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Paolo Bianchini's Gatling Gun is a fairly unusual and slightly un-generic Spaghetti Western that has fans in high places: Quentin Tarantino ranked the film at number twenty when compiling a chart of his twenty most-favoured Italian Westerns. 1 Given that the fanciful re-writing of German history featured heavily in Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, we might deduce that Gatling Gun's equally fanciful re-writing of American history is what interests Tarantino here. Gatling Gun's narrative -- a typically 1960s-style spy/espionage yarn that has been cleverly reworked in order to fit an American Civil War time frame -- is completely fictional but it does feature a real historical figure in the form of Dr Richard Gatling, the inventor of the Gatling gun. The show boasts a reasonably intriguing mystery element and a couple of fairly surprising plot twists so I'll try to keep this review brief in order not to spoil these.
At a basic narrative level, Gatling Gun has quite a bit in common with the fanciful Spaghetti Westerns directed by Gianfranco Parolini. However, it is clear that director Paolo Bianchini was determined to give his film a more nominally realistic edge and a historically specific setting. Rather than being a flashily dressed dandy like Sartana or Sabata, the undercover agent Tanner dresses in a way that doesn't attract attention. Similarly, rather than working to line his own pockets in a typically Sartana or Sabata-esque way, Tanner is a public servant who is working for the good of the Union. And instead of the fortunes in stolen gold or banknotes that generally interest Parolini's avaricious anti-heroes, the focus of Tanner's mission is a super weapon and the man who invented it. But with two different ransom deals on the table that each amount to one million dollars, you can be sure that the kind of outrageous intrigues, murderous misunderstandings, false trails and deadly double-crosses that litter the Sartana and Sabata films are also much in evidence here.
Again in common with Parolini's films, Gatling Gun has its hero come into conflict with both aristocratic and Mexican adversaries and the film even includes a take on one of Parolini's stock action sequences: the resourceful hero storming an enemy's well-guarded palatial home. However Bianchini rejects Parolini's love of gadget-like weapons (bar the effective use of a blow-pipe) and acrobatic stunts, seeking instead to adopt a slightly more straightforward approach when constructing his big action scenes. It seems likely that the contemporaneous James Bond films were used as an approximate guide when the film's basic story and its attendant character types were being roughed out. Just like 007 often does, Tanner arrives in town and links up with a less able agent who brings him up to steam with regard to local intelligence matters. And, just like Bond, Tanner is a hit with the ladies, bedding a couple and mildly abusing them in order to get the information that he needs. (... Spoiler follows) The film's epilogue, which sees Tanner completing a summary of his mission for his superiors before getting ready to take the slow route home with a former enemy-turned-lover in tow, is definitely a direct nod to the Bond films (... spoiler ends).
Gatling Gun's spy/espionage aspects work well enough for the most part but the show's plot is so intricate and convoluted that a good amount of its running time is necessarily taken up by talky exposition and quite detailed scene setting sequences. The plot's complex nature does result in the presence of an inordinate number of minor but still quite key characters and so a degree of concentration is needed in order to keep track of who is who, what they're doing and why they're doing it. Most of these minor characters are quite interesting and they do possess some depth. Jeremiah Grant is one such character: he's left languishing in jail as Tanner's reluctant substitute and faces certain death if Tanner's mission fails. Similarly Grant's brothers come across as being suitably angry, suspicious and truculent when Tanner turns up at their ranch using their brother's name and demanding the use of their resources. He callously refuses to answer their questions in full and they have no choice but to accept his demands. Claudie Lange's beautiful but ambitious and openly racist saloon owner gets an unexpected lesson in race relations from Tanner at one point. Despite its fairly heavy emphasis on plot specifics and character details, Gatling Gun does feature a number of fairly well staged and violent action sequences: Gatling's infamous gun features heavily in the show's tense finale.
Gatling Gun is a decently assembled feature but the show's best technical element for me is its groovy soundtrack score. Composed by Piero Piccioni, it's very similar to the score that he composed for Parolini's Sartana. Featuring some fine keyboard and organ work, the score possesses a slightly jazzy and sub-psychedelic vibe. By contrast, Marin Francisco Herrada's camera work is a little bit hit and miss: some of the film's set-pieces are quite stylish looking and well executed while others possess a slightly more rushed look. The film's lively cast is a big plus point, being a virtual "who's who" of genre stalwarts and no less than three female fan favourites are present here in the form of Evelyn Stewart (Django Shoots First), Claudie Lange (Vengeance is Mine) and Rada Rassimov (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly). Robert Woods (Seven Guns for the MacGregors) is fine as the hero of the piece: his fairly laid back approach contrasts nicely with the more expressive and excitable turns that John Ireland (Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Run Man Run), Gerard Herter (The Big Gundown, The Road to Fort Alamo) and Roberto Camardiel (They Call Me Hallelujah, Ben and Charlie) provide. Gatling Gun wouldn't feature in my own top twenty list of favourite Italian Westerns but it remains an interesting and entertaining enough take on the genre.
Although there are odd scratches and flecks present here, the picture quality of this presentation is near enough excellent. And restoration work has improved the film's English language audio track significantly. In the past, English language versions of Gatling Gun tended to run anywhere between 90 and 94 minutes. Dorado's restored version of the film is 100 minutes long. Whilst the bulk of the film is presented here in English, a number of newly restored scenes -- sourced from the longer Italian version of the film -- are presented in Italian with English language subtitles. A second audio track features the show's Italian dub track in its entirety (with no English subtitles). The disc's extra features include Gatling Gun's trailer along with trailers for a further ten films from a variety of Euro Cult genres.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Gatling Gun rates:
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