Sunday, February 22, 2009

More Recent Western views

AND GOD SAID TO CAIN (1970) – This was an unexpectedly good film. Not that it breaks any new ground for a western or makes any bold statements- its just good in a surprising way. The best way to describe the movie in a brief phrase would be ‘short on story, long on style.’ The tale being told is so simple and obvious that it’s the basic plot of about a hundred other westerns as well as a number of film noir and modern crime movies. Klaus Kinski plays Guy Hamilton who is released from prison after serving ten years. He goes after the man who had him framed and eventually gets him. That’s it. That’s the story this film tells. But man- how it tells it! Director Antonio Margheriti made pretty much every type of film imaginable over his amazing career but his westerns tend to be good, not great. Both TAKE A HARD RIDE and VENGEANCE are serviceable but nothing special. This film is altogether different. Ramping up the style to 11 he has the villain’s home decked out in rich period detail that gives the interiors there a gothic flavor. Adding to the stylishness is the constant use of well placed mirrors in nearly every room of the place to give multiple reflections of each character as the camera glides around the room. Several times Margheriti uses the mirrors to show a character lying to another from two separate angles and then have that character see themselves reflected and look away as if in shame. The roving camerawork is also in evidence as Kinski stalks and kills the thirty or more henchmen trying to gain the reward their employer has put on his head. And did I mention that the bulk of the film takes place over one stormy night? Amazing stuff. Sometimes style can get you by and this is one of those cases.

ADIOS, SABATA (1971) – the ‘not really a Sabata’ movie with Yul Brynner in his only spaghetti western. Brynner’s character was supposed to be named Indio Black but the success of SABATA caused the filmmakers to change the name in the dubbing. A shame as that is the only thing I don’t like about this film. A rip-roaring adventure from start to finish it’s nearly as fun as a spaghetti western can be. Brynner is excellent in the ‘title’ role as an expert gunfighter and mercenary hired to run guns from sellers in the states to the revolutionaries in Mexico. To accomplish this he and his band of talented Mexican revolutionaries plan to steal a shipment of gold dust from Austrian soldiers to buy the guns and then transport them to the rebels. But between an American portrait painter’s hopes to claim the gold for himself and the small band’s own greed it’s a toss up as to where the gold will end. Throw in the Austrian commander’s clever plan to transport the money in secret and all bets are off. Filled with impossible pistol shots and unlikely action scenes it is exactly what I look for in a sly, clever SW. Damn! It’s a shame Brynner made only this one. And I’m glad he dubbed his own voice as his performance is great.

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