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Reviewed by Lee Broughton
Wild East's recent additions to their ongoing Spaghetti Western Collection series have included a couple of exemplary films from two distinct periods in the genre's history. Dating from 1967 and starring Lee Van Cleef and John Phillip Law, Giulio Petroni's Death Rides a Horse is a bona fide classic. A stylish revenge tale that features a number of Sergio Leone's regular collaborators amongst its key personnel, Petroni's big-budget and smart-looking show remains a strong contender for the title of "best non-Leone Spaghetti Western". Made in 1972, Maurizio Lucidi's It Can Be Done... Amigo! is a superior comedy Spaghetti Western. An essentially light-hearted but good-looking and strangely endearing show that features fun and knowing turns from genre giants Bud Spencer and Jack Palance, Lucidi's film has remained an obscurity in English speaking territories for far too long.
Established Spaghetti Western fans already know that Death Rides a Horse is one of the genre's most highly regarded films. A big-budget genre entry that secured a worldwide cinema release, there was a time when this show's public profile was almost as high as that of Leone's Dollars Trilogy films. Iconic stills from the film regularly adorned the sleeves of early 1970s' Italian Western soundtrack compilations and the show's highly idiosyncratic soundtrack score -- which featured heavily on those compilations -- has gone on to acquire something of a life of its own. Written by genre stalwart Ennio Morricone, the score remains one of the composer's very best efforts and director Giulio Petroni puts every cue to good use: there are some great moments of audio-visual synchronization present here.
Quentin Tarantino evidently liked Petroni and Morricone's approach too: part of Morricone's Death Rides a Horse score appears amongst the borrowed music selections that Tarantino employed in Kill Bill and that film also features a number of narrative and visual elements that are designed to pay further homage to Petroni's Western.
Reworking elements of his own For a Few Dollars More script (the flashback-fuelled vengeance narrative and the uneasy alliance that is eventually forged between two normally solitary gunmen) and seemingly taking inspiration from Tonino Valerii's Day of Anger too (the hard-hearted older gunman teaching the cocky young gunslinger a series of harsh lessons in survival) resulted in scriptwriter Luciano Vincenzoni (A Professional Gun, Duck You Sucker) cooking up a really engaging, exciting and well-paced storyline for this show. The nature of a "shock" revelation about one of Death Rides a Horse's main characters that appears towards the end of the film is easily predicted but this somewhat obvious narrative contrivance still manages to act as a device that successfully sets the show up with a tense and emotionally involving finale.
Death Rides a Horse is also a well-acted film. Ryan is one of Lee Van Cleef's (Sabata, Return of Sabata, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly) best-realized genre characters and the newly revitalized actor brings his anti-hero to life via a supremely confident performance. Long, lean and suitably impassive until he gets angry, John Phillip Law's sheepskin vest and shrunk-fit corduroy trousers-clad Bill is as cool and as iconic looking as the two other big characters (Pygar in Barbarella and Diabolik in Danger: Diabolik) that the Italian film industry sent the actor's way during the late 1960s.
There's a great chemistry present between Van Cleef and Law here and it's a real shame that they weren't paired together in any subsequent genre entries. But while the duo make for a formidable team, the bad guys that they're facing here are no slouches either. Sergio Leone regulars Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega (The Great Silence) -- along with genre stalwarts like Jose Torres and Bruno Corazzari -- provide expertly executed turns that ensure that the film is populated with a good range of particularly vindictive bad guys who are more than capable of giving our anti-heroes a run for their money.
A number of the bad guys that Bill and Ryan are intent on tracking down have used the proceeds of their heinous crime to embark on new lives as respected town elders and important politicians -- a popular theme in Spaghetti Westerns that seemingly passes allegorical comment on the Italian public's ongoing concerns about organized crime and its links to political corruption -- and this makes the duo's quest for revenge all the more difficult. British actor Anthony Dawson (The Curse of the Werewolf) provides a nuanced performance as one such bad guy: the shrewd and hawkish saloon-owner-cum-master gambler, Burt Cavanaugh.
At a technical level -- and an aesthetic level too -- this show compares well to Leone's Dollars films. Petroni and cinematographer Carlo Carlini (The Big Gundown, I vitelloni) put a really good-looking movie together here and the film possesses a quite epic feel. The film's art direction and costume designs are both top class. Petroni pays homage to the Spaghetti Western's generic conventions as defined by Leone -- there are some really great close-ups present here -- but he isn't a Leone copyist. For example, the show's final duel is protracted in a Leone-like way but its actual staging and payoff are really quite original.
Petroni is also able to bring his own sense of exaggerated formalism to the show at times too. Some of the film's action scenes are staged in a playful, almost comic strip-like manner that adds a noticeable sense of speed and dynamism to the proceedings that is particularly striking. And the sequences where Bill recognizes one of the personal items (ear ring, spur, tattoo, etc) that are his only means of identifying the men that he is searching for all work really well too: a rapid mix of snap zooms, intense facial expressions, tinted flashback overlays and thunderously ominous music cues signal that violent mayhem of some description is about to erupt. The staging and ambience of these sequences where Bill comes face to face with those who wronged him bring to mind the lead ups to Liam Neeson's adrenalin-boosted flip-outs in Sam Raimi's Darkman.
Ultimately, the obvious handiwork of Ennio Morricone and Luciano Vincenzoni and the iconic presence of Lee Van Cleef, Luigi Pistilli and Mario Brega effectively combine with Giulio Petroni's stylish and assured direction to produce a film with content that looks and feels as if it is set within the same diegetic universe as Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy. As such Death Rides a Horse would work as an ideal introduction to the wider delights of the Spaghetti Western genre for those Leone fans who have yet to sample a non-Leone genre entry.
Death Rides a Horse has had something of a checkered history in home video terms. All previous US DVD releases have used tatty, panned and scanned masters. There was a pretty good widescreen version of the show issued in the UK a few years back but parts of that presentation suffered from what appeared to be low bit rate problems.
As it stands, Wild East's new Death Rides a Horse DVD is the best DVD issue of this film to date: it's both sharper and more colourful than the UK release. There is a bit of print damage present here in the form of odd flecks and very small scratches that crop up from time to time -- and there are a couple of very minor jumps due to missing frames in evidence too -- but this remains a very good presentation picture wise. The show's sound quality fares slightly less well: it fluctuates a bit and is a tad thin in places but it gets the job done with no major problems.
This release boasts some really good extra features. As is often the case with Wild East's releases, the image gallery included here is impressively extensive. The interesting audio interview with John Phillip Law is also supported by an image gallery whose content relates primarily to Law's other big Italian films from the 1960s, Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik.
I have a real fondness for the genre work of both Bud Spencer (Ace High, A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die) and Jack Palance (Companeros, A Professional Gun) but I've managed to avoid It Can Be Done... Amigo! up until now. I've read reviews of this show over the past decade that made it sound like the worst Spaghetti Western ever made. Given that the film is something of a comedy, and comedy Spaghetti Westerns do tend to be hit and miss affairs, I was happy to take those negative reviews at face value. Having now experienced the film via Wild East's smartly turned out widescreen presentation, I can only assume that the extremely poor quality of earlier panned and scanned DVDs of this title had some influence on the film's adverse reception: I reckon that fans of both Spencer and Palance -- and the Spaghetti Western genre itself -- are pretty well served here.
By 1972 Bud Spencer had perfected a screen persona that essentially followed him from film to film and genre to genre. Usually aimless and cantankerous wanderers, Spencer's characters tend to be good-hearted if reluctant heroes who possess an avaricious streak. They're looking for the big break that will guarantee their early retirement though things rarely turn out the way they would like: the money goes just as quickly as it arrives for these guys, usually because their partners (invariably played by Terence Hill) tend to be selflessly heroic and reckless types. Coburn represents a slightly softer, gentler and more easy going take on Spencer's usual screen persona.
Terence Hill doesn't appear in It Can Be Done... Amigo! but the kind of antagonistic relationship that Hill usually shares with Spencer is reproduced here in part by the presence of young Renato Cestie. Cestie's Chip is wise beyond his years and so he is able to convincingly hold his own in arguments with Coburn and the boy's acts of defiance and his contrary outlook manage to convincingly prompt the kind of exasperated responses from Spencer that Hill's characters traditionally provoke. Similarly, Chip can be likened to Hill's characters in the way that he manipulates the events unfolding around him to some extent. Within the skewed internal logic of the film this works fine, thanks in no small part to the fact that Chip's activities are never telegraphed in an overly cute or overly sentimental way.
This show also features a really interesting performance from Jack Palance. While he has a noticeably wicked glint in his eyes at all times and gets quite physically rough when he's pushing people around, this remains an uncharacteristically subdued but none-the-less enjoyable turn from Palance. Sonny is a pretty mean dude and his unforgiving nature and black clothing bring to mind Palance's Jack Wilson character from Shane. Sonny is all for shooting Coburn dead just as soon as he's married Mary but his attitude softens just a little when he finds out that she's pregnant: he decides to wait until the baby is twenty-one years of age before executing his vendetta.
There's very little in the way of realistic violence or bloodshed to be found in It Can Be Done... Amigo!. In fact the show comes on like a Spaghetti Western precursor to television's The A Team: there's lots of action, bluster and rough-housing here but it rarely has serious consequences. Spencer gets involved in a number of his trademark one-against-many brawls and Coburn is distinguished by the fact that he puts his spectacles on when he's about to start fighting. It's quite amusing to see Spencer and Palance tussling with each other on a couple of occasions: one such confrontation leaves Sonny with a nasty crick in his neck.
Other highlights for Spencer fans include a dispute over an out-sized plate full of turkey, a brawl with bandits that ensues when they try to rob a bank just as Coburn is depositing $50 for Chip, Coburn's ham-fisted attempts to get close to an amorous widow and Coburn's look of avaricious delight when Franciscus offers Chip $1000 for his farm and his subsequent look of disappointment when the lad turns the offer down flat. Interestingly, the farm in question is the same property that was built for use as the McBain ranch in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West.
As far as comedy Spaghetti Westerns and Bud Spencer flicks go, It Can Be Done... Amigo! is a smart-looking, enjoyable and largely inoffensive dalliance. Veteran cinematographer Aldo Tonti (Roma citta libera) provides some stylish shots of some of Almeria's more familiar locations and his inch perfect framing and fluid camera movements result in a classy looking film. The show's noteworthy art direction and costume designs bring with them an aesthetic look that is pleasingly "revisionist" in nature. Lots of familiar faces (guest star Roberto Camardiel (Arizona Colt, Arizona Colt Hired Gun, Gatling Gun) and genre bit part players like Riccardo Pizzuti, Luciano Catenacci, Salvatore Borghese and Paolo Figlia) are on hand to remind us that we're watching a Spaghetti Western. Genre stalwart Luis Enriquez Bacalov provides the show's pleasant soundtrack score.
Previously only available as ropey panned and scanned presentations, the long awaited rehabilitation of It Can Be Done... Amigo!'s unfairly tarnished reputation can surely now begin thanks to Wild East's new release of the film. This isn't quite a perfect presentation picture-wise but it isn't far off. Picture quality does fluctuate a little in a couple of places but it remains generally very good and there's very little in the way of print damage present here. The presentation's sound quality suffers from the odd bit of background noise in spots but this doesn't pose a major problem.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
It Can Be Done... Amigo! rates:
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