Friday, April 6, 2012

Gunslinger Western Collection

It's been a while since I've done one of these, it's been a while since I posted anything actually. Let's take a look at another budget label collection of spaghetti westerns. This time around it's the Gunslinger Western Collection released by Pop Flix in 2009.

The Cover Art
This four disc set comes packaged in a nice tin with a raised image of Gianni Garko from the I Am Sartana Your Angel of Death poster. The reverse features a write up for each film in the set and another piece of poster artwork, this time of Franco Nero from Massacre Time.  Strangely enough, both of those films are not in this set.

The Discs
The Gunslinger Western Collection includes four single sided dual layer discs. With each disc holding two or three movies. The cover artwork is also reproduced on each disc along with a listing of which movies appear on it.

The Menus
The menu loads after the standard FBI warning and a thirty second Pop Flix advertisement. There is a Main Menu where you can select which film you'd like to watch which leads to the film's own menu which features a four chapter stops and the option to play. I like the inclusion of the film's poster as well.

The Movies
The set contains ten movies, two or three per disc. Better yet, all of them are spaghetti westerns. Again, the plot summaries will be taken from the back cover while the reviews are from Spaghetti Westerns: The Good, the Bad and the Violent by Thomas Weisser.

Disc One
If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death (1968)
Original Title: Se incontri Sartana prega per la tua morte
Starring: Gianni Garko, Klaus Kinski, William Berger
Directed by: Gianfranco Parolini
Music by: Piero Piccioni
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 96 minutes
DVD Runtime: 95 minutes

Synopsis:  It hails bullets and rains blood when a mysterious stranger (Garko) goes up against rival gangs, shady bankers and a gatling gun over a shipment of gold! This violent film launched a highly successful run of sequels based on the character of Sartana.

Review:  This film is proof positive that Frank Kramer (Gianfranco Parolini) can make a fine movie.
Notes:  Although it's not in the correct aspect ratio, this release is a nice alternative to out of print version from Wild East.  It is certainly an improvement over the version in The Spaghetti Western Bible Vol. 2: Sartana: The Complete Saga.
Run, Man, Run (1968)
Original Title: Corri, uomo, corri
Starring: Tomas Milian, Donal O'Brien, John Ireland
Directed by: Sergio Sollima
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 121 minutes
DVD Runtime: 120 minutes

Synopsis:  A knife-throwing thief (Milian) must beat murderous bandits, federal agents, a bounty hunter and his own hot-blooded fiancee to a fortune in lost gold that could change the outcome of the Mexican revolution!

Review:  This is the continuing story of Cuchillo's misadventures, perhaps too episodic, against a Mexican revolution backdrop. It's another search for the lost gold film, as an uneasy alliance is eventually solidified between Cuchillo and an American opportunist named Cassidy...

Notes:  The full 121 minute version is available in another anamorphic widescreen release from Blue Underground. While the version presented here is nice, the Blue Underground disc is much better as it does not suffer from the compression issues that these budget releases do - it also has some very nice special features.
Disc Two
The Strangers Gundown (1969)
Original Title: Django il bastardo
Starring: Anthony Steffen, Rada Rassimov
Directed by: Sergio Garrone
Music by: Vasili Kojucharov & Vasco Mancuso
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 102 minutes
DVD Runtime: 98 minutes

Synopsis: An avenging gunman (Steffen) returns from the grave to settle an old score with the traitorous Confederate officers who allowed his entire regiment to be slaughtered during a Civil War battle.

Review: This is the uncredited inspiration for Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter. It's also Sergio Sergio Garrone's very best film. Cowritten with actor Anthony Steffen, director Garrone has designed a remarkable motion picture, ranking as probably one of the all-time top ten spaghetti westerns.

Notes: Squeezing three films on this disc has hurt the quality of The Strangers Gundown. VCI Entertainment released a stand alone DVD of the film with a runtime of 98 minutes, which has gone out of print. They recently put out a double feature of The Strangers Gundown & Today We Kill... Tomorrow We Die, but this version is in the incorrect aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns For A Coffin (1970)
Original Title: C'è Sartana... vendi la pistola e comprati la bara
Starring: George Hilton, Erika Blanc, Piero Lulli
Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo
Music by: Francesco de Mas
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: Pan & Scan
Original Runtime: 99 minutes
DVD Runtime: 92 minutes

Synopsis:  On his endless quest for gold, a gunslinging bounty hunter (Hilton) tangles with Mexican bandits, a double-crossing mining boss and a parasol-carrying dandy!

Review:  Officially, it's the last film in the Sartana series, this time without popular Gianni Garko in the lead role. George Hilton takes his place and does an admirable job considering the odds, a new face in an established vehicle.

Notes:  Wild East has released a beautiful print of this film entitled Sartana's Here... Trade Your Pistol For A Coffin as Volume 38 of their Spaghetti Western series. The film is in the correct aspect ratio, is anamorphic, has a trailer and an interview with George Hilton, but it also only runs 92 minutes.

Blindman (1971)
Original Title: Blindman
Starring: Tony Anthony, Ringo Starr
Directed by: Ferdinando Baldi
Music by: Stelvio Cipriani
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 106 minutes
DVD Runtime: 84 minutes

Synopsis:  A sightless gunslinger (Anthony) embarks on a bloody killing spree after Mexican banditos steal the precious cargo he was to deliver to Texas miners - 50 mail order brides! Ex-Beatle Ringo Starr is impressive as one of the malicious bandits.

Review:  Obviously inspired by the Japanese blind samurai films, this movie features Tony Anthony's best acting as the sightless gunfighter...  It is truly an enjoyable picture.

Notes: There has been no release of an uncut version of this film in the US. Germany and Japan both have English friendly versions from Koch Media, Xylopho, and SPO Entertainment.

Disc Three
Keoma (1976)
Original Title: Keoma
Starring: Franco Nero, Woody Strode, William Berger
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Music by: Guido & Maurizio De Angelis
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 101 minutes
DVD Runtime: 101 minutes

Synopsis: A half-breed Indian (Nero) returns home after the Civil War to discover his town overrun by sadistic bandits and a greedy landowner. Widely considered the last great spaghetti western.

Review:  The first half is great, cryptically mystical, but then it becomes a humdrum Cain and Abel story... Franco Nero's last western for 13 years, until Django Strikes Again. This film is regarded as the best entry from director Castellari.

Notes:  Again, the Blue Underground disc is the best around sporting some very nice special features, including an audio commentary with Franco Nero.

The Four of the Apocalypse (1975)
Original Title: I Quattro dell'apocalisse
Starring: Fabio Testi, Tomas Milian
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Music by: Fabio Frizzi
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 104 minutes
DVD Runtime: 101 minutes

Synopsis:  The sole survivors of a frontier town massacre make a desperate bid to reach the next town. But when they meet a trigger happy bandit (Milian), all their lives are changed forever!

Review:  Besides looking absolutely stunning, this multivariate film is both heavily symbolic and immensely entertaining. It's a rarity among rarities, an intelligent revenge flick, complete with one of the most satisfying vengeance endings in the spaghetti western genre. It also offers one of the very best Fabio Testi performances, plus a remarkably good one from Tomas Milian.

Notes: The Blue Underground version is uncut and includes the trailer and an interview with Fabio Testi and Tomas Milian.

Disc Four
And God Said To Cain (1969)
Original Title: E Dio disse a Caino
Starring: Klaus Kinski
Directed by: Antonio Margheriti
Music by: Carlo Savina
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 100 minutes
DVD Runtime: 94 minutes

Synopsis:  After enduring ten brutal years of hard labor for a crime he did not commit, a former Union officer (Kinski) has one thing on his mind - revenge. But the man who framed him is now a wealthy land baron who guards himself with 30 hired guns!

Review:  A lesser Anthony Dawson (Margheriti) film.  Especially irksome because the final twenty minutes look as though they were filmed at the bottom of a coal mine - on a moonless night.  This is remarkably uncharacteristic of Margheriti's work... He made some good westerns; this isn't one of them.

Notes:  I have not been able to find any English friendly releases that are uncut and in the correct aspect ratio. Although not very pretty, this is the best we have so far...

The Fighting Fist of Shanghai Joe (1973)
Original Title: Il Mio nome è Shanghai Joe
Starring: Klaus Kinski, Chen Lee, Gordon Mitchell
Directed by: Mario Caiano
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: Pan & Scan
Original Runtime: 98 minutes
DVD Runtime: 94 minutes

Synopsis:  A Chinese immigrant (Lee) seeks a new, peaceful like in America, but instead finds racists, perverts, slavers, greedy con men and mercenaries. When provoked, the gentle mystic becomes a deadly killing machine with fists of fury that can ram through his opponents' bodies!

Review: Inspired by the success of Terence Young's Red Sun and the popular American television series Kung Fu, this is another East-meets-West western. The graphic violence sets this one apart from the others.

Notes:  The version here is still Pan & Scan, but has a longer runtime than the one in The Best of Spaghetti Westerns: In the Tradition of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly collection.

White Commanche (1968)
Original Title: Comanche blanco
Starring: William Shatner, Joseph Cotten
Directed by: Gilbert Lee Kay
Music by: Jean Ledrut
Original Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Original Runtime: 93 minutes
DVD Runtime: 93 minutes

Synopsis: Half-breed twins (Shatner in a dual role) - one a leader of a band of Commanches, the other a member of the white man's world - face off in a bloody showdown when a violent range-war is declared!

Review: This film is William Shatner's only contribution to the spaghetti western genre.

Notes:  Any budget-priced spaghetti western collection is not complete without White Commanche. It has looked better in other collections.

Special Features
No special features here.

The Bottom Line
The selection of movies this time around is actually quite good (If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death; Keoma; Run, Man, Run; The Strangers Gundown; The Four of the Apocalypse and Blindman being the best) - with many of them being in anamorphic widescreen. Better versions can be found, but if you're interested in spaghetti westerns, you might want to pick up this set and maybe upgrade later if you like theses films. This set is actually a combination of two of their two disc sets. One is the Vigilante Western Collection and the other is also called the Gunslinger Western Collection.

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