Savant PAL Region 2 Guest Reviews:
The Sergio Sollima
The Big Gundown,
Face to Face & Run Man Run
Reviewed by Lee Broughton
Sergio Leone might have been sick and tired of Westerns by the time that he completed
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
in 1966 but the Italian public weren't. The genre was as popular and as profitable as ever and
Leone's producer Alberto Grimaldi was keen to invest in more. To this end, Grimaldi invited
Sergio Sollima to direct The Big Gundown and proceeded to surround him with many of the
key personnel that had brought significant additional talent to the Leone films. Although
the Western is essentially a Popular cinema form, Sollima was one of a number of Italian
directors who were able to bring Art House and serious World Cinema-like sensibilities to
their Spaghetti Westerns.
An interest in the way that individuals resolve the conflicts that sometimes exist between
their own innate moral principles and the kind of 'common sense' notions of morality that
are generated by powerful social and political elites resulted in Sollima bringing a
political element to his films too. His first two Spaghetti Westerns, The Big Gundown
and Face to Face, were both bona fide classics while his third and final genre
entry, Run Man Run, was a very good 'also ran'. So far so good. Except that the
American and British distributors of The Big Gundown and Face to Face chose
to impose unauthorized edits and cuts which served only to adversely affect aspects of
character development and continuity in both films. And although English language audio
tracks were recorded for the full length versions of both films, English language
restorations of either film have yet to surface on DVD in the UK or the US.
Lucky for us then that Germany's Koch Media have included uncut versions of both films
in their new Sergio Sollima Italo-Western Box set. Because, as well as featuring
the standard German language audio track demanded by Koch Media's domestic customers, each
DVD also features an Italian language audio track supported by optional English subtitles.
Access to uncut versions of Sollima's films has been a long time coming for English speaking
genre fans and Koch Media have done the director proud with this impeccably packaged set.
Note: the following reviews contain spoilers.
The Big Gundown
Koch Media (Germany)
1966 / Colour / 2.35:1 anamorphic 16:9 / La Resa dei Conti, Der Gerhetzte der Sierra Madre / 105 m.
Starring Lee Van Cleef, Tomas Milian, Walter Barnes, Nieves Navarro, Maria Granada, Gerard Herter, Fernando Sancho, Antonio Casas, Angel Del Pozo, Roberto Camardiel
Cinematography Carlo Carlini
Production Designer Carlo Simi
Film Editor Gaby Penalba
Original Music Ennio Morricone
Written by Sergio Donati and Sergio Sollima from the story by Franco Solinas and Fernando Morandi
Produced by Alberto Grimaldi
Directed by Sergio Sollima
A heinous crime outrages the community of San Antonio and two witnesses claim
that a Mexican called Cuchillo (Tomas Milian) was responsible. A powerful businessman,
Brokston (Walter Barnes), has just agreed to bankroll the political ambitions of a local
bounty hunter, Jonathan Corbett (Lee Van Cleef), and he insists that Corbett tracks down
and apprehends Cuchillo before he crosses the border into Mexico. Corbett has no trouble
following Cuchillo's trail but good fortune and wily tricks result in the Mexican continually
Jonathan Corbett is a straight-talking man of good character and morals but he lacks
direction in life. A fervent believer in the emerging nation state, he takes pride in
using his tracking and shooting skills to bring criminals to justice. His activities are
seen as a useful public service and he is seemingly happy with his status as a good citizen
who serves his country well: it's his friends and admirers who suggest that he should become
a senator and Brokston is quick to agree with them. After offering to buy him a high
profile campaign, the tycoon openly admits that he expects Corbett to support his plans to
build a railroad through Texas if he gets elected. Upon hearing that the new transport
system could potentially advance the state's progress by an impressive twenty years in
one day, Corbett naively agrees to Brokston's demands. But first he must deal with Cuchillo.
Brokston insists that Corbett should operate in an official capacity, resulting in the bounty hunter
being made a deputy by the Sheriff of San Antonio (Roberto Camardiel). This move puts two
of the film's main allegorical narratives - the social elite's ability to buy control of
both the government and the criminal justice system - firmly in place. But the film also
features a host of micro-narratives which all push a message along the lines of "don't
judge a book by its cover." Our first couple of encounters with Cuchillo have him looking,
and seemingly behaving, just like the degenerate reprobate that we've been led to believe
he is. But in time it becomes clear that he's simply a patsy who happens to know
who the real guilty party is.
Both Corbett and Cuchillo meet and observe a number of other characters who aren't quite
what their appearance might initially have us believe. A Jewish citizen in Willow Creek
turns out to be the ringleader of a crowd who shout hateful abuse at a Mormon convoy, while
a young girl who appears to be in a vulnerable position turns out to be the happy fourth
wife of an elderly Mormon gent. A lonely and charming widow (Nieves Navarro,
Death Walks At Midnight)
living at a remote ranch turns out to be a sex mad, sadistic dominatrix who delights in
having her muscular ranchers fight each other for the right to sleep with her. Brother 'Smith
and Wesson' (Antonio Casas) is an elderly monk who turns out to be a reformed gunfighter
and he is able to give Corbett lessons in both gunplay and morality, a character trait
that the bounty hunter appears to be losing fast. Early in the show, Corbett kills a
Mexican, Paco Molinas (Jose Torres), because he mistakes him for Cuchillo and this
development gives us some interesting insights into Corbett's character: he's essentially
a gunman with a soul and a conscience. He takes pride in always giving his quarry
the chance to come in alive and, although Molinas was a wanted criminal, Corbett is
clearly troubled by the fact that he got the wrong man.
It's our first hint that Corbett is losing his grip on the situation. Cuchillo ruffles
Corbett's feathers a little when he asks him why he never stops to question the
information that is passed down to him from those who are positioned above him in society.
But when the Mexican starts both outfoxing and taunting him, Corbett allows things to
get personal and unprofessional. He winds up recklessly endangering the safety of a
traveller who comes to his aid, knocking the man out and taking his gun and horse, and
he follows Cuchillo straight into Mexico even though he knows that he has no legal
powers south of the border. Sollima accentuates an allegorical narrative strand
concerning American intervention abroad by clearly casting Corbett in the mould of an
alien invader. As the lanky American walks through the crowded streets, he literally
towers over the uniformly short Mexican locals. When he stumbles into a solemn religious
procession and then gets caught up in the local Day of the Dead festivities, Corbett
stands out like a sore thumb both physically and culturally. Same goes for Brokston and
his cronies when they show up in their glad rags and fancy carriage.
In a smart bit of casting against type, the inimitable Fernando Sancho
(The Man From Nowhere)
appears in a cameo role as the Federale Captain Segura, an official who hates Americans more
than he hates the followers of Juarez. Reiterating the idea that the social elite are
untroubled by the laws which are routinely applied to common men, Segura (who made a
point of arresting and imprisoning both Corbett and Cuchillo for fighting in public)
becomes decidedly indifferent when he hears that thugs in the pay of Don Serano (Brokston's
rich Mexican partner) are routinely ransacking the town's poor districts in their search
for Cuchillo. He casually instructs his men not to act against them before taking
himself off to bed. Fernando Sancho's looks and build usually resulted in him being cast
as humorous but violent Mexican bandits. Segura represents a very different and an unusually
serious role for Sancho and he pulls it off in a very entertaining and convincing manner.
What's interesting about Sollima's approach here is the way that he presents Cuchillo as a
fairly unlikeable character much of the time. Sollima uses incidental observations to
detail the different standards of living enjoyed by the rich and suffered by the poor but
he never attempts to use a 'poor downtrodden peon' caricature to prompt sympathy for
Cuchillo. There is a hint that Cuchillo acts the way that he does because the
social change promised by Juarez never materialized for him but it doesn't change
the fact that he's an itinerant petty thief and a liar who is capable of extreme
violence when crossed. Although he eventually proves that he really does love his
wife (Maria Granada) during a great action scene, he's happy to let her work in a
dingy brothel and then use her earnings to enjoy himself in a high-class bordello.
But Cuchillo does have morals too. He resists the temptation to steal jewellery
from the Widow when he thinks that she has saved his life and he spares Corbett's
life on a number of occasions.
There's no questioning the fact that Cuchillo is guilty of ignorant and anti-social
behaviour but he's definitely not guilty of the crime that he has been accused of.
And it's this fact that prompts our sympathy and in turn positions the film's final
chapter as a powerful criticism of vigilantism. Cuchillo is seen running for his
life through the wilderness, exhausted and petrified, scrambling up treacherous rock
faces and desperately searching for a nook or cranny that might act as a hiding place
while Brokston and Don Serano's men hunt him down. Ennio Morricone's powerfully emotive
soundtrack score is used to great effect during this final chapter. It's also at this
point that Corbett finally reveals that he's figured out the truth, resulting in
Brokston telling him, "you're really too damn smart to be a senator." Corbett simply
cannot put money or his proposed political career before his own personal morals and
his belief in the law. Even when his own life is on the line, Corbett is committed to
seeing that proper justice is served and this sets us up for two extremely well
executed duels to the death.
Lee Van Cleef's first non-Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western is a firm favourite amongst
genre fans but few have ever experienced it in its fully uncut form: the official
English language version of the film was cut down to a paltry 84 minutes. So this DVD
version is a real cause for celebration. Van Cleef is in fine form here and he looks
great in the snazzy outfits designed by Leone collaborator Carlo Simi. Corbett makes use
of Van Cleef's trademark cross-belly draw and smoking pipe but he's not a simple retread
of the characters that Van Cleef portrayed in the Leone films: he's more human and thus
more prone to making mistakes and this allows Van Cleef to stretch some quite different
acting muscles here. Tomas Milian
also fares well, keeping his great but sometimes over the top approach to method acting
firmly under control for the most part.
Walter Barnes is surprisingly effective as the loathsome capitalist Brokston and his
general appearance is used as part of the film's "don't judge a book by its cover"
theme: he might look like a fat businessman but Brokston's smart clothing hides a
powerful physique that he employs with violent intent on occasion. He's hunted big
game in Africa and India and, when he sidelines Corbett in favour of Don Serano's thugs,
he confesses that he's now looking forward to hunting down a man. Gerard Herter brings
Brokston's Austrian bodyguard, Captain von Schulemberg, to life with a slightly camp
but menacing take on Teutonic efficiency. Von Schulemberg is the fastest draw in
Europe, having designed and perfected his own mathematically precise, if strange looking,
gun belt and holster and he comes complete with a monocle, an aristocratic cape and a
love of Beethoven that brings a gothic edge to the film.
Sergio Sollima's direction here is really very good. Sollima and cinematographer Carlo
Carlini employ some good camera movements, and their compositional work is generally
excellent, though the film does contain the odd shot where the camera placement seems
just a little rushed. Likewise there are also a couple of instances where the odd
edit seems to run counter to the film's generally very good sense of rhythm and pace.
But these are small criticisms: taken as a whole, the film plays like a quality production,
especially when Ennio Morricone's superb soundtrack score is factored into the equation.
This is undoubtedly one of Morricone's best, and best-loved, Spaghetti Western scores and
the film's title song boasts a wonderfully wild and spirited vocal performance by Christy.
The film features many of the supporting actors who were associated with Sergio Leone's
Westerns and the show ends with two Leone-like protracted duels. But the nearest Sollima
comes to actually displaying a Leone influence probably lies in the way that he
successfully introduces slightly eccentric characters, and incorporates interesting
incidental and background details, without upsetting the film's narrative flow or pace.
Mastered from the film's original negative, the picture quality here is near enough
excellent. There are one or two fine scratches and small speckles present here and there
but the picture is sharp and colourful for the most part. There are a handful of shots
during Corbett's first meeting with Cuchillo where the picture quality dips markedly,
looking soft and scratchy by comparison to the main body of footage. And there are a handful
of shots during the outdoor sequences at the Widow's ranch that look as though they were
slightly overexposed or have become bleached with age. These minor faults were present
in the short English language version of the film that was broadcast on UK TV several
years back and they obviously represent a quality issue that was beyond Koch Media's
control. The length of all of these inferior quality shots is probably no longer than
twenty to thirty seconds in total and it seems churlish to even mention them.
I played the film using the Italian language audio track and I found the sound to be
pretty good though some of the dialogue is a little on the abrasive and raspy side. A
quick listen to the German audio track revealed it to be of a better quality. The English
subtitles appear to follow the old English language dub quite faithfully and I only noticed
one glaring error - when Cuchillo is first accused he is described as being a 'Mexican
barman' instead of a 'Mexican varmint.'
Face to Face
Koch Media (Germany)
1967 / Colour / 2.35:1 anamorphic 16:9 / Faccia a Faccia, Von angesicht zu angesicht / 107 m.
Starring Gian Maria Volonte, Tomas Milian, William Berger, Jolanda Modio, Carlo Andre, Gianni Rizzo, Angel Del Pozo, Aldo Sambrell, Nello Pazzafini, Jose Torres
Cinematography Rafael Pacheco
Production Designer Carlo Simi
Film Editor Eugenio Alabiso
Original Music Ennio Morricone
Written by Sergio Sollima and Sergio Donati
Produced by Alberto Grimaldi
Directed by Sergio Sollima
A sickly New England university professor, Brad Fletcher (Gian Maria
Volonte), is sent to Texas to convalesce but he winds up being taken hostage by a wounded
outlaw, Solomon 'Beauregard' Bennet (Tomas Milian). Lost in the wilderness, Fletcher
nurses Bennet back to health and the two men strike up an uneasy friendship. Instead
of returning home, Fletcher tags along with Bennet who sets about reassembling his
old outlaw gang, Bennet's Raiders. But while Fletcher's influence results in Bennet
rethinking his previously easy-going attitude towards violence and bloodshed, a desire
to prove himself worthy of a place in Bennet's Raiders sees Fletcher wilfully breaking
his own moral codes. Now doubting the validity of the powers of intuition that have
ensured his survival thus far, Bennet allows an undercover Pinkerton man, Charley
Siringo (William Berger), to bluff his way into the gang while Fletcher uses his
intellect and his oratory skills to usurp Bennet and become the gang's leader.
Brad Fletcher advises his students that in the coming years they will have to choose many
times between the just and the unjust, the truth and the untruth: he urges them to
look within themselves whenever they need the answers to moral dilemmas. When he sees
Beau Bennet shackled and left to dehydrate while a Sheriff and his deputies take a
drink, the professor tries to practice what he preaches but he winds up completely
misjudging the seriousness of the situation. Volonte portrays the calm but defiantly
outspoken liberal as an individual who projects a smug air of moral superiority while really being just as blinkered as those who he aims his disdain at. He refuses to believe the Sheriff's warnings about how dangerous Bennet is and his shocked reactions when his act of pig-headed compassion goes disastrously wrong are superb. Once Fletcher has served his purpose, Bennet makes to shoot him but the petrified professor manages to convince the outlaw that killing him makes absolutely no sense. When Fletcher subsequently helps the wounded Bennet to the safety of a nearby hideout, the outlaw realizes that he was wise to let his hostage live. This is the first of several lessons in restraint and forward thinking that result in Bennet slowly reassessing and dispensing with the savage, indiscriminate and violent behaviour that had previously earned him his fearsome reputation.
By the time that Bennet has recovered from his wound, the pair have cemented an unlikely friendship and one great woodland scene has Bennet practising his shooting skills in the foreground while Fletcher can be seen examining the local plant life in the background. When the pair hit Purgatory City, Sollima presents a micro-narrative which reveals that the town's crooked Sheriff is in the pay of an equally crooked businessman. A second crooked businessman employs Bennet to run his rival's men out of town. The resulting action scene is well staged but it also features a rather unusual element: Sollima presents a couple of lengthy cutaways which show the two rival businessmen amicably watching the fight unfold together from a balcony window. Like Roman emperors watching gladiators fight for sport, the reactions on their faces act to tell us how the gunfight is unfolding. The pair appear to take perverse pleasure from the knowledge that their money can buy a deadly spectacle that is theirs to control and enjoy with complete impunity. As the shoot-out nears its conclusion, Fletcher overcomes his loathing of violence and saves Bennet's life by shooting one of his assailants.
Refusing to return home, Fletcher wilfully chooses to join up with Bennet but the sensitive professor is sickened when a reformed Bennet's Raiders hold up a mail coach: every dollar that the gang rips from an envelope has an accompanying letter which spells out where the money has come from and who it was destined for. Revealing his slowly changing attitudes, Bennet orders Fletcher to stop reading the letters out loud. Fletcher likes the company that the gang keeps even less. When a Southern aristocrat, Belle de Winton (Lydia Alfonsi), detects his disapproval of her reference to a runaway slave, she says that she'll remember to use the word "servant" in future. Fletcher thinks that he's won a moral victory but de Winton denies him a moment of smugness: she defiantly states that Mr Lincoln's legislation has had no impact on her household and she reminds Fletcher that simply using a different word to describe a circumstance does not alter the physical reality of that circumstance one bit. This incident results in another crack of disillusionment appearing in Fletcher's cherished ideological identity. It's at the de Wintons' place that Pinkerton man Charley Siringo shoots a local Sheriff dead in order to earn his entry into Bennet's gang.
The gang head for Puerta de Fuego, an independent and free-thinking mountain
community-come-refuge that is, according to Maximilian de Winton (Angel Del Pozo), populated
by "ghosts of the past. Cowboys where there are no cows, prospectors where there's
no gold. The dregs of the old romantic frontier who are unable to accept the coming
of the telegraph, the rail roads or reality for that matter." At the home-coming barn dance held for Bennet and company, the people of Puerta de Fuego look and behave like good honest American citizens who possess real community spirit and are welcoming to strangers. Sollima uses hand-held cameras throughout this sequence, allowing the viewer to really feel as though they're right at the heart of the celebrations. A surprised Fletcher notes that these survivors are happier, freer and more alive than anybody else he has ever met before. Sollima manages to communicate a real sense of sadness at the passing of the old West here. These are everyday folk who simply feel too constrained by the authoritarian rules and regulations of the emerging nation state and their community represents a strand of genuine folk culture that the emerging forces of capitalism have failed to consume. But the authorities regard the community's non-conformist stance and self-sufficient state of independence as an ideological threat that will have to be crushed before too long.
Perversely, it's Fletcher who destroys the old West paradise of Puerta de Fuego. When
he tries his hand at violence, intimidation and gunplay and finds that he likes it, the
professor uses his intellect to devise a big bank robbery that should be fool proof. A
mixture of Siringo's undercover intervention and Bennet's newly developed inability to
kill in cold blood results in Bennet being captured by the Pinkerton man and Fletcher being
the only gang member to make it back to Puerta de Fuego alive. But he considers the bank
job a success by virtue of the fact that he returned with the loot and he's ready for more
large-scale criminal action. Volonte really impresses here, successfully effecting Fletcher's
metamorphosis from a physically weak and timid professor, who was proud of his humanitarian
principles, into a supremely confident, callous and violent criminal. Fletcher becomes a kind of
fascist fuhrer figure who uses his oratory skills and passionate self-belief to peddle
promises of large financial rewards for anybody who is willing to bow to his superior
intellect and obey his every order without question. He's soon got himself a squad of
lethal enforcers who impose their iron rule on the good people of Puerta de Fuego. Fletcher's
activities are just the excuse that the authorities need to put a price on the head
every one of Puerta de Fuego's citizens and it's not long before a gang of vicious
vigilantes is heading for the mountain community with orders to bring nobody back alive.
While the input of both Franco Solinas and Sergio Sollima ensured that The Big Gundown contained some interesting political elements, the film still had much in common with other Spaghetti Westerns: a number of genre specific elements and stylistic approaches can be found within the film. With Face to Face, Sollima largely rejected the need to include generic nuances that weren't relevant to the telling of his startlingly original story. Here he constructs a very personal Western that is both serious and mature in its outlook. And Sollima brings this self-penned tale to life via some extremely impressive film-making practices. Sollima and cinematographer Rafael Pacheco utilize some great camera moves and their compositional and framing work is consistently excellent here. The film's editing and pacing cannot be faulted either.
The superb acting performances that Sollima secured from Gian Maria Volonte and Tomas Milian also help to make this film the classic that it is. Both actors were known for throwing themselves headlong into roles that were noisy, dramatic and loaded with wild theatrical gesticulations. Here Sollima effectively straight-jackets the pair and their subsequent approach works a treat. As Fletcher, Volonte is nothing like the characters that he played in A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More. He's a physically weak, unassuming and unambitious individual who is both squeamish and easily scared. He really looks the part and yet Volonte manages to convince us that a change of climate and exposure to bad influences could slowly transform Fletcher into a physically strong and extremely callous criminal. Milian turns in one of his best ever genre performances here. Bennet appears to be a very calm character who doesn't move much: he tends to be found either stood stock-still with his arms folded or laid lounging somewhere. Closer inspection reveals that, for all of his apparent calmness, he's actually very alert and is really as tense as a coiled spring. His face is generally set in a knotted scowl-come-grimace but Milian uses ever so subtle variations of this expression to show that Bennet's devious brain is working overtime behind his grim facade: he's
continually mentally processing and evaluating the criticisms that Fletcher is constantly levelling at him.
Genre stalwart William Berger always represents good value for money. He's very good here as
Charley Siringo and he gets to deliver some poignant lines. When the local authorities
tell Siringo that they would like him to lead the vigilante gang's mission to Puerta de
Fuego because they're sure that he'll be able to prevent undue violence and bloodshed,
Siringo turns them down with the retort, "that's the kind of speech they make in Washington
just before they decide to send the army out to massacre the Indians." Siringo gets to
wear the best of the film's stylish Carlo Simi-designed costumes: a snazzy fur collared
affair that is similar to the ones sported by characters in Sergio Corbucci's
The Great Silence.
By comparison, Fletcher wears smart but straight city clothes while Bennet opts for a mix
of buckskin and Mexican-styled utilitarian duds. There's some quite bizarre haircuts on
display here, too: Bennet's young admirer, Cattle Annie (Carole Andre), has a spiky punk
job, Fletcher sports some strangely coiffured greying curls while Bennet appears to have cut his own hair and then simply let it grow long and wild. As with The Big Gundown, a fair number of faces from the Dollars Trilogy are present here in pivotal supporting roles.
Ennio Morricone turns in yet another excellent soundtrack score for this show. Parts of the
score sound like a dry run for the distinctive operatic vocals and the lush orchestral stylings
that Morricone employed for
Once Upon a Time in the West.
Ace soprano Edda Dell'Orso's vocals are really well utilized here. Other parts of the score
are a little more experimental: the use of a Thomas 900 organ, and some neat poly-rhythmic drumming, makes the first fifty seconds of the film's title music sound like the inspiration behind Pink Floyd's Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.
As with The Big Gundown, this release was mastered from the film's original negative and the picture quality here is near enough excellent. Again, there are one or two fine scratches and small speckles present in places but the picture remains sharp and colourful. I played the film using the Italian language audio track and I found the sound to be reasonably good. Some of the dialogue on this track is a little on the abrasive and raspy side and there were a couple of short sections where the soundtrack music prompted some speaker distortion. A quick listen to the German audio track revealed that it wasn't quite as good as the Italian audio track.
Run Man Run
Koch Media (Germany)
1968 / Colour / 2.35:1 anamorphic 16:9 / Corri, uomo, corri, Lauf um dein leben / 119 m.
Starring Tomas Milian, Donald O'Brien, Linda Veras, Chelo Alonso, Marco Guglielmi, Jose Torres, Luciano Rossi, Nello Pazzafini, John Ireland, Gianni Rizzo
Cinematography Guglielmo Mancori
Production Designer Franco Cuppini
Film Editor Tatiana Casini Morigi
Original Music Bruno Nicolai
Written by Sergio Sollima and Pompeo De Angelis
Produced by Aldo Pomilia
Directed by Sergio Sollima
When Ramirez (Jose Torres), a dying revolutionary poet, tells him the whereabouts of a $3,000,000 fortune, Cuchillo (Tomas Milian), a Mexican-Indian petty thief, heads for Texas. Unfortunately, he's being tailed by a sheriff-turned-bounty hunter called Cassidy (Donald O'Brien), a pair of French secret agents (Marco Guglielmi & Luciano Rossi), two rival gangs of Mexicans and his angry fianc�e Dolores (Chelo Alonso). When Cuchillo hooks up with a pretty Salvation Army Officer (Linda Veras) along the way, things get even more complicated.
The Big Gundown and Face to Face are undisputed genre classics which seemingly have serious political messages allegorically encoded within their narratives. Sollima employs a different technique for the presentation and dispersal of his political observations in Run Man Run: firstly, the film plays for laughs, presumably an attempt to connect with a wider audience base. Secondly, in keeping with the semi-comedic approach, rather than communicating his political ideas symbolically, Sollima imparts most of them as directly as possible, usually via the dialogue spoken by the film's characters. Some of the political satire works well (Cuchillo warning Dolores that Ramirez is "a very dangerous poet", etc) but the film doesn't always find the laughs that it's looking for. Mind you, I found around four or five laugh-out-loud moments here and that's actually pretty good going for a semi-comedic Spaghetti Western.
This film marked Cuchillo's second outing and the character underwent something of a slight makeover for his appearance here. In The Big Gundown he was feral, slippery and extremely dangerous when cornered and he proved to be a real handful for Lee Van Cleef's Jonathan Corbett. In Run Man Run he's a slightly 'softer' proposition. And while Cuchillo set the pace of the chase and even found time to taunt his pursuer in The Big Gundown, here he's very much a victim of circumstance who is propelled along by the actions of others. His reactions to some of the situations that he unexpectedly finds himself in vaguely bring to mind Malcolm McDowell's Mick Travis character in Lindsay Anderson's O Lucky Man!. We only really see the 'old' Cuchillo in the film's final fifth when the chase comes to an end and he has to stand and fight. Strangely enough, the very good (but not outstanding) score by Ennio Morricone/Bruno Nicolai (there's some dispute as to which of the partners actually signed this one) only really starts consistently hitting the mark in the film's final fifth too, when it chooses to echo familiar phrases from The Big Gundown's superior score.
Donald O'Brien is good as Cassidy, who comes on like a mix of the Lee Van Cleef and William Berger characters from Sollima's earlier genre outings, and it's refreshing to come across a less familiar face in this kind of role. But, overall, Run Man Run is maybe just a little too episodic in its approach, possibly suffering from having too many characters involved in the chase. And the humour employed doesn't always suit the Cuchillo character. Milian has stated that he tried to take on the physical characteristics of a hunted rabbit during parts of the shoot and has lamented the fact that most of his efforts in this direction were lost at the editing stage: consequently, the bits that do remain seem noticeably odd. Having said that, it's still a pretty enjoyable film, boasting some excellent cinematography and some great action set-pieces.
I have to confess that, since writing the above (slightly modified) review of Run Man Run when it first appeared as part of the Blue Underground Spaghetti Western Box Set, the film has grown on me a bit. The film's semi-comedic tone really caught me off guard the first time around and led to a degree of disappointment (every Spaghetti Western comedy found represents another potential The Good, The Bad and The Ugly lost in my book) but the film remains a quality production on a technical level: the cinematography, etc, is all pretty much excellent. And, in fairness, Sollima's pacing is pretty good too but there still remains a nagging feeling that the film is maybe twenty minutes too long. The inordinate number of different characters that are interested in finding the $3,000,000 undoubtedly resulted in much additional running time being needed to reveal just what became of each of their individual quests.
Interaction with so many additional lead characters also prevents Cuchillo from forming the kind of intriguing and engaging one-to-one relationship that Sollima built both The Big Gundown and Face to Face around. The moral and psychological insights revealed in those films gave them a sense of gravitas that is sadly missing from Run Man Run. Cuchillo's relationship with Linda Veras's beautiful Salvation Army Officer is perhaps the character's most interesting bit of personal interaction here. The film does contain a number of micro-narratives and mini-morality plays that feature Sollima's familiar message - individuals must do the right thing when the moment of truth arrives - but here the message is perhaps communicated in a less emphatic manner.
This release was transferred from an existing NTSC master (presumably the one used for Blue Underground's release of the film). As such the picture quality here is just as good as that found on the excellent Blue Underground disc but I'd say that the conversion to PAL has resulted in a slightly more colourful and a slightly more sharper presentation. I played the film using the Italian audio track and found the sound quality to be pretty good. A quick listen to the German audio track revealed that it wasn't quite as good as the Italian audio track. Tomas Milian himself supplies the fun vocals for the show's rousing title music.