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This film's quite disturbing prologue shows a group of regular-looking townsfolk gleefully dragging Steve Blasco to an impromptu lynching after he was caught trying to steal a horse. The sequence plays like a damning critique of vigilantism. However, a former partner who is posing as a priest chances across Steve's imminent execution and he manages to slip a gun to him. Subsequently, Steve and his pal have no qualms about shooting most of the townsfolk dead as they make their escape.
When Steve and his associate try to avoid running into a column of injured Confederates, it becomes clear that they are operating within the same shady underworld as the lead characters in Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Steve's fashionably scruffy beard growth, his reasonably stylish outfit and his aura of 'rock 'n' roll-rebel-out-West' coolness initially suggest that he might be a Blondie-like anti-hero of sorts. However, his actions and temperament position him closer to villains like Tuco and Angel Eyes: he's a dangerous drifter who is happy to commit criminal acts amidst the chaos and confusion that has been generated by the Civil War.
In the Leone film, Blondie's 'goodness' was partially defined by the compassion that he was able to show to a dying Confederate soldier. Steve Blasco remains cold-heartedly indifferent when he's presented with a similar scenario here. He simply continues to wash himself in a river while Sam's son lies dying next to him and he coldly refuses the soldier's request to be buried: Steve just doesn't have time to wait around for the Reb to die. When the dying soldier suddenly mentions the existence of a large sum of money, Steve is revealed to be a greedy Tuco-like opportunist.
Steve is in luck because Sam is so desperate to be re-united with his son that he happily dismisses his initial misgivings about Steve's authenticity. Steve still has a problem, though: he's a loner who has never allowed anybody to get too close. He initially remains remote, claiming that his experiences in the war have affected him, but he knows that his scam will only fully succeed if he can open himself up to Sam and Katy. However, once he does open up, Steve realizes that he is getting involved in relationships that are based on real emotional connections. With Sam's love for his son now being poured onto him by proxy, Steve in turn begins to care about the old man. He also finds himself becoming physically attracted to Katy. But Katy also represents something of a mystery character: she's fully aware that Sam has money and we wonder whether she might be a con artist too.
These interesting domestic developments are cut short when the payroll robbers arrive and Lucy invites Steve to become part of their operation. Lucy is a kind of (reasonably) good-natured femme fatale who secretly fears that she is past her best. Her desperate circumstances have resulted in her becoming the advisor and lover of a violent gang leader, Asher (Franco Giornelli). She still has feelings for Steve, even though he ran out on her without offering an explanation some years earlier, but her charms no longer work on him.
Lucy's flirting manages to prompt a number of machismo and jealousy-driven clashes between Steve and Asher, while Steve and Lucy are in turn involved in a number of disgruntled-ex-lovers-at-war-like spats. Katy gets in on the action too: she starts bitchily clashing with Lucy when she mistakenly perceives Lucy to be a rival for Steve's affections. Under these circumstances, the gang's long wait for the payroll wagon to arrive becomes extremely strained and tension-laden. Some of the gang members pass their time by torturing two Reb prisoners who have been coerced into accepting delivery of the payroll on the gang's behalf. While he tries to appear unmoved, the vicious treatment that the gang begin meting out to Katy, Sam and the two Rebs results in Steve slowly undergoing a change of moral outlook that in turn prompts his subsequent desire for vengeance.
The acting on display here is pretty good for the most part. Genre stalwart Piero Lulli turns in a particularly convincing performance as Sam. It's an unusual role for an actor who is perhaps best known for playing villains and the success of the whole film hangs on Lulli's ability to make us believe that Sam could, under strained circumstances, readily accept that Steve is really his son. 'Chip Corman'/Andrea Giordana is fine as the villain who slowly transforms into an anti-hero of sorts. When Steve eventually goes after the Asher gang, he flatly refuses to discard his stolen Confederate uniform, even though he knows that he risks being shot or captured by Northern troops: he's effectively signalling the fact that he now regards himself as a real son to Sam. It's emotional and moving stuff and Corman pulls it off successfully. (...Spoiler begins) The film's effective final scene plays like it might have influenced the closing scenes of Once Upon a Time in the West. Harmonica's farewell to Jill is most definitely brought to mind here (...Spoiler ends).
Pretty Rosemary Dexter employs a really expressive approach to acting in this film: she uses silent facial expressions to instantly communicate a wide range of emotions. She's particularly good at expressing disgust and annoyance via the lightning fast adoption of a really withering scowl. Dana Ghia resembles an older Erika Blanc and she is well suited for the role of an ageing and insecure femme fatale. Kate is essentially a more believable variant of the campy tough gal-types who appeared in old US Westerns. Franco Giornelli and his gang of bad guys look like villains from a 1950s US Western but they act with Spaghetti Western-style viciousness and contempt: their treatment of their prisoners is particularly nasty and disturbing.
Production values here are pretty good too. Director Franco Rossetti has put together a decent-looking, well-paced and involving little show. Interestingly, one of Steve's encounters with an Asher gang member features an early but quite striking example of the kind of extended, close-quarters stand-off that results when opposing guns are drawn simultaneously and neither of their handlers dare risk shooting first: just the kind of set-up that would become associated with Quentin Tarantino's work. Most of the action here takes place in a deserted Django-like ghost town but there are busy crowd scenes at either end of the film. Production designer Giorgio Giovannini worked on the classic The Last Man on Earth and he dresses the ghost town set well. The film's costumes are largely good though some of the Confederate uniforms featured here sport colour schemes that were unfamiliar to me. Angelo Filippini's lively cinematography is of the standard that we have come to expect from a good Spaghetti Western. But it is perhaps genre stalwart Gianni Ferrio's interesting soundtrack score that makes all the difference here. His introspective, foreboding and doom-laden cues really add to the tension and suspense that is generated during the gang's lengthy ghost town stake out. Ferrio also supplies some beautiful violin/cello pieces that bring to mind parts of Ennio Morricone's equally beautiful score for The Great Silence.
Wild East have issued another good quality genre release here. The print used is in virtually pristine condition: there's very little evidence of any print damage here at all. Picture quality is sharp and colourful for the most part but there is some very mild video artifacting present in parts of the show. The disc's sound quality is near enough excellent.
This show's early scenes possess a distinctly soap-opera-ish feel. Slimy farmhand Hank drags unsuspecting Lizzy into a barn and proceeds to violently assault her. Luckily her brother-in-law Johs arrives and gives him a beating before throwing him off the ranch. Old man Evans investigates the noise and notes that his workers are wanton animals while bemoaning the fact that all of the region's best farmhands have gone off to fight in the war. It's clear that Evans will never let Johs fulfil his wish of marrying his daughter Christine. When Lizzy's husband Clell shows up, Johs manages to convince him not to go after Hank. It's a big mistake because Hank is working for the villainous Captain Clifford and he petulantly convinces Clifford to stir up all kinds of trouble for the folk who live at Evans's ranch. The troubles that beset the ranch escalate until both Clell and Lizzy die at the hands of Clifford and Hank, resulting in Johs going rogue.
Johs is actually a pretty interesting genre character. A young idealist, he initially refuses to fight for the South because he wants the slavery, poverty and injustice found there to be eradicated by the Northerners. In The Italians, writer Luigi Barzini indicates that a cultural and economic divide still existed between Northern and Southern Italy during the 1960s. As such, it's possible that the characters featured in these 'North versus South' genre shows possessed some special cultural or political significance that would be recognized by certain sections of the Italian cinema audience. Johs's political beliefs see him continually clashing with Evans, who is a staunch Southern patriot who delights in delivering fervent and rhetoric-laden ideological speeches. When Johs does go rogue, he makes it clear that he's doing it for revenge and not for the good of the South. Either way, Evans suggests that his change of heart might be enough for him to win the right to marry Christine. But, deep down, it's obvious that the old man is a pseudo-aristocratic snob whose outlook on life is governed by class-based prejudices. After the war, Evans will do anything to hang onto the privilege of being a landowner, including offering his daughter and half of his ranch to his former enemy Clifford.
Johs sees plenty of action with Butch's Reb guerrilla unit but things go wrong when the pair hold-up a civilian stagecoach and they both become wanted men. After the war, the pair plan to head further south but Johs cannot resist calling at Evans's ranch to see if Christine still has feelings for him. Alas he's alarmed to find her coupled with Clifford. (...Spoilers begin) When Clifford attempts to make a play for the $5000 reward that is riding on Johs's head, Johs kidnaps Christine and uses her as a hostage to ensure that he and Butch make it out of Missouri alive. What follows is a tense and action-packed cross-country slog that sees Clifford, Hank and a troop of Union soldiers pursuing Johs, Butch and Christine. Along the way, Johs discovers the identity of the men who killed Clell and Lizzy and Christine gets to re-evaluate her feelings about Johs and Clifford (Spoilers end...). Evidence of the heartache caused by lost love, a pervading atmosphere of suspicion and a series of unexpected double-crosses and duplicitous actions help to keep the latter portion of this film interesting. Some tension-laden and emotionally charged developments concerning Johs and Christine's relationship are also introduced during the lead up to the film's finale.
Sein Wechselgeld ist Blei is a really quite different genre entry. Aside from a Sergio Leone-inspired final duel - which is actually an interesting generic-revenge-duel-with-a-difference, no less - this show doesn't really have a lot in common with other, more familiar, genre titles. There's a heavy emphasis on drama in a number of scenes here but don't get the idea that the film is lacking in action, because it isn't. If you can imagine a US television network circa 1967 producing a Civil War-set, mini-series-like, romantic drama that had Spaghetti Western-style bad guys, violence and intrigue thrown into its mix, I guess you're part way there.
The film's production values are actually pretty good. The cinematography here is largely un-flashy but decent: director Alfonso Brescia and cinematographer Fausto Rossi do reveal an ability to serve up some striking and stylishly composed shots from time to time but they tend to keep things relatively simple for much of the film's run time. The costumes here are reasonably good too but the army uniforms in particular don't really look lived in: as such, the film generally fails to find the gritty Civil War look and ambience that is evoked in genre titles like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and Vengeance is Mine. Genre stalwart Bruno Nicolai's soundtrack score represents a bit of a departure too. In keeping with the film's focus on turbulent romantic relationships, parts of the score sound like they would be ideally suited for use in a period romance like Wuthering Heights. The film's main theme is a big, rolling, trumpet-led instrumental that has 'popular-Western-themed-historical-epic' stamped all over it. Shot in grassy countryside locations in Italy, this film's general look is quite different to those genre entries that were shot in dusty Almeria.
The acting on display here is generally good. I've heard some genre fans state that they find German actor Peter Lee Lawrence to be a little wooden at times but he comes across fine in the Italian language version of this film. Yugoslavian actress Beba Loncar is a generic blonde beauty who is pretty enough to play the romantic lead in this kind of show. Some of her expressions of love, affection and concern come across as being somewhat overly affected though. The work of fan-favourite Rosalba Neri (The Castle of Fu Manchu, The Man From Nowhere and Johnny Yuma) is more impressive: Neri's sultry good looks and serious acting ability always ensure that she stands out from the crowd. Her appearance here amounts to an extended guest spot but she turns in a noteworthy performance none the less. Nello Pazzafini's Reb guerrilla leader starts out kind of cartoon-ish but he soon develops into a seriously hardcore and thoroughly nasty piece of work: in the latter half of the film, Pazzafini utilizes a neat hawkish stare that evokes Lee Van Cleef at his most predatory. Andrea Bosic is very good as the grumpy landowner while Luigi Vannucchi's gentleman bad guy looks like he stepped straight out of a 1950s US Western.
This is a really superb presentation of a fairly obscure genre title. Picture quality here is really excellent: pin sharp and colourful with very little in the way of print damage. I used the disc's Italian language soundtrack and that was near enough excellent, too. The disc's English subtitles play fine: they feature the odd miss-spelled or garbled word but these don't pose a problem at all. Mention must be made of Koch Media's deluxe packaging here: the disc sits in a gatefold card digi-pack, which is in turn housed in a sturdy card sleeve.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Wechselgeld ist Blei rates:
Special thanks to Derringdo for the picture of Rosemary Dexter and Peter Lee Lawrence used at the top of the page.