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Wild East's first Blu-ray + DVD combo finds the company unearthing two obscure but worthy Spaghetti Westerns directed by Maurizio Lucidi (It Can Be Done Amigo!). Lucidi started out as an editor on peplums such as Goliath and the Dragon and Hercules and the Captive Women during the early 1960s before quickly progressing to directing duties.
My Name is Pecos and its sequel Pecos Cleans Up both feature Robert Woods as a belligerent, assertive and ultra surly Mexican peon-turned-gunman. Pecos' lack of deference when in the company of gringos or wealthy Mexicans - and his frequent expressions of sympathy for the plight of Mexico and her poor - carry an obviously political dimension that reportedly resulted in the films enjoying successful runs in Third World countries.
These two shows aren't really big budget affairs but they remain good looking genre entries thanks to the technical expertise exhibited by their (nearly identical) production crews: Lucidi and cinematographer Franco Villa present a good selection of the kind of stylish camera angles and slick camera moves that fans have come to associate with the best-made Italian Westerns. Lallo Gori's emphatic soundtrack scores deliver the goods too though the theme song for the first film - which sounds like it was inspired by The House of the Rising Sun - is perhaps a tad too dramatic in its execution.
Assertive Mexican protagonists had appeared in Spaghetti Westerns previously - see Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and Cuchillo in The Big Gundown - but they tended to be paired with Gringo partners. My Name is Pecos is really quite different in as much as Pecos is the film's sole protagonist. Equally, there is no element of banditry or villainy attached to the character. In fact, he's eventually revealed to be a righteous vengeance-seeker. Interestingly, the film features lots of little details that serve to remind us that Pecos is Mexican. For example when he enters Houston's saloon and is accosted by two of Kline's men, Pecos responds to their racial insults and threats by insolently declaring his preference for Tequila over whiskey. He then promptly dispatches the bullying duo. When their falling bodies rattle the saloon's floorboards, the needle arm on a gramophone falls into position and La cucaracha starts playing.
Pecos handily knows of a secret trap door that allows him to sneak in and out of the saloon at night and he's thus able to kill more of Kline's men and discover the whereabouts of the missing money. However, the rules of the genre demand that Pecos be caught and brutally beaten. Again Lucidi tries to present a familiar scenario in a different way: as a wide tracking shot slowly moves in on two bad guys who are playing cards outside of the saloon, we see much of Pecos' beating played out via shadows that are projected onto the saloon's opaque windows. Of course Pecos escapes (courtesy of an inventive bit of business involving Nina, her cotton spinner and a gap in the saloon's floorboards) but he's badly injured and nobody in town appears to be capable of assisting him in finishing off the bad guys.
The action that unfolds in My Name is Pecos is set largely in just one town and it involves a relatively small number of main characters. However, these characters remain varied, interesting and extremely well drawn. Kline is an unusually restrained gang leader: there's no pantomime villain-like bluster here, just the deliberate actions of a very bad man. Dr Foster has a past association with Kline: seven years previously, Kline crushed the Doc's hands when he failed to save the life of one of his injured gang members and the medical practioner has been left a broken man. The saloon's owner Eddie is a bit of a rogue and he has a past association with Kline too. There's no love lost between them now but we still wonder whether Pecos can trust him.
Eddie's younger brother Ned and Mary Foster are both naive and good-natured individuals. Consequently they have no concept of how brutal Kline's men will become when riled and the abuse that the pair subsequently suffer is disturbing. The Mexican girl Nina acts like she knows her place but she telegraphs inner satisfaction when she observes Pecos violently upsetting the town's sense of racial hierarchy. Morton is a cadaverous and avaricious loner who twists the meanings of the scriptures to suit his own skewed worldview. He owns a horse called Lucifer and one bad guy observes of him, "I've never seen a gravedigger looking more like a gravedigger. He reminds me of a vulture". The character traits and foibles of these quite idiosyncratic individuals all have important narrative functions that provoke significant dramatic developments within the film's unfolding storyline.
The basic set-up of rounded characters trapped in one location might well have been dictated by the film's low budget. If so, Lucidi found triumph in adversity because he still managed to construct a highly credible genre entry that deserves a wider audience. Indeed, the evacuated town under siege scenario allows Lucidi to generate some intimate and claustrophobic scenes that are loaded with fantastic dialogue exchanges, suspense and a tangible sense of dread: we just know that as the bad guys get more frustrated and angrier the chances are that those citizens who remain in town are going to feel the sharp end of their wrath.
Significantly, My Name is Pecos remains a decently acted little show. Robert Woods (Gatling Gun) is a familiar face as far as Spaghetti Westerns go, as are George Eastman (Ben and Charlie) and Peter Martell (Death Walks at Midnight) who both play members of Kline's gang. Most of the other key cast members are not actors that we usually associate with Italian Westerns. But fans of Italian horror, crime films, spy flicks and giallos will recognize the likes of Pier Paolo Capponi (The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion, The Boss), Giuliano Raffaelli (The Long Hair of Death) and Umi Raho (Baron Blood, Mission Bloody Mary).
My Name is Pecos is a fairly obscure genre entry and this might well be the first time that an English language friendly version of the film has appeared on digital home video. The picture quality of this presentation does fluctuate a little. Wild East appear to have used an original English release print for their master and the print is fairly worn in places: there is a little damage present in the form of small flecks, fine scratches and the like. However, the image is colourful and it remains quite sharp. The presentation's sound quality is excellent bar the occasional crackle.
Pecos Cleans Up isn't quite as gritty a genre entry as My Name is Pecos but it's just as interesting in its own way: there are a few spots here where the show plays more like an inventive historical adventure flick than a Western. And the film also features an element of very mild but unobtrusive comedy relief courtesy of the three hapless Mexican musicians. Pepe, Paco and Pinto are all played quite broadly but this approach fits well enough with the fun vibe that runs through much of the feature. Similarly, El Supremo frequently comes on like an over-the-top pantomime villain: he sports a sinister moustache, a scarlet bandana, an oriental-looking black suit and a crimson vampire's cloak. Throw in his penchant for violently wielding a whip and you've got a super heavy scoundrel who chews up scenery like he's channelling Fu Manchu and Dracula simultaneously.
El Supremo's main henchmen are quite vivid characters too. Each man possesses a deeply held vice that is also a potential weakness and Pecos is able to quite cleverly exploit these personality flaws when he sets out to surreptitiously dismantle El Supremo's army of mercenaries. Dago is an overweight Mexican bandit-type and his love of food leads him to his doom when Pecos waits for him in a local cantina. Tonville fancies himself as a ladies man and Pecos is able to use the villain's desire to possess Dona Ramona in order to set a deadly trap. A similar trap is devised for El Oro but this one is built around his uncontrollable lust for gold. In a nice nod to the mercenaries found in Robert Aldrich's Vera Cruz, El Supremo's army of guns for hire features all manner of period flotsam and jetsam - former Union and Confederate troops, European adventurers and an African American - as well as regular Mexican fighters.
Pecos gets to lighten up a bit on a couple of occasions in this show because, in order to successfully pull off a variety of subterfuges, he has to adopt a number of jokey and deferential personalities. But when he's got the bad guys where he wants them and it's time for some gun-slinging action, he quickly reverts to his old ultra-surly self. In keeping with his often-expressed love for Mexico, Pecos initially agrees to combat El Supremo because the temple-dwelling megalomaniac is an exploiter of good Mexicans. Pecos' alignment with the country's deeper spiritual aspects subsequently grants him an audience with a mystical priest who is able to decipher the musicians' treasure map and point out secret rooms, deadly traps and the like. This allows for some almost Indiana Jones-like shenanigans later in the film. True to form, at the film's end Pecos advises Dona Ramona to take her ransom money and distribute it amongst the country's poor.
Pecos Cleans Up is a genre-bending and quite eccentric little show that possesses a whiff of the kind of high jinks and derring-do that is normally associated with pulpy old school Saturday matinee shows. The sometimes rudimentary yet flamboyant and slightly camp set designs found in parts of El Supremo's temple - along with El Supremo's outfit - add to this aspect of the show. However, at a technical level Pecos Cleans Up remains a stylish looking and suitably action packed film. As with My Name is Pecos, director Maurizio Lucidi makes good use of actors that we don't normally associate with Italian Westerns. Erno Crisa (Purple Noon) and Luciana Gilli (The Conqueror of Atlantis) both appeared in a number of historical adventure films, so their casting here actually makes sense. In addition to Robert Woods, Spaghetti Western fans will of course recognise the great Pedro Sanchez/Ignazio Spalla (Sabata, Adios Sabata, The Return of Sabata) in the role of Dago.
Pecos Cleans Up is another fairly obscure genre entry and I'd hazard a guess that this show is also making its English language friendly debut on digital home video. The picture quality of this presentation is marginally better than that of My Name is Pecos. Wild East appear to have used an original English release print for their master again but there's much less in the way of fine scratches and small flecks present here. Equally, the image here is sharper. A couple of night time scenes do play a little on the dark side but, as with the earlier show, this presentation's image remains colourful while its sound quality is excellent. The extra features include a fascinating interview with Robert Woods.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Pecos Cleans Up Blu-ray + DVD
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