Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Spaghetti Westerns

Let's take a look at the first budget label collection of spaghetti westerns that I picked up. This one is simply called Spaghetti Westerns and was released by St. Clair Vision back in 2005. I was at the Tower Records on Fullerton (remember that store?) and it seems like only yesterday...

The Cover Art
The cover art is nothing to write home about and blends in with all those other budget label releases. The back cover lists the films on each disc and gives a brief plot summary.

The Discs
This set contains three single sided dual layer discs that come in a four disc keep case. The discs are red with the film titles clearly written in a yellow western-type font. The set also has two unusual features. The first is a foam insert to keep the discs from sliding around in the case and the second are some special features, but we'll cover those a little bit later.

The Menus
The menu loads after the obligatory FBI Warning, St. Clair Vision Logo and a note about the varying quality of the source material. This time we have an animated menu that plays scenes from the movies in the upper right while a bit of music continually loops. Each film also has total of eight chapter stops.

The Movies
The set contains nine movies, three per disc. Better yet, all of them are actually 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
The Grand Duel (1972)
Original Title: Il grande duello
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, Peter O'Brien, Horst Frank
Directed by: Giancarlo Santi
Music by: Luis Bacalov
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (non-anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 98 minutes
DVD Runtime: 90 minutes

Synopsis: A young gunslinger is falsely accused of murder and only one man can set things right. An action-packed Western with European flair, starring Peter O'Brien and Horst Frank.

Review: The story is an engaging whodunit. Good direction from Giancalo Santi, the initial director for Duck You Sucker before stars Rod Steiger and James Coburn demanded Sergio Leone's personal attention (is that really true?). This film features another stirring score from Django composer Luis Bacalov.
Notes: Wild East released an anamorphic widescreen version of this film which is out of print, but it also has a runtime of 90 minutes. An Italian DVD from Titanus Wild West released the uncut version in non-anamorphic widescreen, but it does not have any English audio or subtitles.

This Man Can't Die (1967)
Original Title: I lunghi giorni dell'odio
Starring: Guy Madison, Rosalba Neri
Directed by: Gianfranco Baldanello
Music by: Amedeo Tommasi
Original Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Original Runtime: 90 minutes
DVD Runtime: 90 minutes

Synopsis: Director Gianfranco Baldanello works his magic in this classic Eurowestern, starring Guy Madison a a cowboy out for revenge against the men who killed his parents.
Review: This is yet another "revenge for a slaughtered family" movie with Guy Madison as government agent Martin Benson... In France, it was promoted as a "Ringo" movie, distrubted under the title Ringo Was Not Born To Die.
Notes: I could find no other releases of this film aside from in other budget packs. Sometimes the film is in black & white and sometimes in color.

It Can Be Done... Amigo (1972)
Original Title: Si può fare... amigo
Starring: Jack Palance, Bud Spencer
Directed by: Maurizio Lucidi
Music by: Luis Bacalov
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Original Runtime: 109 minutes
DVD Runtime: 98 minutes
Synopsis: Jack Palance stars as Sonny, a gunfighter out for revenge against the man who dihonored his sister. Chock-full of true tongue-in-cheek Spaghetti Western wit and style.
Review: Director Maurizio Lucidi constructs an enjoyable parody with this film. He recreates the flavor and style of Sergio Leone's Dollars Trilogy, but substitutes slapstick for violence. Some of it works. Unlike many Spencer-tailored roles, this one allows him to be something besides a brutish clown.

Notes: An uncut, anamorphic widescreen disc has been released by Wild East.

Disc Two
Minnesota Clay (1964)
Original Title: Minnesota Clay
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Fernando Sancho
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Music by: Piero Piccioni
Original Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (non-anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 90 minutes
DVD Runtime: 85 minutes

Synopsis: One of the earliest Spaghetti Western masterpieces, this film sees a captured gunlsinger (Cameron Mitchell) sentenced to hang, but before his execution he escapes from prison to seek the one man who can prove his innocence.
Review: This is Sergio Corbucci's first western (not counting the one he co-directed with Albert Band in 1963 under the pseudonym Stanley Corbett, Massacre At Grand Canyon). Unlike Sergio Leone's first western (Fistful of Dollars, being shot during the same time period) this one follows the Hollywood formula and generally produces no surprises, with one exception; the hero dies at the end.

Notes: An uncut anamorphic widescreen DVD has been released by VCI Entertainment.

Johnny Yuma (1966)
Original Title: Johnny Yuma
Starring: Mark Damon, Rosalba Neri
Directed by: Romolo Girolami
Music by: Nora Orlandi
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (non-anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 100 minutes
DVD Runtime: 95 minutes
Synopsis: A conniving widow gets more than she bargained for in this fun edgy film that has it all - romance, betrayal, gunfights, suspense and a great musical score. A true Eurowest classic.

Review: Upon its 1967 release in the United States, many critics called it "the most violent Italian western ever." But, while it might be conspicuously brutal, it's also very talky and (ultimately) just another variation of the patented spaghetti western revenge theme.

Notes: Triple X Films from Thailand released an anamorphic widescreen DVD which has an English audio track and clocks in at the full runtime of 100 minutes. Wild East also released this movie, but it too has gone out of print and I can find no details on their release.

Any Gun Can Play (1967)
Original Title: Vado... l'ammazzo e torno
Starring: George Hilton, Edd Byrnes
Directed by: Enzo G. Castellari
Music by: Francesco de Masi
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 (non-anamorphic)
Original Runtime: 98 minutes
DVD Runtime: 97 minutes

Synopsis: Edward Byrnes stars as a wily criminal, with bounty hunter George Hilton hot on his heels. With a fortune in buried gold at stake it's a formula for great gunfights and action-packed adventure.

Review: Here is Edd Byrnes' second Enzo G. Castellari western. This one is decidedly weaker. There's an obvious attempt to capitalize on the three-way dynamics of Sergio Leone's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly including a parody of the final showdown, but the lame plot about missing gold is too feeble to support it.
The most memorable thing about the film is the throwaway opening sequence, showing three men on horseback riding into a desolate town. The first, dressed in full poncho, resembles Clint Eastwood. The second is a Lee Van Cleef clone. And the third looks like Franco Nero's Django. Within seconds, the three men are cut down, killed by a bounty killer.
Notes: VCI Entertainment has released this film a number of times on DVD. To the best of my knowledge, the newer releases are in anamorphic widescreen.

Disc Three
Death Rides A Horse (1967)
Original Title: Da uomo a uomo
Starring: Lee Van Cleef, John Phillip Law, Mario Brega
Directed by: Giulio Petroni
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Original Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Original Runtime: 116 minutes
DVD Runtime: 114 minutes

Synopsis: John Phillip Law stars a revenge-seeking outlaw who pairs up with veteran gunslinger Lee Van Cleef with an agenda of his own. With guns a'blazing, the two wreak havoc until they uncover a secret that changes everything.
Review: The surprisingly effective direction from Giulio Petroni (one of his five spaghetti westerns, and certainly his best) is punctuated with an outstanding Ennio Morricone score, giving this film a bigger than life quality bordering on horrific. Especially memorable is the opening rape/murder sequence.
Notes: Wild East recently released a nice anamorphic widescreen print of this film.

The Hellbenders (1966)
Original Title: I Crudeli
Starring: Joseph Cotten
Directed by: Sergio Corbucci
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Original Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Original Runtime: 92 minutes
DVD Runtime: 92 minutes

Synopsis: A group of ex-Confederates try to re-start the Civil War with an ingenious plan. Joseph Cotten stars as the leader of the pack in this western with an artistic edge.
Review: After the very successful Django and the critically praised Johnny Oro, director Corbucci teamed with his old friend producer Albert Band who co-wrote the script for this film. It's also rumored that Band took a heavy hand in the production and actually acted as co-director on the set.
Notes: Anchor Bay's anamorphic widescreen DVD is actually shorter than the version presented here.

White Commanche (1968)
Original Title: Comanche blanco
Starring: William Shatner, Joseph Cotten
Directed by: José Briz Méndez
Music by: Jean Ledrut
Original Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
DVD Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Original Runtime: 94 minutes
DVD Runtime: 94 minutes

Synopsis: The sons of an Indian mother and a white father come face to face after leading very different lives. William Shatner stars in the unforgettable lead role as the White Commanche.

Review: This film is William Shatner's only contribution to the spaghetti western genre.
Notes: White Commanche is a staple of the spaghetti western budget label collections, but the print used here is the nicest one that I've seen (not that anyone wants to watch the movie).
The Special Features
Believe it or not, this set does contain special features. Disc One features seven minutes of black & white clips of showdowns from The Grand Duel, This Man Can't Die and It Can Be Done... Amigo. Disc Two contains a four minute featurette on Edward Byrnes and Disc Three has the trailers of For A Few Dollars More; The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Gunmen of the Rio Grande; The Magnificent Seven and Ride the High Country.

The Bottom Line
Nine movies on three discs, five of them are pan & scan, six of them are cut, some are pretty good and some are pretty bad. This set shows its age, so I can't really recommend picking it up unless you can get a good deal and want to see one of these films.


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