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This new Spaghetti Western double bill from Wild East effectively collects together on one disc the complete adventures of the popular Arizona Colt character. The first film, Michele Lupo's Arizona Colt from 1966, is an appealing big budget production that is fast approaching minor-classic status. This smart looking and quite epic show features a good selection of some of the genre's best-loved talent and Giuliano Gemma (Ben and Charlie, Day of Anger) is perfectly cast as the sharp shooting and ebullient -- but somewhat amoral -- Arizona. Made four years later, Sergio Martino's sequel -- Arizona Colt Hired Gun -- is a less satisfying production. For this show Gemma was replaced by genre stalwart Anthony Steffen and the normally quite dependable actor is a little unconvincing in the role of Arizona. However, a good cast of supporting players helps to add interest to the show's overly routine and occasionally meandering narrative.
Some genre fans complain that Giuliano Gemma's Italian Westerns were too similar to traditional American Westerns. This sweeping generalization is not entirely true but it cannot be denied that his clean-shaven matinee idol looks, and his usually chatty characters' Hollywood-inspired wardrobes, did serve to give him the outward appearance of a typical, all-American, Western good guy. But appearances can be deceiving and Arizona Colt is undoubtedly one of the Spaghetti Western entries that helped to give the genre a bad name amongst American traditionalists. Those American cinema-goers who liked their Westerns to be historical parables, wherein mythical heroes and cultural signifiers were combined to promote good moral values and confirm pre-existing notions of American nationhood, would have found little to please them here.
Gemma's Arizona Colt represents the absolute antithesis of the traditional Hollywood Western hero: Arizona is primarily selfish, greedy and lazy. When Gordo tries to recruit him, he makes good his escape without a second thought for the other prisoners who must join Gordo's gang or die. Later he recognizes Kay in Blackstone Hill but he just lets him go about his nefarious business, which ultimately results in the deaths of Dolores and many of the town's other citizens. He does eventually agree to hunt Kay down but only on the condition that he is paid $500 and gets to sleep with Dolores's sister, Jane (Corinne Marchand). He cheats at cards and, when Whisky (Roberto Camardiel) finds him close to death in the desert, he insists that Kay's valuable corpse should share his horse ride back to town. And at the film's finale, Arizona doesn't give two hoots that Gordo is ransacking Blackstone Hill in his search for him: he's too busy thinking about what he's going to do with the pile of stolen money that's just fallen into his lap.
Coming a year after Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More, Arizona Colt features several references to Leone's film: the jail-break which in turn facilitates the big bank raid, a bounty hunter, the disappearance of stolen bank notes, etc. Fernando Sancho's Gordo has a musical pocket watch that he's obsessed with and he uses a Douglas Mortimer-style long-barrelled pistol to shoot escaping prisoners for sport: this sequence brings to mind Major Jackson's introductory scene in Sergio Corbucci's Django. Rotund and humorous, but authoritative and menacing, Sancho (Clint the Nevada's Loner, Vengeance is Mine) was a talented character actor who was a real natural when it came to playing Mexican bandits. Here he's both convincing and entertaining as a particularly vicious bad guy who will kill simply to prompt or emphasize the punch lines of the crazy jokes generated by his psychotic sense of humour. Elsewhere there are further nods towards Django (Arizona's injured hands) and A Fistful of Dollars (Arizona's use of some elaborate body armour).
There are a number of familiar faces present here and Roberto Camardiel (Gatling Gun, They Call Me Hallelujah) appears as a roguish but likeable character called Old Man Whisky. Whisky adds a fair amount of comic relief to the film though he eventually winds up becoming the show's moral conscience when his actions finally prompt Arizona to do the right thing. He dresses like a mountain man-cum-fur-trapper and he throws around explosives that are disguised as whisky flasks while drinking from a whisky flask that is shaped like a pistol. His idea of a double whisky involves raising two full bottles of the stuff to his lips simultaneously. He's adept at literally sniffing out hidden dollar bills, a talent he is happy to employ when Gordo waylays a group of cowpokes who have just returned from selling their cattle. Whisky reassesses his feelings about the bandit, and his own position in the gang, when Gordo tells the cowpokes that they are free to go before gleefully shooting them in the back as they flee.
This film represents nearly two hours of well-staged, no-nonsense Western action. Some sections have a slightly jokey ambience (most scenes involving Whisky) while others play like a celluloid comic strip (Arizona punches a prison guard so hard that he's lifted off the floor and ends up strewn over a fairly high wall). But other sections feature quite extreme violence that is executed in both cruel and casual ways (Gordo likes to wound his victims and point out the errors of their ways before finishing them off and many innocent townsfolk die needlessly when Gordo's men pull the bank job and then ransack the town). There are also some well-observed incidental bits of business present too (the preacher's son who sneaks into the saloon for his first drink and a quick look at the serving girls before his father finds him and chases him off, the cowpokes having one last drink in town before setting off on their cattle drive, etc).
Not all Italian art directors were as bold as Leone's Carlo Simi and this film's sets and costumes would be completely at home in any traditional Hollywood Western. However, the key protagonists here all possess an abundance of the existentialist and nihilistic attitudes that are typically associated with Spaghetti Western characters. Fusing the Hollywood look with the Italian attitude makes for quite a curious mix: the film has the look, and often the general ambience, of a superior 'suitable for all ages' Saturday matinee Western but some of its themes are 'adults only' in nature. Francesco De Masi's decent soundtrack score also appears to have been influenced by both the American and the Italian schools of Western theme scoring. Michele Lupo's direction and Guglielmo Mancori's cinematography are spot on for the most part. Most scenes are covered from a number of interesting angles and the camera placements and picture compositions are noticeably good. Lupo appears to have been granted a fairly big budget and a good degree of freedom here. He follows his own path for the most part, resisting any temptation to overtly mimic the now familiar Leone style. The film plays like Lupo was simply intent on producing a solid, entertaining and action-packed Western and I'd say that he succeeded.
Wild East first released Arizona Colt under the title The Man From Nowhere way back in 2004. That release looked like it was mastered from a battered print that had seen service on the drive-in and grindhouse circuits. In re-visiting the film for this new double bill release, Wild East have clearly secured new source materials. The picture quality here is largely excellent. Sharp and extremely colourful, much of this presentation looks like it was mastered from an original negative. There are odd outbreaks of fine scratches present and the odd bit of negative damage (similar to the small blotchy patches that can be detected occasionally on Blue Underground's Django DVD) but this remains a quality presentation picture wise. The show's sound quality is very good for the most part too. The disc's extra features sport an impressively extensive image gallery.
This sequel to Arizona Colt is a reasonably okay follow-up feature but Anthony Steffen plays the character very differently to Giuliano Gemma and his efforts suffer by comparison. Steffen was a key player in the Spaghetti Western genre and when he appeared in the right genre vehicles (Django the Bastard, Seven Dollars to Kill, A Few Dollars for Django and the like) he was able to convincingly bring interesting anti-hero types to life. Suitably impassive but gritty performances were Steffen's speciality and he consequently looks a little uncomfortable when he tries to telegraph the more jokey and ebullient aspects of the Arizona Colt character that he's playing here. Ever dependable Roberto Camardiel effortlessly reprises his iconic Old Man Whisky role, though he's sometimes called Two Bottles Willie here. Fan favourites Aldo Sambrell and Rosalba Neri both offer decent enough performances and there is good supporting work from the genre stalwarts -- Raf Baldassarre, Luis Barboo, et al -- who make up Chico's gang.
This show represents a pretty heavy handed re-imagining of the original Arizona Colt and Old Man Whiskey characters. In the original film, Arizona Colt was a fairly lazy gunslinger who would only take on a job if the price was right. However, he didn't demand overly exorbitant cash fees. In Arizona Colt Hired Gun (an ironic title if ever there was one), Arizona is so slothful that he will not be stirred into action for any price. A running gag has Moreno upping the value of his offers considerably but Arizona just doesn't want to know. Similarly, Whisky's liking for whisky pretty much becomes the be all and end all of the character. At the start of the film it's revealed that Moreno has been supplying Whisky with crate-loads of his favourite tipple but, instead of trying to convince Arizona to take the bodyguard job in return, Whisky has simply been downing Moreno's spirits as quickly as he can. When Moreno cuts off his supply, getting more whisky becomes Whisky's prime concern and pretty much all of the comic relief that the character provides is whisky-related. The fact that Arizona does eventually shake himself down and ready himself for action when Chico and company almost kill Whisky serves to underline the close relationship that the pair share. This turn of events does help to belatedly give the show one or two rather touching moments.
Genre fans will undoubtedly get a kick out of the reasonably strong cast that was assembled for this show. But they'll also likely lament the fact that a bit more thought and effort wasn't put into fully fleshing out the film's narrative. Arizona Colt Hired Gun appears to take much of its inspiration from Romolo Guerrieri's Ten Thousand Dollars for a Massacre but it's nowhere near as good as that film. There are some entertaining action set pieces present here for sure and director Sergio Martino (Mannaja) gives the proceedings a fairly stylish look but this show struggles to stand out from the crowd. The film was made at a time when positively inane comedic elements were increasingly being worked into the genre and this may have prompted Martino to over-exaggerate his take on the intermittently humorous and cartoonish elements that worked so well in Michele Lupo's original film. As such, Arizona Colt Hired Gun possesses a noticeably uneven tone: the film flips between action-packed, gritty and violent sequences and meandering, semi-comic bits of inconsequential nonsense. Bruno Nicolai's good but not outstanding soundtrack score necessarily attempts to reflect and match this uneven tone. Thankfully the appearance of a few unexpected plot twists helps the show to hold our interest.
Arizona Colt Hired Gun has had a couple of DVD releases around the world but I think that Wild East's release is the first time that the show has surfaced with its English language dub track intact. Picture quality here is very good for the most part (the front and end credits appear to have been mastered from noticeably inferior source materials when compared to the main body of the film) and the presentation's sound quality is good too.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
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