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DVD SAVANT
Savant Guest Review:

A Place Called Glory
and
The Road to Fort Alamo
Volume 37
Classic Spaghetti Western Double Feature

Reviewed by Lee Broughton

This double bill disc from Wild East features a couple of really quite obscure and unusual Euro Westerns from the early part of the genre's 1960s cycle. Ralph Gideon's A Place Called Glory is a fairly un-generic show that makes reasonably interesting use of the two main stars of the West German Winnetou series and a handful of well-known faces from Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars. Mario Bava's The Road to Fort Alamo is another un-generic genre entry: here former Peplum star Ken Clark goes head to head with a tribe of marauding Osage Indians.


A Place Called Glory
Wild East
1965 / Colour / 2.35:1 anamorphic / Die Holle von Manitoba / 93 m.
Starring Lex Barker, Pierre Brice, Marianne Koch, Gerard Tichy, George Rigaud, Aldo Sambrell, Antonio Molino Rojo, Wolfgang Luschy
Cinematography Federico G. Larraya
Production Designer Enrique Alarcon
Film Editor Roberto Cinquini
Original Music Angel Arteaga
Written by Jerold Hayden Boyd, Edward Di Lorenzo and Fernando Lamas
Produced by Bruce Balaban and Danilo Sabatini
Directed by Ralph Gideon

Synopsis:

Two professional gunfighters, Clint Brenner (Lex Barker) and a mysterious Frenchman (Pierre Brice), become friends following a chance meeting on the open trail. The two sharpshooters are oblivious to the fact that they are scheduled to go head-to-head in a "gunfight to the death" competition that is the highlight of Glory City's Founder's Day celebrations. However, the pair find themselves with more pressing problems to deal with when they pass through Powder City. The leader of a gang of violent thugs, Jack Villaine (Gerard Tichy), is acting as the spokesperson for local cattle barons who are angry that Seth Grande (George Rigaud) is allowing homesteaders to settle on his land. A range war is about to erupt and the fact that Grande's daughter Jade (Marianne Koch) is romantically involved with Villaine, albeit under sufferance, serves to further complicate matters. Villaine assumes that Brenner and the Frenchman must be working for Grande and he orders his gang of cutthroats to dispose of the duo.

A Place Called Glory is of interest to Euro Western fans principally because it re-unites Lex Barker (Castle of the Walking Dead) and Pierre Brice (Mill of the Stone Women), the duo forever remembered as the two main stars of the West German Winnetou film series, in a distinctly un-Winnetou-like genre outing. The only tenuous link to be found here is the fact that -- just as in the Winnetou films -- Barker plays a character who doesn't wear a generic cowboy hat. Interestingly, the French actor Brice actually gets to play a French gunslinger in this show: the Frenchman with No Name's accent is conveniently explained away during a conversation found at the start of the film, which reveals that he hails from New Orleans.

A Place Called Glory's producers should really be commended for boldly casting both actors somewhat against type: Barker and Brice both play hard-nosed and unsentimental gunmen who make a living by competing in gunfighter contests that are effectively duels to the death. They may be cold-blooded killers but the pair do possess some morals, which leads to them reluctantly siding with Grande when Villaine's bullying thugs start provoking trouble in Powder City. The pair's anti-hero status is just one of a number of elements that make this West German-Spanish co-production look and feel like a genuine Spaghetti Western at times. Indeed, the show's decent enough soundtrack score, which was composed by Angel Arteaga but arranged and conducted by Bruno Nicolai, serves to add a further dash of Spaghetti Western-tinged flavour.

Having said that, A Place Called Glory's range war related storyline necessarily borrows its main themes from a generic narrative model that is associated with Hollywood Westerns rather than Italian Westerns. But, in spite of its range war premise, the film remains a peculiarly urban-looking genre entry. American director Sheldon Reynolds (AKA Ralph Gideon) seems to have approached the show as if he was helming a film about gangsters fighting a turf war in a modern day city and very little of the contested range itself is actually seen onscreen. As such, key sequences unfold within the drab and claustrophobic confines of hotel rooms or with their main players huddled around saloon tables or hunched over saloon bars.

An abundance of nighttime scenes, a tense but overly-detailed game of poker and Jade's unhappy existence as a world-weary saloon owner who cannot escape from an unhappy relationship with a violent criminal all serve to give the show a film noir-like ambience. The predicament that Marianne Koch's Jade finds herself in is a little similar to that of her Marisol character from Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars. However, Jade is more of a pragmatic-if-unhappy gangster's moll type as opposed to a wronged and abused innocent like Marisol. The revelation that Jade and Brenner are former lovers and the gentle hints that the pair might still have feelings for each other does serve to add some welcome emotional depth to the proceedings.

Further extending its loose connection to Leone's first Western, A Place Called Glory features more of A Fistful of Dollars's iconic alumni in the form of Wolfgang Luschy, Aldo Sambrell (Arizona Colt Hired Gun, Hands Up Dead Man! You're Under Arrest), Antonio Molino Rojo (Kill Them All and Come Back Alone, Now They Call Him Sacramento) and Luis Barboo. Luschy (who played John Baxter in Fistful) provides a nicely understated turn as Jade's loyal head barman while Sambrell and Rojo are cast in their familiar bad boy henchmen roles. Laidback George Rigaud (They Came to Rob Las Vegas) doesn't have much to do in his role as the apathetic Grande but Gerard Tichy (Summertime Killer) provides an animated performance as the wholly nefarious Villaine. Of the bit part players, Barboo almost steals the show with a short but key role in the film's well-executed final act.

The quite original nature of A Place Called Glory's unusual finale, in which Brenner and the Frenchman unwittingly come face-to-face with each other in Glory City's gunfighter contest, is the high point of the show. The bloodlust displayed by the town's residents -- young, old, male and female alike -- as the contest gets underway is very disturbing and the sequence brings to mind the incidental observations concerning the dark side of human nature that are often found in Sam Peckinpah's Westerns. Reynolds emphasizes the exploitative nature of the contest and the unhealthy effect that it is surely having on local children by repeatedly cutting to a close-up of a dancing Mexican puppet toy. The puppet is wielding two drawn pistols and its excited young owner, who has bagged himself a front row seat, forces the puppet to perform its violent dance of death throughout the contest.

While it is hardly a classic Western, A Place Called Glory remains an interesting enough Euro Western entry that has been hard to come by up until now. Genre fans who were thrilled and moved by the loyal and intense onscreen friendship that Barker and Brice's characters enjoyed in the Winnetou films should get a kick out of this show too.


Picture quality fluctuates a little here. For the majority of the show's running time the picture quality is just short of very good. However, in order to present a complete version of the film, Wild East have restored a couple of short scenes that were sourced from a print of slightly lesser quality. Similarly, the presentation's sound quality is good for the most part but a couple of scenes do feature the odd slightly muffled section.


The Road to Fort Alamo
Wild East
1964 / Colour / 2.35:1 anamorphic / La strada per Forte Alamo / 79 m.
Starring Ken Clark, Jany Clair, Michel Lemoine, Andreina Paul, Alberto Cevenini, Gustavo De Nardo, Antonio Gradoli, Gerard Herter
Cinematography Ubaldo Terzano
Production Designer Demofilo Fidani
Film Editor Mario Serandrei
Original Music Piero Umiliani
Written by Livia Contardi, Lorenzo Gicca Palli and Franco Prosperi
Produced by Achille Piazzi
Directed by Mario Bava

Synopsis:

When a cash-strapped wanderer, Bud (Ken Clark), comes across a squad of massacred Union soldiers he discovers a cheque from the Wagon City Bank that promises to pay the US army $150,000. He soon links up with Slim (Alberto Cevenini) who introduces him to Carson (Michel Lemoine) and his gang of desperate cattle-rustlers. Posing as Union soldiers, the gang succeeds in cashing the cheque but a subsequent attack by Osage Indians results in the villains losing their civilian clothing. Carson takes off with the cash while a Union army convoy, that is escorting a party of officers' wives to Fort Alamo, rescues Bud and Slim. The duo succeeds in passing themselves off as genuine soldiers but things get complicated when the convoy subsequently rescues Carson and suffers further attacks by the Indians.

Horror maestro Mario Bava's first Western probably has more in common with John Ford's work than Sergio Leone's but it remains an interesting and entertaining effort. Filmed at roughly the same time as Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, The Road to Fort Alamo is one of those early Italian Westerns that were specifically designed to fool Italian audiences into thinking that they were paying to watch an American production. It's hard to imagine the unlikely sounding names that litter the front credits of the Italian print used here having the desired effect. For example, Bava is credited as John Old, cinematographer Ubaldo Terzano is credited as Bud Third and the actor Alberto Cevenini is credited as Kirk Bert.

That said, the fairly impressive Western landscapes that Bava's matte paintings and special effects work conjure up on occasion just might have ensured success for the con trick. The show's exteriors were shot in the green and grassy woodland spaces that genre fans will recognize from later low budget Spaghetti Westerns that were filmed at locations on the outskirts of Rome. However, Bava's expertly executed camera trickery is able to convincingly add mountainous craggy rock faces and Western-style cacti to the Italian landscape.

The Road to Fort Alamo is a B movie through and through but it has bags of (sometimes quite naive) charm. It also features some fairly interesting characters. Scratching around for cash in the bleak economic climate of the post Civil War years, Bud, Slim and Carson's motivations and their quick descent into serious criminality can be readily paralleled to the similar themes and concerns that are found in the Italian neorealist films that focus upon the economic hardships encountered in Italy during the post World War Two period.

While the desperate gang is successful in cashing the army cheque, their plans quickly go awry and subsequent events are marred by some highly disturbing and completely unnecessary bloodshed that is initiated by an increasingly deranged Carson. Brimful of tension and suspense, the bank-set sequence that details the cashing of the cheque has an effective film noir-like feel to it. The subsequent bloodshed horrifies Bud and Slim and their reaction serves to differentiate them from Carson and his more callous cohorts. The pair are happy to leave the gang but their earlier tussle with the representatives of civil society (a cheating gambler (Gerard Herter) and his cronies, a lazy and corrupt sheriff and a surly barman) leaves Bud and Slim with few places to go.

Of the Union troops that rescue the pair, Captain Hull (Antonio Gradoli) is a typically pig-headed officer who refuses to accept the tactical advice of others while Sergeant Warwick (Gustavo De Nardo) is an open-minded and quietly astute individual. He instinctively knows that Bud and Slim aren't real soldiers but, given the convoy's precarious position, he isn't quick to judge them. Also travelling with the convoy is a female prisoner, Janet (Jany Clair of Hercules Against the Moon Men), who is being transported to Fort Alamo for trial.

The tired "warring Indians versus US cavalry" scenario rarely appeared in Spaghetti Westerns and in many ways Bava does a great job of making the overly familiar iconography -- and the cliched set pieces -- borrowed from similarly themed US Westerns seem reasonably fresh and exciting. While it remains an interesting looking show, The Road to Fort Alamo works chiefly because its story arc cleverly presents a quick succession of way too obvious and slightly hokey -- but still remarkably fun and intriguing -- narrative hooks that effectively serve to instill a sense of perpetual suspense in the viewer. Will Bud and Slim get the money back? Will Sergeant Warwick turn them in? Will Bud and Slim abandon the convoy? What will happen if they do? Will Carson cause more trouble for the pair? Will the Indians attack again? Will Bud and Janet get together? Etc, etc.

Narrative contrivances also result in super brawny Ken Clark (Mission Bloody Mary, From the Orient with Fury, Special Mission Lady Chaplin) losing his shirt a couple of times but the muscleman actor gets along just fine as a Western hero. Euro cult cinema fans will get a kick out of seeing interesting performances by cult actors Gerard Herter (Caltiki The Immortal Monster, The Big Gundown, Adios Sabata, Gatling Gun) and Michel Lemoine (Seven Women for Satan). Lemoine's Carson is a pretty despicable character who naturally gets the comeuppance he deserves at the film's finale.

The Road to Fort Alamo may be a low budget feature but Bava and Terzano's sure handed visuals make this a colourful and relatively well-constructed show. There are a multitude of good-looking, stylish and expertly composed shots present here that make good use of Bava's trademark colour gels and lighting effects. Bava fans will love the highly stylized studio sets that the director constructed and employed for the show's nighttime exterior sequences. Interestingly, Demofilo Fidani, who would go on to become the errant king of ultra-low budget Italian Western directors, was this film's art director. Piero Umiliani provides some lively music that comes across as being a tad overdramatic at times. Parts of Umiliani's soundtrack score also appear to possess a slightly incongruous Jazz influence but the rousing cues that the composer produced for the show's action-packed finale work a treat.


Decent-looking home video copies of The Road to Fort Alamo that were English language friendly have been in short supply over the years. Koch Media of Germany issued the film on DVD a few years back but that release (see the review here) only featured German and Italian language audio tracks that were supported by optional English language subtitles. Wild East's new release features the film's English language audio dub.

The picture quality of Wild East's presentation compares well to Koch Media's earlier release. Vibrant colours and a sharp picture result in near enough excellent picture quality throughout. The presentation's sound quality remains very good.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
A Place Called Glory rates:
Movie: Good +
Video: Good + / Very Good -
Sound: Good
Supplements: trailer and image gallery

The Road to Fort Alamo rates:
Movie: Good ++
Video: Excellent -
Sound: Very Good -
Supplements: trailer and image gallery


Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 24, 2012



DVD Text © Copyright 2012 Lee Broughton
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2012 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.
Also, don't forget the 2011 Savant Wish List.
T'was Ever Thus.

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