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DVD SAVANT
Savant Guest Review:

Kill and Pray


Kill and Pray
Wild East
1967 / Colour / 1.66:1 flat letter-boxed / Requiescant / 102 m.
Starring Lou Castel, Mark Damon, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Barbara Frey, Rossana Krisman, Mirella Maravidi, Ferruccio Viotti, Franco Citti, Carlo Palmucci, Liz Barrett
Cinematography Sandro Mancori
Production Designer Enzo Bulgarelli
Film Editor Franco Fraticelli
Original Music Riz Ortolani
Written by Lucio Battistrada, Adriano Bolzoni and Armando Crispino
Produced and Directed by Carlo Lizzani

Reviewed by Lee Broughton

Kill and Pray is a Spaghetti Western curiosity that really is quite unique. While it is a political Spaghetti of sorts, its overall style and narrative development don't really have that much in common with the genre's other Mexican Revolution-themed entries. And while it does contain a kind of variation on the genre's popular 'flashback-fuelled vengeance' motif, the film avoids the operatic grandeur of the vengeance-themed Sergio Leone films like For a Few Dollars More and Once Upon a Time in the West. Director Carlo Lizzani's leftfield approach possibly means that Kill and Pray technically has more in common with Django Kill than it does with Companeros but, again, any comparison here remains an extremely loose one. The presence of maverick Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini in an acting role adds to the air of mystique that surrounds this somewhat offbeat show.

Synopsis:

Southern aristocrat George Ferguson (Mark Damon) oversees the massacre of a band of Mexicans whose land he has stolen. The small son of the Mexicans' leader somehow survives and is found wandering in the wilderness by an itinerant preacher and his single-parent sister. The preacher takes the child on as his own and the boy makes an ideal companion for the preacher's small niece, Princy. The years pass by happily until the day that Princy (Barbara Frey) runs away with a company of travelling stage-players. The adopted Mexican (Lou Castel) vows to find her and bring her home. His travels lead him straight to San Antonio where a run-in with Ferguson's men, who are forcing Princy to work as a prostitute, sets in motion a chain of events that result in him remembering shocking details from his past.

Actor Lou Castel only made a few Spaghetti Westerns but the unusual characters that he chose to play ensured that he made a lasting impression on genre fans. He's the baby-faced but obnoxious and scheming, American assassin who dupes Gian Maria Volonte's naive El Chuncho into betraying the Revolution in Damiano Damiani's classic A Bullet for the General. And in Cesare Canevari's Matalo! he's the protagonist whose preferred choice of weapon is a boomerang(!). In Kill and Pray he plays a very reluctant and unassuming young gunman from a religious background. This quite boyish character sports a parson's hat and crumpled city duds and he gets his first taste of gunplay by accident when a stationary stagecoach, that he just happens to be standing next to, gets robbed: the dying driver unexpectedly drops his pistol straight into our hero's hands and, as he struggles to catch and hold the weapon, he accidentally shoots two robbers dead. He earns himself the moniker Requiescant when he immediately apologises to the dead men and says a prayer for them. Requiescant completes his novice gunman-cum-pauper look by tying a piece of old rope around his waist and attaching a second-hand holster to it. But looks can be deceiving and when the dead robbers' friends come looking for revenge, they discover that Requiescant has a natural and deadly ability with a six-gun.

When Requiescant finds Princy in the clutches of Dean Light (Ferruccio Viotti), a bad guy who seemingly won her in a game of cards, he eschews gunplay and appeals to the local law. But when San Antonio's sheriff is revealed to be a stuffed mannequin that is kept in a curtained-off area in the town's riotous saloon, Requiescant is forced to pay the town's owner, the dreaded George Ferguson, a visit. Ferguson is one of Mark Damon's (Johnny Yuma) most interesting genre characters while also being one of the genre's most unusual villains. A thin and peculiarly anaemic looking dandy, Ferguson is a violent and psychotic racist and misogynist. His aristocratic cape makes him look like a vampire while his Confederate great coat looks like it was borrowed from a Third Reich storm trooper. A self-styled philosopher who delights in pontificating to an audience, Ferguson is never done talking about his two favourite subjects: his belief that his aristocratic breeding and the colour of his skin make him superior to the ethnic groups that he despises and his belief that women are inferior creatures whose main purpose in life is their role in the process of reproduction. Ferguson fully expects his men to wholeheartedly adopt his ideological theories and he is disappointed to hear that his right hand man, Dean Light, has been mixing women with work. He orders Light to set Princy free but Requiescant's status as a pauper and a Mexican means that Ferguson cannot forego an opportunity to flex his perceived sense of superiority.

In the first of a number of interesting and unusual set-pieces, Ferguson challenges Requiescant to a shooting contest. Set in Ferguson's cavernous wine cellar, a Mexican maid is forced to hold a candelabra at arm's length while Ferguson and Requiescant take it in turns to shoot out its lit candles. Each man has to gulp down a large glass of wine between shots and the reckless Ferguson repeatedly orders the maid to move further and further away. The deranged aristocrat simply cannot stand the thought of losing to Requiescant and his wife is eventually forced to intervene in order to save the maid's life: Ferguson immediately takes his anger out on his wife, viciously assaulting her before locking her in a padded cell. Feeling humiliated, Ferguson winds up ordering his men to follow and kill the extremely inebriated Requiescant. In common with other parts of the film, this whole sequence boasts a very gothic air: the wine cellar is lit and shot as if it were a set in a period horror film. The sequence also features some very good camerawork that telegraphs the pair's drunken state very effectively. Later in the film, Ferguson has his men torture Requiescant in the same wine cellar while he studiously makes detailed sketches of the violent techniques that they employ.

Whenever Requiescant is forced to kill somebody, the mysterious Don Juan (Pier Paolo Pasolini) and three members of his war council immediately show up and appropriate the dead men's weapons for use in their long-planned revolution. When Juan discovers Requiescant's true identity, he uses the personal conflict that is present between Requiescant and Ferguson as the trigger that makes the revolution become a reality. It transpires that Juan had fought alongside Requiescant's father and the young gunman is welcomed back into the Mexican fold as a hero who can help them to defeat their common enemy. A little like Juan Miranda in Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite, Requiescant is unwilling to play a part in a revolution that will simply see existing slaves changing masters. But the idealistic Don Juan, who is revealed to be a peaceful man of religion who despises war because it destroys both sides' ability to feel pity, convinces Requiescant that true equality can be achieved by the careful introduction of new ideas and attitudes.

Pasolini's numerous appearances here largely consist of him popping up to deliver short bursts of political and moral wisdom and the earnest tones that his English dubber employs to deliver these political speeches adds to the trippy and sub-psychedelic vibe that runs through the whole film. Other bits of bizarreness include the strange set design employed for the ruined Fort Hernandez, the aforementioned mannequin-Sheriff and Burt (Franco Citti), a bad guy who owns and talks to an old West-style Barbie doll whose face he likes to periodically rub on his stubble. At one point Don Juan's war council pretend to be a travelling band and they provide the build-up to a saloon-set gunfight by playing what sounds like a Mexican interpretation of the melody line from the song Ten Green Bottles. Pasolini regular Ninetto Davoli seems to play the Mexican trumpeter Nino as if he is playing a jovial but cheeky, and extremely ebullient, urban Italian teenager in a 1960s-set Pasolini film.

The film's political content would seem to reach much further than Pasolini's periodic verbal interjections. The set-pieces that feature racist and misogynistic behaviour would appear to have a purpose that goes beyond mere grindhouse-style shock tactics: there's an impression that Lizzani and his writers were seeking to provoke a moral or political response with their approach here. In one scene San Antonio's loathsome doctor callously elects to leisurely finish a game of poker instead of responding to a Mexican man's pleas for urgent medical assistance. In a later scene the discomfort expressed by Ferguson's guests when he delivers a pro-slavery after-dinner speech works to give the scene a fairly obvious anti-slavery slant, but further food for thought is provided when Ferguson chastises the pious Union capitalists, whose payment of low wages effectively results in supposedly 'free' Union labourers being trapped in a cowed state of need and near starvation. The film's narrative arc does seek to balance the bad guys' hateful attitudes with the eventual delivery of a sense of empowerment for their victims. In terms of the racial/class struggle, the Mexicans organize themselves and start making their dreams of revolution and equality a reality. In terms of the film's gender/sexual politics, Don Juan's war council is already progressive enough to contain a female member while Ferguson's long-suffering wife does eventually find the strength to bravely defy him on two occasions: her final spectacularly significant act of defiance effectively signals the beginning of the end for Ferguson but it costs her dearly too.

But the film's biggest political statement is perhaps delivered when Juan's planned armed revolution is largely made redundant by what is effectively a relatively peaceful, Spaghetti Western-set, workers' general strike. When the town's Mexican workers down tools and meet up in the mountains in order to effect their revolt, most households and businesses immediately miss their labour and grind to a halt. There also appears to be a nod in the direction of the women's liberation movement here too: when a Mexican prostitute makes to leave for the mountains, the saloon owner calls after her, "come back here, the place needs cleaning," but she defiantly keeps on walking. Half of the Mexicans' battle has already been won without a single shot being fired. By turn, when Ferguson attempts to squash the revolt he seemingly adopts the manner of a heavy-handed and domineering industrialist who is seeking to use fear and intimidation to control his workforce. In between bouts of name-calling, Ferguson tells the Mexicans, "you don't have anything that's yours....I gave you everything but Ferguson giveth and Ferguson taketh away....I'll give you exactly one minute to return to work....you were born servants and you'll die servants."

While it's not difficult to understand why a character like Pasolini would choose to be involved in a show like this, it has to be said that the film's political themes do not overshadow or interfere with its ability to entertain as a genre feature. The largely allegorical nature of the show's political content means that it still works exceedingly well as a hugely entertaining, if slightly surreal, Spaghetti Western and there are some really nicely executed bits of business present here. The cute opening credits' montage, that is as optimistic and as saccharin as anything seen in an American Western, shows Requiescant and Princy growing up. It acts as gentle relief after the horror of the prologue's massacre but it also works to show how close and loving this quiet and frugal family are. It makes Princy's subsequent seduction by the glamour and the bright lights of the travelling stage-players all the more devastating. The scene where Requiescant remembers what happened on the day of the massacre, and lets himself be overcome by a flood of inner rage and temporary insanity, also works particularly well.

Naturally there are several action set-pieces in evidence here and most of them are original and well-staged in their execution. When Requiescant finally brings Dean Light to book, he sets up a duel situation which involves the pair facing each other stood on bar stools: both men have their necks in nooses and they draw and shoot at the stools' legs as opposed to at each other. The signal to draw is the saloon's clock chiming twelve midnight and the whole sequence is nicely edited to the clock's rhythmic tick-tocking. The excellent quality of this sequence's cinematography and editing extends to the rest of the show: Kill and Pray is essentially a fairly low-budget affair but undoubted care and technical expertise went into its assembly. Most of the acting here hits the mark and genre stalwart Riz Ortolani (Day of Anger) provides a good soundtrack score. Cinematographer Sandro Mancori went on to become the director of photography on Gianfranco Parolini's cult classic If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death and the deservedly popular Sabata trilogy.


For a flat presentation the picture quality here is reasonably sharp. Colour quality is very good too for the most part and there's very little in the way of print damage beyond odd flecks and minor scratches. The disc's sound quality is very good too. Also presented here is a recent interview with the still seemingly quite bohemian Lou Castel. This interview sees the actor talking about his genre work in a relaxed but reflexive manner and it makes for an entertaining and informative extra feature.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Kill and Pray rates:
Movie: Very Good ++
Video: Very Good -
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: interview with Lou Castel, three Lou Castel trailers and an image gallery
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 31, 2005



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Text © Copyright 2007 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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