Thursday, May 14, 2009

9th August 2008: "Spaghetti War & Western" double #3!

Death Rides A Horse

Italy 1967 colour

aka Da Uomo A Uomo

Director Giulio Petroni Writer Luciano Vincenzoni

Cast Lee Van Cleef (Ryan), John Phillip Law (Bill Meceita), Mario Brega (One-Eye), Luigi Pistilli (Walcott), Anthony Dawson (Burt Cavanaugh)

Tonight, revenge is a dish best served cold in a quintessential spaghetti war and western double. In the wake of Clint Eastwood’s success, the pale-eyed American actor John Phillip Law headed to Europe to seal his career’s fate. Along with high profile leads in Mario Bava’s Danger Diabolik and the sex-fi spectacular Barbarella, he was cast as the young gunfighter in Death Rides A Horse, and paired with Lee Van Cleef, fresh from his iconic, sardonic roles in Sergio Leone’s For A Few Dollars More and The Good The Bad And The Ugly. It was a huge hit, not only in Europe but America as well. Although strictly a formulaic spaghetti western revenger, it was directed with flair by Giulio Petroni, and with a thick streak of cruelty which, along with Leone’s infamous Dollars trilogy, defined the coming of age of the spaghetti western.

From its opening scene where a young boy’s entire family are violated and killed by a cutthroat gang of criminals, the pace never slackens. Almost immediately it’s fifteen years later, and the young Bill is now a man literally seeing red, his grim face set in concrete, and with a singular reason to stay alive. He soon finds himself tailed by Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), an aging gunfighter just released from jail for taking a fall for the same gang, and realizes it’s payback time for both as they form an uneasy, almost parasitic alliance to track down the gang, now prominent businessmen still profiting from their ill-begotten gains. The impetuous Bill is mirrored perfectly by Ryan lurking in the shadows offering sage, if somewhat jaded, advice. “You got too much hate in you!” says Ryan, and so begins a game in which each player takes turns playing cat and mouse until the bitter end.

It’s a desolate, apocalyptic landscape of sand-scoured skulls and Van Cleef’s sardonic slits cut with crash zooms, machine gun edits and a jarring, almost alien Morricone score - a series of Indian death dirges in which the jazz flute has never sounded more haunting. As far as spaghetti westerns go, 1967 is a good year: fruity, well-bodied and more than a hint of nasty, the 1967 Death Rides A Horse.

Battle Of The Damned

Italy 1969 colour

aka Quella Dannata Pattuglia

Director Roberto Bianchi Montero Writers Roberto Bianchi Montero, Arpad DeRiso

Cast Dale Cummings (Captain Bruce Clay), “Monty Greenwood”/Maurice Poli (Corporal Marwell), “Herbert Andreas”/Herb Andress (German Pilot), Fabio Testi (Pvt. Terry Wilson)

Welcome to hell, Italian war movie style, with a spaghetti actioner from 1969 directed by journeyman director Roberto Bianchi Montero called Battle Of The Damned. Spaghetti war, you ask? Of course! You find a trend worth copying and the Italians were there first and more frequent than anyone. And while the spaghetti western was at its high point, the Italian war film – admittedly a much smaller genre with only (only!) around a hundred titles – more than held its own.

In a plot welded together from "Play Dirty", and "Tobruk", Battle Of The Damned is the tale of an American commando suicide mission headed across the North African desert to blow up a major German fuel depot. Their leader Captain Clay (played by American actor Dale Cummings) has a hair-trigger reputation, which naturally causes concern amongst the other men (including spaghetti western staple Fabio Testi) as they move through the bleak Egyptian exteriors, their mission AND their collective sanities slowly falling to pieces before the film’s explosive (to say the least) finale.

It’s dusty, regulation action with an interesting backdrop and awe-inspiring set design for the underground finale. What more can we say other than have fun when the bullets start to fly in Battle Of The Damned.

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