits of business from contemporary Latin American soap operas while other parts of the film feature some genuinely funny-if-bizarre comedy aspects: an extended sequence where Samantha strips for a bath is dominated by an observing parrot who is intelligent enough to enjoy what he sees(!).

Mark Damon made his Spaghetti Western debut in Sergio Corbucci's spoofy comic-strip Ringo and His Golden Pistol. In that film his character was quite campily dressed and his attire there seems to have set the precedent for many of his later genre appearances. As Johnny Yuma he sports a hippy-ish waistcoat and a succession of brightly coloured shirts, which he wears open-necked in order to show off his natty necklace and medallion. He's a very early incarnation of the Sixties' super-spy out West: his alarm clock pocket watch also sports an intricately designed combination lock which in turn reveals how to open Felton's baroquely disguised safe. And, just like Derek Flint, Johnny is something of a babe magnet: it seems that he has a girl in every town and he finds it difficult to remember all of their names. When he swaps gun belts with Carradine, Pedro's men initially mistake him for the bounty killer and he jumps at the opportunity to move around in undercover mode for a spell. In true Bond-villain fashion, Samantha slyly welcomes him into the Felton ranch knowing full well that he isn't who he says he is. Johnny himself is Bond-like in his ability to physically assault Samantha when the situation demands it.

Johnny's Mexican sidekick, Zorito, is an unusual and quite humorous character. When he sees a wad of Carradine's half dollar bills he innocently enthuses, "it's a good idea to tear the dinero in half...you can spend the money twice". He's an aspirational and persistent hanger-on who wants to profit from and bask in the glories of Johnny's adventures but by loose association only: he's very wary of actually getting himself physically involved in anything that might prove to be too dangerous. Johnny seems to delight in mistreating him although it's obvious that he really kind of likes him and is simply trying to teach him a lesson or shake him off before the going gets too tough. Either way, Zorito manages to show true bravery and loyalty to Johnny in his own way come the film's finale.

Essentially a knowing and slightly camp comic-strip brought to celluloid life, Johnny Yuma is a really unexpected treat. Even its less successful sequences sport interesting visual details. When Johnny gets involved in a well choreographed but silly and slapstick bar room brawl, the worried bartender is seen cranking down a protective metal cover which comes to rest in front of his bottle shelves and mirrors. The same kind of attention to detail has been applied to re-decorating a number of familiar Sergio Leone sets and locations, resulting in convincing changes of appearance and the projection of a different ambience. Despite the film's periodically comic and spoofy nature, there are some really well executed action sequences present here and the show boasts some extremely violent and brutal excesses.

The direction and cinematography here is sometimes more reminiscent of late-Sixties' pop-art television shows (later episodes of The Avengers, Batman, etc) as opposed to grand cinema but such an approach is perfect for this film. Interesting characters and art direction, decent acting, unpredictable and fast-paced plot twists and a distinct sense of the bizarre all combine to hold our attention and keep us interested. Nora Orlandi's soundtrack score includes some good, Ennio Morricone-inspired choral pieces as well as some slightly more unusual cues. Many popular Spaghetti Westerns had big songs sung by big voices playing over their opening credits and Johnny Yuma's is a real classic. Sung by the Wilder Brothers, it's kind of like Johnny Leyton's Johnny Remember Me re-interpreted with a Western edge. Johnny Yuma is just a little too uneven to be regarded as a bona fide classic but the film definitely qualifies as one of those exceptional and unique 'one-offs' which make the genre so much fun.


This is a very decent presentation: the disc's picture is clear, reasonably sharp and colourful. The appearance of odd scratches from time to time is the only real evidence of print damage here. Some of the plain white walls of the Mexican adobes do offer a slight shimmer early on but this appears to be caused by something present in the source print as opposed to an encoding issue. One short shot here has been restored from an inferior video source. The disc's sound is quite decent too but the dialogue does get a little tinny and abrasive in parts. There is one line of dialogue present that appears to slip into the German language. The line in question plays during what could quite possibly be the most brutal and disturbing act of violence ever to appear in a Spaghetti Western. I'm assuming that this sequence was cut from the original English language version of the film and that no English sound elements were prepared for it.


Between God, The Devil and a Winchester
Wild East
1968 / Colour / 2.35:1 flat letterboxed / Anche nel west c'era una volta Dio / 98 m.
Starring Richard Harrison, Gilbert Roland, Dominique Boschero, Folco Lulli, Ennio Girolami, Roberto Camardiel, Humberto Sempere, Raf Baldassarre, Rocco Lerro, Jose Luis Lluch
Cinematography Pablo Ripoll and Alberto Fusi
Production Designer Danilo Zanetti
Film Editor Antonio Gimeno
Original Music Carlo Savina
Written by Marino Girolami, Amedeo Sollazzo, Tito Carpi and Manuel Martinez Remis
Produced by Marino Girolami
Directed by Dario Silvestri

Synopsis:

Pedro Butch's (Raf Baldassarre) outlaw gang brutally ransack Uncle Pink's (Roberto Camardiel) run-down saloon in their unsuccessful search for a guest's treasure map. The map is subsequently found by young Tommy (Humberto Sempere) and he gives it to an interested stranger, Pat (Richard Harrison). It transpires that said treasure was stolen from a church and Pat is actually a priest who is determined to retrieve the loot. He employs a local wagon master, Chasquido (Gilbert Roland), to put together a team of men to guide him to the remote Valley of the Caves but word gets out about the treasure, resulting in a murderous mutiny by some of the men. To make matters worse, Chasquido has cut a secret deal with Butch, whose men are tailing the wagon trail.

It's not hard to imagine the brain-storming session that cooked up this film: "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" .... "Treasure" .... "A treasure hunt" .... "Treasure Island!". Yes, this film is essentially Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island loosely transposed to the Spaghetti West via Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. What's more, it actually works reasonably well. The interested parties here do represent a good (Pat, Tommy, Pink and the few men who are loyal to them), bad (the bandit Pedro Butch and his gang) and ugly (Chasquido and his men) trio of sorts and the untrustworthy Chasquido is the man who is making it his business to trick the others into entering into a number of sham deals and untrustworthy partnerships. In a nutshell, Pat knows exactly where the treasure is located, Chasquido knows how to get to that location and Pedro Butch has the fire-power to take the treasure from whoever is left holding it when the dust settles.

The first thirty minutes of this show detail one Colonel Bob Ford's (Folco Lulli) journey to, and short stay at, Uncle Pink's remote guest house-cum-saloon. Ford effectively stands in for Billy Bones here: he's a hardened criminal with a treasure map about his person and he has no trouble seeing off a couple of opportunist would-be bounty killers who try to surprise him along the way. Although he spends most of his time locked in his room or cagily sizing up Pink's other patrons, Ford is really right at home at Pink's place: it's a real den of iniquity where vagabonds congregate to drink cheap whisky and sneak a quick fondle of the serving girl, Martha (Dominique Boschero). When Ford subsequently kills a member of Pedro Butch's gang who has been searching for him, Chasquido the wagon master becomes the Mr Fix-it who can tidy the whole mess up: for a price. Despite Chasquido's best efforts, Butch still comes a calling and his men violently ransack Pink's place and Ford winds up dead. This whole extended introduction is shot in a really gritty and effective Spaghetti Western style.

However, the tone and nature of the film changes somewhat at the half hour point. Young Tommy finds Ford's treasure map, Pat shows up and appropriates it and everybody hits the treasure hunt trail. And the show turns into a cross-country, battle against the elements (storms, rock falls, treacherous mountains, etc) and sabotage adventure that retains further key narrative elements from Treasure Island. The psychological games featured in Stevenson's story are rather smartly reproduced here. The duplicitous Chasquido stands in for Long John Silver and he does a good job of confusing and testing the loyalty and trust of young Tommy, the Jim Hawkins stand in. Tommy is horrified when he overhears Chasquido plotting to kill him, Pat and Pink in order to get his hands on the treasure and he can't understand why Chasquido continues to treat him with kindness and affection. The boy instinctively wants to continue relating to Chasquido as the old friend that he likes and trusts but Pat tells him otherwise, advising him to take what he heard at face value and to keep his knowledge of the map a secret. But Tommy is also aware that Chasquido is the only guy tough enough to save him from the other mutinous men on the trail should trouble break out: the wagon master wears a metal guard over his left hand and this comes in handy when he gets in a fist fight.

Richard Harrison's pacifist priest stands in for Dr Livesey and he's a very unusual genre character. Dressed in civilian clothes, he comes across as very square: the little bits of information that he lets slip about himself seem plausible but we still find ourselves wondering if he's really telling the truth. At one point he picks up a gun and does some impressive trick shooting, which suggests that he was a mighty gunfighter at some point in the past. But reformed gunfighter or not, he seems determined to stick to his promise to retrieve the treasure without having to resort to violence of any kind. Harrison does a good job of playing down the elements of machismo more usually associated with the genre's heroes. Roberto Camardiel's Uncle Pink acts as a guardian figure for Tommy but he's also wildly eccentric, so he kind of doubles up as a stand in for both Squire Trelawney and Ben Gunn. He's a jolly but embittered Reb who delights in naming his pigs after Yankee generals. And he continually enthuses about his home cooking efforts and makes boasts about how his culinary skills aided the Southern war effort.

It seems that many Italian Western fans dislike this film. Some feel that its content is too far removed from the genre's traditional narrative blueprints while others lose interest when Pat declares himself a pacifist: a pacifist Spaghetti Western hero is a contradiction in terms to some. Even those fans who like it generally wind up comparing it unfavourably to their favourite version of Treasure Island proper. The cross-country journey does drag just a touch in parts but there's still a good amount of action to be had here. There's not much in the way of regular duels or Leone-like stand-offs but there are a fair number of rough and tumble shoot-outs in evidence. And Pedro Butch and his outlaw gang provide several instances of the type of brutal, vicious and callous violence that is generally associated with the genre.

Of the three films presented here, Between God, The Devil and a Winchester is the most B movie-like. That said, it's still a reasonably decent looking production. Director 'Dario Silvestri' is by all accounts actually the show's producer, Marino Girolami. Girolami directed many films and he had a reputation for being a quick and competent worker but it looks as though juggling the producer and director roles took its toll here. The reasonably impressive staging of the opening thirty minutes suggest that this first third of the film got the lion's share of the project's shooting time. By comparison, some of the location scenes on the treasure hunt trail appear more workman-like and budget constrained. Carlo Savina's soundtrack score is quite unusual: the Latino flavoured pieces are pretty good and the use of heavy fuzz guitar and various keyboards give some of the other cues a slightly Psychedelic or embryonic Progressive Rock-like feel.


The print used here has seen better days. Early on it looks quite faded and washed out. The latter half of the film is more colourful but some of these later sequences feature colours that are quite over-saturated. A number of night-time scenes play quite dark and, amongst the regular outbreaks of scratches and suchlike, there are a couple of jumps due to missing frames and rough splices. The disc's sound is serviceable but less than perfect. I guess the condition of this presentation is close to what Savant calls "'research' quality". Given that the film is rare and is presented here as part of a two for the price of one deal, its 'research' quality status can perhaps be excused to an extent.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
The Man From Nowhere rates:
Movie: Very Good -
Video: Fair + / Good --
Sound: Fair + / Good --
Supplements: Image gallery and trailers

Johnny Yuma / Between God, The Devil and a Winchester rates:
Movie: Yuma: Very Good +, Winchester: Good
Video: Yuma: Very Good -, Winchester: Poor ++ / Fair --
Sound: Yuma: Good -, Winchester: Fair ++
Supplements: Image galleries for both films, four Mark Damon Spaghetti Western trailers, alternate credits sequence for Johnny Yuma and booklet


Packaging: Separate releases in Keep case
Reviewed: October 14, 2004



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