Best Served Cold: DEATH RIDES A HORSE (United Artists 1967; US release 1969)


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During a torrential rainstorm on a dark, bone-chillingly cold  night, a band of men guarding a cache of gold are all murdered by a masked outlaw gang. The marauders then enter the home of the leader, a married man with a family. He is the first to die, and after his wife and young daughter are brutally raped, they too are killed. But the marauders haven’t seen the little boy hiding in the shadows, witnessing his family’s violent demise. The house is burned to the ground, but the boy lives, storing the memory of the men who destroyed his family, until fifteen years pass, and the boy has become a man with an unquenchable thirst for revenge…

This dark, disturbing scene sets the stage for DEATH RIDES A HORSE, a gem of a Spaghetti Western directed with style by Giulio Petroni, made in 1967 but not released stateside until 1969…

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Western Zing: MY NAME IS NOBODY (Titanus 1973)


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Sergio Leone  wasn’t quite done with the Western genre after DUCK, YOU SUCKER. MY NAME IS NOBODY is based on “an idea by Sergio Leone”, and though Leone’s former Assistant Director Tonino Valerii is given full credit,  the Maestro reportedly directed a couple of scenes as well as some second-unit action in the film. Whatever the case, the film puts a comic spin on Spaghetti Westerns in general and Leone’s movies in particular, with the comedic talents of star Terence Hill standing in sharp contrast to the old school Hollywood hero Henry Fonda .

Hill was the brightest star on the Italian horizon, having starred in Giuseppe Colizzi’s GOD FORGIVES… I DON’T, ACE HIGH, and BOOT HILL alongside burly Bud Spencer, adding elements of humor as they went along . But with 1970’S THEY CALL ME TRINITY, the duo went full-bore into comedy territory, giving the Spaghetti genre a…

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A Movie A Day #138: Navajo Joe (1966, directed by Sergio Corbucci)


Duncan (Aldo Sambrell) and his gang are the most ruthless and feared outlaws in the old west.  When first seen, they are destroying a Navajo village and shooting everyone that they see.  Duncan even steals a pendant from a young Indian woman.  When that woman’s husband, Joe (Burt Reynolds), discovers what has happened, he sets out for vengeance.  With Ennio Morricone’s classic score playing in the background, Joe kills one gang member after another.  When Duncan and his gang lay siege to the town of Esperanza, Joe approaches the townspeople and offers to defend them.  His price?  “One dollar a head from every man in this town for every bandit that I kill.”

Following in the footsteps of his friend and fellow television star, Clint Eastwood, Burt Reynolds went to Italy in the 1960s and made a spaghetti western.  Navajo Joe was his second starring role, after Operation CIA.  Reynolds has always described Navajo Joe as being one of the worst movies ever made but, with the excepton of Deliverance, Burt says that about every film that he has ever made.  (Burt has also complained that the wig he wore in Navajo Joe made him look like Natalie Wood, which is true.)  While it never reaches the height of some of Sergio Corbucci’s other westerns, Navajo Joe is a frequently exciting movie, featuring one of Morricone’s best scores and a lead performance that is never as bad as Burt claims it was.  At first, it is strange to see Burt Reynolds playing such a grim and stoic character but, by the time he is throwing dynamite at Duncan’s gang, he has grown into the role and proven that he could actually play something other than a giggling good old boy.  As usual for a Corbucci western, both the outlaws and the greedy and ungrateful townspeople stand in for capitalism run amok. Like many spaghetti protagonists, Joe is an outsider who fights to save a town full of cowardly people who will never accept him.  As Joe explains, his ancestors were in America long before any of the townspeople’s ancestors.  America is his land but the forces of progress and greed are robbing him of his home.

Navajo Joe may not be a classic but it’s a solid western featuring one of Burt Reynolds’s most underrated performances.  If you have ever wanted to see Burt Reynolds smile while scalping a man, Navajo Joe is the film to see.

The Dollars Trilogy Pt 3: THE GOOD, THE BAD, & THE UGLY (United Artists 1966)


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THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY is the GONE WITH THE WIND of Spaghetti Westerns, Sergio Leone’s masterpiece, and definitely in my Top 5 Favorite Films. After turning the genre upside down with A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and inside out with FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, Leone’s final entry in his triptych of films starring Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name is an ambitious epic about greed, revenge, and the futility of war, told with a warped sense of humor and plenty of action. Besides Eastwood and FEW DOLLARS co-star Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach joins the cast in a performance that should have won the Oscar.

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We’re first introduced to Angel Eyes (Van Cleef), who’s one mean mutha. Sent to find information on the location of stolen Confederate gold, he kills his informant, then kills the man who hired him, and begins his search for “Bill Carson”. Meanwhile…

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The Dollars Trilogy Pt 2: FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (United Artists 1965)


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After the huge international success of his A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS , Sergio Leone was red hot. Another Spaghetti Western was hastily written by Leone and Luciano Vincenzoni (and an uncredited assist from Sergio Donati), but FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is pure Leone, from the visual style to the bits of humor interspersed between the violence. Clint Eastwood returned as The Man With No Name, paired this time with veteran Western heavy Lee Van Cleef as the beady-eyed Colonel Mortimer.

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Eastwood’s character (briefly referred to as ‘Manco”) is a fast-drawing bounty hunter. He’s interested in the $10,000 reward for escaped killer/outlaw Indio. Mortimer is also interested in Indio, but has another motive: a young Indio raped his sister, resulting in her suicide during the act. The two meet up in El Paso, where Indio plans to rob the bank’s estimated one million dollars, kept in a secret cabinet. Manco and Mortimer engage in pissing contest…

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The Dollars Trilogy Pt 1: A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (United Artists 1964)


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If the American Western film wasn’t completely dead in 1964, it was surely on life support. Television had saturated the market with weekly oaters to the point of overkill. John Wayne’s starring vehicles were still making money, but the rest of Hollywood’s big screen Westerns were mainly made to fill the bottom half of double feature bills, from Audie Murphy outings to the low budget, veteran laden films of producer A.C. Lyles.

Meanwhile in Italy, writer/director Sergio Leone was as tired of the sword & sandal films he was making as was his audience. He had a notion to revitalize the failing western genre by giving it a new, European perspective. Leone grew up on Hollywood westerns, and wanted to turn them on their ear by showing a more realistic, grittier version of the Old West. Searched high and low for an American name actor to star, Leone was turned down by the likes of Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Rory Calhoun…

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Good Day in Hell: DUCK, YOU SUCKER (United Artists 1972)


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Sergio Leone’s DUCK, YOU SUCKER is the director’s most overtly political film statement. Butchered and retitled A FISTFUL OF DYNAMITE by United Artists upon its American release, the film was restored to its full glory in 2007. The print I viewed is the full 157 minute version broadcast last summer on Encore Westerns, and the result is an epic tale of revolution, the futility of war, and class struggle starring two great actors, Rod Steiger and James Coburn. Filled with violence, humor, and Leone’s signature touches, DUCK, YOU SUCKER is second only to THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY on my personal list of Leone favorites.

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The film is essentially a buddy movie at heart. Juan Miranda (Steiger) is leader of a bandito family that robs from the rich and gives to the poor… namely themselves! They come across John H. Corbett (Coburn) riding on his motorcycle. John’s an ex-IRA…

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