Movies Till Dawn: Leone, Ringo and the Cowboy from Sweden

A Fistful of Dynamite” (1971, Kino Lorber) Bandit Rod Steiger comes to regret his decision to team with James Coburn, an explosives expert and former Irish Republican who is lending his talents to Mexican revolutionaries fighting the repressive military regime circa 1913. Italian director Sergio Leone‘s final Western features many of the same personnel who made his “Dollars” trilogy a global success, including co-writers Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Donati and composer Ennio Morricone (contributing one of his most enthralling and eccentric scores), and while the film has more than its share of action, “Dynamite” – also known as “Duck, You Sucker” – is more downbeat fare that recasts the  revolutionary spirit of the period (and of post 1968 European film) as a tragic failure in terms of human cost. That take may have been the reason for the film’s modest performance in the States and elsewhere, where audiences hoped for another stylized shootout a la the “Dollars” pictures, though by all accounts, “Dynamite” was a troubled project both during and after production (Leone didn’t want to direct the film and disagreed with Donati’s political content, and the end result was cut down and retitled in various markets). Though it’s a more sobering Western, “Dynamite” is no less engaging for its political stance, which asks viewers to look carefully at the figures and ideals behind upheavals, which are fueled by wrong-headed demagogues and grasping capitalists (sound familiar?), and the darker moments are well balanced by Steiger and Coburn’s ripe turns as both sides of the revolutionary coin and set pieces that rival “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and “Once Upon a Time in the West” for epic scale. Kino’s Blu-ray offers a remastered widescreen presentation of “Dynamite” and pairs it with a wealth of extras, most of which are ported over from a 2014 MGM Blu-ray release; chief among these is new and enthusiastic commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox, and a second, expert track by Leone biographer Sir Christopher Frayling, who’s also featured in a discussion of its production and politics. A featurette on the various versions of the film and a visit to the Autry for a 2005 exhibit on Leone is also included, as well as looks at the film’s restoration efforts, promotional art and trailers for all of Leone’s Westerns.

A Pistol for Ringo”/”The Return of Ringo” (both 1965, Arrow Video) Despite shared title and plot aspects and personnel – including co-writer/director Duccio Tessari and star Giuliano Gemma, who’s billed as Montgomery Wood – these two Italian-Spanish features are almost polar opposites in terms of tone and character. In “Pistol,” Gemma’s Ringo, also known as “Angel Face,” is an impish gunslinger that helps a small-town sheriff (George Martin) fight a bandit leader (Fernando Sancho) who has taken over the home of a wealthy family. Gemma’s Ringo in “Return” (also has to contend with a bandit (Sancho again) who has occupied a home – in this case, Ringo’s – but replaces the humor of the former with more melancholy notes and elements from “The Odyssey,” specifically Ringo’s quest to save his wife (played by Tessari’s real-life spouse, Lorella de Luca) from marriage to Sancho’s brother (George Martin). Though not as sprawling in scope and style as Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” films, or as brutally violent as “Django,” both “Ringo” films – which, like those films, spawned a score of imitators – are entertaining efforts, thanks largely to Tessari’s scripts (with Fernando di Leo), which spoof and pay homage to Western tropes with equal skill, and Ennio Morricone’s sweeping scores and theme songs (sung con brio by Maurizio Graf). Arrow’s Blu-ray includes recollections by Gemma, de Luca and excellent commentary for both films by C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke.

Terror in a Texas Town” (1958, Arrow Video) Swedish sailor Sterling Hayden returns from the sea to claim his father’s ranch but finds not only the older man dead, but the town under siege from a corpulent, diabolical land baron (Sebastian Cabot, of all people) and his hired gun (actor/writer Nedrick Young), a faded killer with a metal hand (!). Deeply eccentric B-Western from Joseph H. Lewis, whose c.v. includes the off-kilter Bela Lugosi thriller “Invisible Ghost” and two memorably hot-blooded noir titles (“Gun Crazy” and “The Big Combo,” though “My Name is Julia Ross” is worth a look, too), and who closed his feature career with this pulpy showdown. As with all of Lewis’s films, what makes “Terror” watchable is his palette of visual flourishes – deep focus, compositions framed with objects in the foreground, repeated sequences – that, as critic Peter Stanfield notes in an accompanying featurette, have little to do with the film itself, but imbue it with a sense of depth and context that is absent from the script by writer Dalton Trumbo, who like Young and Hayden, testified before the HUAC committee in the 1950s (Trumbo and Young were blacklisted). Lewis’s penchant for outre set pieces is also indulged here by not one but two scenes in which Young faces a gun-toting opponent carrying a whaling harpoon, which is something you’re unlikely to see in any film, much less a Western. Arrow’s Blu-ray is rounded out by the trailer, which highlights Gerald Fried’s bleating score.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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