The Great Silence

"... They call him Silence, because wherever he goes, the silence of Death follows."

A gang of ruthless bounty hunters, for whom the "Alive" in "Dead or Alive" is mere filler, terrorise a snowbound mountain community, sanctioned by the town's corrupt Justice of the Peace, Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli) – who disposes of those he doesn't like by placing a price on their head.

Following the needless slaughter of her husband at the hands of the sadistic bounty killer, Loco (Klaus Kinski), Pauline (Vonetta McGee) enlists the aid of a wandering gunslinger, Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), to avenge his death. The presence of Silence in the desolate town of Snow Hill brings events to a head between the besieged inhabitants and the bounty hunters, and as the black-clad, mute gunman seeks retribution; he can do nothing to halt the massacre that is on its way.

Sergio Corbucci brought a manically fresh perspective to the Spaghetti Western with 1966's ultra-violent Django. With 1967's The Great Silence (aka The Big Silence) he rewrote the rules once again, not only setting his story in the snowy wastes of Utah, but making it so oppressively bleak that any shred of hope you may have entertained before sitting down to watch, are long gone by the time the closing credits roll. It's a bleakness matched only, as far as the Spaghetti Westerns I've seen are concerned, by Robert Hossein's Cemetery Without Crosses. Despite this, or perhaps because of this, it remains one of your humble reviewer's favourite Spaghetti Westerns outside of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The moody silent-type, embodied by so many anti-heroes of the Spaghetti Western genre, is taken to a natural conclusion by having Jean-Louis Trintignant's Silence unable to speak. This is as a result of having his vocal chords sliced open as a child, following the murder of his parents by Pollicut's henchmen. The avenging angel is also given an extra dimension in that he only kills in self-defence, choosing to shoot the thumbs off of those deserving of his brand of justice, so that they may never fire a gun again. Of course, where the bounty killers are concerned and he has a contract to fulfil, his method is to provoke them into drawing, ensuring that when he shoots them dead he remains on the right side of the law. He also uses a Mauser automatic pistol, a departure from the revolver employed by the majority of ultra-cool killers in the barren badlands of the Spaghetti Western.

Klaus Kinski, a regular to the genre, puts in another fine performance as bounty hunter Loco, reining in his often twitchy excesses – the part of the hunchback in For a Few Dollars More being a case in point – to deliver a lesson in steely-eyed, calculated evil that's as cold as the landscape he mercilessly stalks.

Which brings us to the snow. It's impossible to review The Great Silence without giving over a few column inches to the powdery white stuff, of which this film has an abundance. There's no scorching heat, or dust caked panoramas providing a scenic comfort zone for the seasoned Italian Western veteran here. It's relentlessly cold, with horses literally freezing to death in the waist-high snow. This unforgiving climate augments the feeling of isolated desperation that permeates every frame of what is, in my opinion, Corbucci's finest work. Off the top of my head I can think of two other Eurowesterns set in the snowy wastes. These are Taste of Death and Cut-Throats Nine, the latter being more of a Spanish gorefest that just happens to have a western backdrop. Neither can match The Great Silence for sheer power, festering emotion, or chilly despair.

As with all Spaghetti Westerns, violence plays a key role throughout the film, guiding us towards its heartbreaking and austere climax. There are the obligatory shootings through the head, thumbs being decapitated, Mario Brega's face held over the hot coals of an open stove, and a child's throat being cut. It ramps up the blood-spattered savagery and nihilistic approach that had marked Django out from the crowd and destroys that last tiny vestige of faith in humanity you may once have harboured.

The Great Silence also gut-wrenchingly spells out in giant red letters that, as in the real world, the good guy doesn't always win and real evil has a tendency to prevail. Until then, a largely unheard of concept for the Western, Spaghetti or otherwise.

Once again, the musical score by Ennio Morricone sets the mood perfectly, adding to a cinematic treat that is brutal perfection, met on equal grounds by Damiano Damiani's A Bullet For the General, but only surpassed by Sergio Leone's audacious and ultimately majestic definition of the Spaghetti Western and the greatest film ever to have drawn breath, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

With Christmas less than a week away and snow on the ground outside, The Great Silence ensures perfect alternative viewing for those in need of a more cynical, yet just as chilly, festive fave.


Death Rides a Horse

Lee Van Cleef has a long and respected standing in the Spaghetti Western industry. His career in Italian cinema has seen him feature in some of the best (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly), some of the more mediocre (The Grand Duel), and some of the absolute worst (God's Gun) that the genre has to offer. But with films such as The Big Gundown and For a Few Dollars More on the CV, the duds are easily forgiven.

Another film that exonerates the horrendous wig sported by the man with the gunsight eyes in God's Gun, is Giulio Petroni's 1967 epic, Death Rides a Horse. It may be a simple, bog-standard tale of revenge, but it's one that's told with the style and visual appeal unique to the very best examples of Spaghetti Westdom.

The somewhat mundanely named Bill (John Phillip Law), a man who drew the short straw when the voice-dubbing artists were being handed out, witnesses the brutal rape and cold-blooded murder of his family as a child. Fifteen years on and the memories of that night are rekindled when an identical set of spurs to one he salvaged during the attack, turn up on the feet of a dead man. This coincides with the release from jail of Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), who was double-crossed by the same band of desperadoes Bill is after. With both men intent on revenge, it's inevitable that their paths will soon converge in the ruthless pursuit of a mutual goal.

Death Rides a Horse has everything you could wish for in a Spaghetti Western. Blood, sweat, gluttonous helpings of violence, and Lee Van Cleef. The old master had a screen presence others could only dream of, commanding attention for the duration of each and every scene he appeared in. As Ryan, he exudes menace just by being there. Words are a mere formality for this weathered gunslinger. He is the Spaghetti Western anti-hero distilled to its purest form; the walking tall epitome of moral ambiguity.

Of course, it was a character Van Cleef had down to a tee, and one he'd visited before and would visit again, most notably as Colonel Mortimer and Angel Eyes (For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad... respectively), Jonathan Corbett (The Big Gundown) and Frank Talby (Day of Anger).

But as we're in danger of allowing Lee Van Cleef to escort this review at gunpoint from the building, we should turn our sights on his co-star John Phillip Law, who, for all intents and purposes, is a little on the wooden side. Fair enough, he's going to struggle when forced to share screentime with Van Cleef, but his performance as Bill is possibly the only flaw you'll find with this film (alongside whoever dubbed his voice). That's not to say John Phillip Law is unwatchable... far from it. Just a little tree-like.

Thankfully, he's put through the wringer, as all naive charges should be. Particularly in a scene where the outlaw gang bury him up to his neck in full gaze of the scorching sun, placing a bowl of water within sniffing distance and force-feeding him a handful of salt.

With such inspired villainy, it's worth mentioning the support cast, which is filled with faces familiar to any Spaghetti Western fan. Amongst others, there's Mario Brega (For a Few Dollars More) providing his customary muscle and looking quite the dapper Dan in a Derby hat and suit. Jose Torres (Get the Coffin Ready) does the Mexican bandido act he's performed in more Spags than it's healthy to know the names of. And playing Walcott, the leader of the gang turned "respectable" banker, there's Luigi Pistilli (The Great Silence), bringing his usual suave, yet vicious, demeanour to the role.

But enough beating about the bush. The fact that Death Rides a Horse regularly makes the top 10 "Best Spaghetti" lists of those in the know, says it all. Its place among the great and the good is richly deserved.

If I said it also boasts a fantastic score by Ennio Morricone (utilised in Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol.1), it should really seal the deal.

Find a copy and watch it. Now!


mark damon in johnny yuma

Samantha, the calculating wife of rich landowner Thomas Felton, plots to have her husband killed so that she and her equally ruthless brother, Pedro, can inherit the farm. After carrying out their plan and framing one of the servants for the murder, the conniving duo are more than a little put out when Felton's nephew, the rightful heir to the ranch Johnny Yuma (Matt Damon), arrives on the scene. Samantha hires an ex-lover, gunfighter Carradine (Lawrence Dobkin), to take care of Yuma, and with both him and her sadistic brother on the trail of the eponymous hero, the scene is set for an epic showdown.

Romolo Guerrieri ($10,000 For a Massacre) made Johnny Yuma during the early days of the Spaghetti Western boom. In 1966, before the impact of Sergio Corbucci's Django (also 1966) changed the game yet again, the Spaghetti Western was still largely influenced by Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dollars (1964) and For a Few Dollars More (1965).

That's certainly the case with Johnny Yuma, which has the more traditional feel in dress and style, but nevertheless looks every bit the Spaghetti Western. The screen exudes heat, sweat and dust, as the exterior scenery (Almeria) plays as integral a part as any of the characters.

Mark Damon (Johnny Oro, Train For Durango), in the lead role, makes a passable man of ambiguous morality, though he lacks the grim-faced pessimism that characterises the best Spaghetti Western anti-heroes. This almost jovial approach to his killing places him closer to Terence Hill of the Trinity films than an Eastwood or the Man with No Name's own tribute act, Anthony Steffen, and it's no surprise that Damon went on to star in so-called "comedy" Spags of such rottenness as Pistol Packin' Preacher (1972) and They Called Him Veritas (1972). Still, that doesn't mean he can't turn the heat up when necessary, like when he holds a white hot branding iron to the face of Pedro to extricate himself from the obligatory roughing of the good guy scene, or (graphically) breaking the same villain's arm prior to shooting him three times, ensuring his last breaths are extremely painful ones.

It goes without saying that despite the good-humoured approach to shooting expendable bad guys dead, Yuma can hold his own in a gunfight. This is ably demonstrated when he teams up with the gunslinger hired to kill him, in order wipe out Samantha's gang. Carradine is a western killer of the old school – honourable and immaculately turned out. There's no grime-smeared face or full-length duster jacket when he turns up to fulfil a contract. This final shootout goes down on the same street of whitewashed buildings that has seen gundowns in For a Few Dollars More, Day of Anger and many others. In fact, the scene is highly reminiscent of Manco and Col. Mortimer taking out Indio's gang at the close of For a Few Dollars More, except with one or two primary-coloured shirts splashed about for good measure.

When it reached American shores in 1967, Variety magazine branded Johnny Yuma, "The most violent Italian western ever." In places (snapping the arm, shootings through the head) it certainly displays, what for the time, would've been quite the brutal streak, but, of course, it pales into insignificance when measured against what's come since. As far as I'm concerned though, and despite Mark Damon's jollity, Johnny Yuma is one of the classics of the genre.

Violent and poetic in turns, Johnny Yuma is beautifully shot, and with a suitably spaghetti-flavoured score by Nora Orlandi, it offers a perfect example of a pre-Django Italian Western from the genre's formative years.


if you meet sartana, pray for your death - gianni garko

An insurance fiddle on a strongbox of gold is initiated by a scheming cabal of town dignitaries in Gianfranco Parolini's 1968 angel of death film ... If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death. Into the breach steps the Sartana (Gianni Garko), the most stylish character ever to set foot in the usually grubby and sweat-drenched world of the Spaghetti Western. He takes it upon himself to serve justice upon the outlaws, Mexican bandits and corrupt officialdom, in the process walking away with a coffin-load of loot, as he influences events, turns up unexpectedly, or simply takes matters into his own hands with the silver Sharp's Derringer and Winchester rifle that play integral roles in his personal arsenal.

Ample death, ample destruction and muchos double-crossing quickly follow.

Sartana, to give it the more popular and less unwieldy title, brings together such heavyweights of the Spaghetti Western genre as Gianni Garko (Blood At Sundown,$10,000 Blood Money), William Berger (Sabata, Face to Face), Fernando Sancho (Seven Dollars on the Red, Pistol For Ringo) and Klaus Kinski (And God Said to Cain, For a Few Dollars More), in a tale of treachery and betrayal that does its damnedest not to tow the line of cohesion, frequently wading knee-deep in the murky waters of convolution.

Indeed, full concentration is required when watching Sartana, just to remain level with the game as twists, turns, multiple deaths and complete randomness are thrown into what is nonetheless a visually gorgeous example of Italian cinematic cuisine.

The character of Sartana carries shades of Colonel Mortimer (Lee Van Cleef) from For A Few Dollars More in dress, nonchalance and the fact he carries around a musical pocket watch that has a destabilising effect on the principal villain of the piece, Lasky (William Berger). Incidentally, Parolini would go on to reinvent the character as Sabata, specifically for Van Cleef, in the enjoyable Sabata and its awful sequel Return of Sabata.

Sartana is far more enigmatic than Mortimer or Sabata though (one a bounty hunter, the other a gambler), seemingly possessing a supernatural adeptness for being in the right place at the right time. When a hastily drawn villain - whose sole purpose in the film is to provide bullet fodder for the titular anti-hero - comments, "You look just like a scarecrow" (possibly the best dressed scarecrow in cinematic history, mind), Sartana replies, "I am your pallbearer." He continues this allusion to all things death-related throughout, claiming to be a gravedigger, a "first-class pallbearer", and aligning himself with the local undertaker, Dusty. The suggestion being that Sartana might actually be the angel of death, walking the earth to bring about the demise of those in need of it, or perhaps even a restless ghost, wronged in life, avenging in death.

Or perhaps, as with everybody else in this film, he's simply after the gold.

Sartana would go on to appear in four more "official" sequels, three of which continued with Garko in the lead role and saw Parolini handing the directorial reins over to Guiliano Carmineo (Find a Place to Die, They Call Him Cemetery). The motives of the character remained ambiguous throughout. The film's success, as in the case of Django, led to scores of unofficial rip-offs and title change cash-ins.

... If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death, despite its labyrinthine wrangling, is a solid Spaghetti Western, even if it doesn't benefit from the dusty reassurance of some Almerian scenery. Personally, I prefer the first sequel in this series, I Am Sartana, Your Angel of Death (1969), which is more of a reboot of the franchise under its new stewardship and features a returning Klaus Kinski, somewhat confusingly, in a different role.

Still, with a sumptuous shot composition, plus the silver Derringer, Lasky letting rip with the Gatling gun, and the final duel, Sartana has enough Spaghetti Western moments to keep fans of the genre more than happy.


california - spaghetti western starring guiliano gemma

Reduced to catching frogs for food, Confederate soldiers returning from the war are treated as second-class citizens and hunted down by a gang of bounty hunters (in a similar premise to The Great Silence), operating under the protection of local law enforcement agencies.

Guiliano Gemma (The Day of Anger, A Pistol For Ringo) plays Michael 'California' Random, one such soldier who takes the naive Willy Preston (Miguel Bose) under his wing. When his companion is shot in the back and strung up for stealing a horse, California travels to his parents' Georgia ranch to break the bad news. In typical style he falls for Helen, his dead comrade's sister, and following the senseless killing of three Confederates by bounty killer Rope Whitaker (Raimund Harmstorf) and his men, he gets caught up in the ensuing crossfire as federal agents arrive to take Whitaker down. The sister is taken hostage as the gang make their escape, and California vows to track down the bounty hunters and return Helen home.

Filmed in 1977, at the tail-end of the Spaghetti Western boom - a time when the "comedy" spaghetti had all but wiped the genre out – Michele Lupo's California, like Castellari's Keoma has an altogether more sobering feel to it. It's a film that, for the first act at least, knows that its time has passed. This is the death knell of the serious Western all'Italiana, and a sense of hopeless desperation pervades throughout. Perpetual rain and mud colour the canvas, as it does in Keoma, before the familiar dusty vistas of the Almerian badlands return for the final act, delivering us into the more traditional territory of the revenge-driven Spaghetti West.

Guiliano Gemma, in a welcome departure from his wide-eyed innocent act, pulls off the seasoned veteran role usually reserved for the likes of Lee Van Cleef and Gianni Garko, with the confidence of a man who has grown up in the genre (debuting 12 years earlier in 1965's Adios Gringo). His heroism, as with the best Spaghetti Western protagonists, is far from clear-cut, aiding and abetting a Wells-Fargo stagecoach robbery (For A Few Dollars More-style) to ingratiate himself with the fugitive Whitaker, and in perhaps the most shocking scene, smashing a whisky bottle into the mouth of the very same bounty hunter, neck first.

California works well as a reminder of how great this genre once was. It even ropes in another stalwart of Spaghetti Westdom in the guise of William Berger (Sabata, No Room to Die and many, many more), who is sadly underused as Preston senior, but still fulfils his position as an elder statesman of these wonderful films, as he did in Keoma.

The comparisons with the aforementioned Keoma are unavoidable. Both are twilight Spaghettis – classics filmed in the dying days of the late '70s - and both are tinged with a sense of gloomy pessimism. In the case of Keoma this lasts for the entirety of the film, whereas California manages to rekindle the original Spaghetti Western spark with its last half hour. For that reason, and despite what any other critic might say, California edges ahead of its twilight Spaghetti brethren, just because it avoids the navel-gazing and eventually takes us back to the genus's roots. It also has a far more traditional score by Gianni Ferrio, in contrast to the De Angelis one that tries its best to ruin Castellari's film.

I can recommend California to both newcomers and old-hands to the world of Spaghetti Westerns. In fact, the only problem I foresee you having with this rarity is getting hold of a copy.


Cjamango

Sergio Corbucci's Django revolutionised the Spaghetti Western genre in many ways. The low-budget retelling of Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars – itself a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo – ramped up the violence, the amorality, the bloodletting and the insanity factor to an unprecedented scale, spawning a glut of rip-offs, cash-ins and unofficial sequels of varying degrees of quality. It also, quite unintentionally, began a trend for titular heroes whose names ended in the letter 'o' and when said quickly enough could possibly be mistaken for Django.

There was Anthony Steffen - the Spaghetti Western standard-bearer, himself no stranger to playing Django - starring as the main man in both Garringo and Shango. 'Sword and Sandal' star Brad Harris as the fast gun in Durango is Coming, Pay or Die. Montgomery Clark (Dante Posani) as the gambling gunslinger in Djurado and Ivan Rassimov in this, 1967's Cjamango.

Edoardo Mulargia's (Shango, A Man Called Django) film begins on a winning streak, which is brought to an abrupt and violent end when the saddle bags of gold Cjamango wins in a hand of poker are quickly lost to the combined gangs of Don Pablo (Livio Lorenzon) and Tiger (Spaghetti stalwart Pierro Lulli, who boasts thirty-four titles to his name) in a saloon massacre, of which our hero is the sole survivor. Well it wouldn't be much of a film if Cjamango pegged out before the opening credits.

What follows is Cjamango's hunt to reclaim the gold he thinks is his. Helped and hindered in equal measures along the way by an old drunk, an irritating boy, the obligatory sultry siren (Helene Chanel) and a mysterious stranger (Jayne Mansfield's other half and ex-Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay), Cjamango is clear in his own mind that it's the gold and the gold alone that he's interested in. Just as any spaghetti western (anti) hero should be. Ruthless privateering is the name of the game and there's never room for morality. Unless, of course, a decidedly nasty piece of work cut from the same cloth as villainous gang leader Tiger, sees fit to strap a bundle of dynamite to the chest of said irritating boy. When innocent children were dragged into the proceedings it would more often than not prick the conscience of even the most mercenary of bounty hunter/ gunslinger types, particularly if it was their name playing a key part in the film's title.

That's why the spaghetti west is no place for children. This isn't Shane or a multitude of other American westerns that tugged at the viewer's heart-stings with a kid as clean-cut as he was nauseating. Just take a look at God's Gun for another prime example of a horrible child (Leif Garrett) encroaching on what is essentially the territory of hardened, embittered men; their moral compasses shattered by a lifetime of killing or a soul-devouring desire for either vengeance or dollars.

Actually don't look at God's Gun. Besides featuring Lee Van Cleef in one of cinema's worst wigs, the film is awful, but it enforces the argument that the only place for children in Spaghetti Westerns is sprawled across the floor, riddled with lead. Leone had the right idea with the iconic Henry Fonda massacre of the McBain family in Once Upon a Time in the West.

But I digress. Cjamango has its faults but viewed as an entire package, it delivers the goods. Plot holes and inconsistencies such as why Tiger allows Cjamango to free the boy from his less than subtle dynamite death-trap before finding out where he's hidden his reclaimed gold are easily forgiven amidst the brutality and wanton killing that follows, setting things up nicely for the final three-on-one gundown in the sun-parched town Don Pablo has claimed for himself.

Obviously budget constraints mean we're not treated to a ten minute build-up to this denouement, as in the case of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, one of the greatest examples of this much-maligned cinematic genre, but the fact that out of the entire cast it's only Cjamango, the mysterious stranger Clinton, the boy Manuel (unfortunately), and the barman Sancho (now severely lacking trade) who survive, should make up for any shortfalls on that count.

Indeed, Cjamango is comparable to a stripped down version of De Palma's Scarface when thumbing through the wafer-thin list of survivors. The fact that the main man ends up with nothing to show for his troubles apart from a whining brat, who one hopes is quickly dispatched from the back of his horse with a discreet elbow as soon as the end credits have rolled, highlights the downbeat nature of the Spaghetti Western. A place where it's not uncommon for the leading man to end up with nothing more than a face full of dust and a bellyfull of regret – or in some cases hot lead.

Never quite catching the public imagination in the way that the characters of Django or Sartana did, it spawned one unofficial sequel, Adios Cjamango (1969) featuring Mike Rivers (Miguel de la Riva) in the title role.

Cjamango certainly features at the higher end of the Spaghetti Western spectrum, nestled on the shelf alongside the likes of Johnny Yuma, Find a Place to Die, California and I Want Him Dead, without troubling the exclusive reaches reserved for certain films by the triumvirate of Sergios: Leone (Anything except My Name is Nobody), Corbucci (The Great Silence, Django) and Sollima (The Big Gundown, Face to Face), as well as Damiani (A Bullet For the General), Petroni (Death Rides a Horse), Parolini (If You Meet Sartana, Pray for Your Death) and the man behind the original Inglorious Bastards, Enzo G. Castellari (Keoma).

But Cjamango makes no claims to these enviable heights. Instead, it delivers an entertaining 90 minutes of no-brainer spaghetti action, keeping well within the traditions of the genre and knocking out a respectable body count to boot.

The widescreen print from the Wild East Spaghetti Western Collection is perhaps the best this film will ever be seen in and well worth seeking out and paying the extra for, over the previous grubby 'grey market' pan and scan versions that can be picked up on the cheap.


Van Heflin stars as Sam Cooper (the film is sometimes known as Sam Cooper's Gold) A man who has struck a rich vain of gold. The problem is one man can't get enough out and back, he needs a partner. Circumstances conspire to land him with three. Manolo Sanchez (George Hilton), who he raised as his son. Mason (Gilbert Roland) A man who holds a grudge against Sam believing he double crossed him some years earlier. The forth partner is "Brent the Blonde" played by Werner Herzog's Best Fiend Klaus Kinski.

Giorgio Capitani's spaghetti western, probaly won't be making too many top ten lists, but its an enjoyable flick and you can watch it right now (Visit this link for full screen) online for free thanks to AMC’s B-Movie BMC Classics. BMC provides an online destination to watch some classic (and not so classic) B movies from yesteryear. The films include (and I would recommend these) John Carpenters "Dark Star", Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls (which we are big fans of and posted here thanks to Joost). They also have Amicus classic and late night UK TV gem Asylum.

To see what else you can catch on the channel visit www.amctv.com/b-movies/


Five: Spaghetti Westerns not directed by Sergio Leone

Jeffman from Head Full Of Snow recommends five Spaghetti Westerns not directed by Sergio Leone.

A bruised and battered stalwart of the late night cinema circuit, the Spaghetti Western held a bastardised, custom-job revolver to the head of its inferior American cousin and relieved it of both its basic premise and last shred of decency; joyously blurring the line between right and wrong and leaving morality swinging from a ragged noose in the hot, desert sun.

The Spaghetti Western was an Italian phenomenon, mostly financed by Rome's famous Cinecitta Studios, although there were plenty of co-productions with other Euro countries like Spain and Germany, even stretching as far afield as Israel if you count the soul-sapping awfulness that is God's Gun. One man is responsible for popularising the Spaghetti Western, Sergio Leone. If you're a follower of LateMag's frequent forays into the weird and wonderful worlds of cult cinema you'll probably know his films already. The Clint Eastwood 'Man with no name' trilogy: Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The pure majesty that's the operatic and sweeping Once Upon a Time in the West; the Mexican revolution-flavoured epic Gui La Testa (Duck, You Sucker or the more familiar yet boring title, A Fistful of Dynamite); and finally, the unfortunate comic attempt of My Name is Nobody.

Leone's name is synonymous with the Spaghetti Western and it's because of this monopolisation of the genre that Late Mag presents five must-see Spaghetti Westerns not directed by Sergio Leone:

The Great SilenceThe Great Silence

Made by another prolific Sergio of the Spaghetti Western scene, Django director Sergio Corbucci, The Great Silence, Il Grande Silenzio, The Grand Silence, The Big Silence - whichever of these titles you happen to see it under – won't leave you disappointed.

Spaghetti Westerns thrived on bleak amorality and 1967's The Great Silence took this to its logical conclusion with an ending that still shocks despite its grim inevitability, whilst brazenly pissing on the chips of the audience's preconceived notions regarding the superhuman reliability of the hero in cinema.

Eschewing the usual sweat-beaded heat of the Spaghetti Western, The Great Silence is one of the few films of the genre to benefit from a snow setting. This provides some great scenery along the way as a band of sadistic bounty hunters, led by the ruthless and aptly named Loco (Klaus Kinski in excellent form), hold siege to a small town trembling under the corrupt thumb of its justice of the peace, Pollicut (Luigi Pistilli, For a Few Dollars More; Death Rides a Horse). Into this icy hell rides the eponymous Silence (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a mute gun for hire who forfeits the standard Western revolver in favour of one of the first automatic pistols. He has been summoned by Pauline (Vonetta McGee in her debut role) to avenge the cold-blooded slaughter of her husband at the hands of Loco. Also showing up are Frank Wolff as the obligatory bumbling sheriff and Leone regular Mario Brega, as well as several more grizzled fizogs that will be familiar to anybody who's seen the odd Spaghetti Western or two. Add a memorably moving score by Ennio Morricone and alongside The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and A Bullet For the General, you have one of the greatest Spaghetti Westerns ever made.

No Room to DieNo Room to Die

1969's No Room to Die looks just as a Spaghetti Western should. It has the extreme close-ups, the unusual camera angles, the forced perspective shots, and despite the location filming looking quite nippy at times – a sweaty, dusty, grime-ridden feel throughout. It also has a regular of the genre in the lead role, Shango himself, Anthony Steffen. His sun-baked, dry-lipped performance is pitched somewhere between Eastwood's 'Man with no name' and Franco Nero's Django,the omnipresent Spaghetti character who Steffen would play in the supernatural-tinged precursor to Eastwood's High Plains Drifter - Django the Bastard, also made by No Room's director, Sergio Garrone.

Another familiar face from Spags is William Berger (Sabata; Keoma), playing a cold-blooded bounty hunter known as 'The Preacher' and combining two elements popular of the genre: the bounty hunter with a peculiar quirk – he reads the bible and dresses in holyman garb – and an unusual item of weaponry; in this case a seven-barrelled shotgun.
 
With all these elements in place you can almost forget the secondary plot involving a corrupt and brutal landowner smuggling Mexican peasants across the border for cheap labour. You can certainly forgive the gaping holes, the achingly contrived situations, the often disjointed narrative, and character motivation that would topple in a light breeze. It looks great, that's all that matters, and uses every last inch of its widescreen vista. Just as every great Spaghetti Western should.

Cemetery Without CrossesCemetery Without Crosses

Frenchman Robert Hossein co-wrote, directed and starred in this downbeat Spaghetti Western from 1968, which takes the bleak pessimism of The Great Silence and cranks it all the way up to number eleven. There's an impending sense of doom right from the off, with the cold-blooded lynching of the leading lady Maria's (Michelle Mercier) husband and our first sighting of anti-hero Manuel (Hossein), who lives alone in a deserted town in the middle of nowhere. With such a bleak set-up, it's to be expected that things can only get worse.

Hossein is the gunslinger to who Mercier looks to administer brutal revenge on the rancher who killed her husband; this revenge involves infiltrating the rancher's inner circle before kidnapping his daughter and standing aside while the dead man's brothers administer their own form of justice upon her. Yes, the line between good and bad is not just blurred, but completely obliterated. The ending is as grim as Spaghetti Westerns get, with any vestige of hope lain bloody and dead in the dust as the closing score kicks in. Just the sort of thing this writer likes.

A Bullet for SandovalA Bullet for Sandoval

1969's A Bullet for Sandoval plays like a Greek tragedy, one that's been dragged kicking, screaming and bleeding profusely from a nasty buckshot wound to its gut into the equally grim world of the Spaghetti Western. Julio Buchs' (A Few Bullets More; Django Does Not Forgive) dark tale of despair and revenge stars Spag regular George Hilton (Any Gun Can Play; I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns for a Coffin) and Dominic Santini himself, Ernest Borgnine.

Sandoval is a Gringo hating, Mexican landowner, played with scenery-chewing gusto by Borgnine. Hilton plays confederate deserter, John Warner, who finds himself cast out with his newborn baby when cholera takes the mother, Sandoval's daughter. Unable to look after the child it soon dies and Warner swears revenge on Sandoval and all the others that denied him and his son help. In this moment he transforms from the obvious hero of the piece into a cold-blooded killer, and with a gang made up of a couple of fellow deserters, a fallen priest and a treacherous convicted "child molester" (!?!), takes to robbing, maiming and killing along the Mexican border.

A Bullet for Sandoval is superb stuff, even if it's crying out for a remastered and fully restored release. The only dubbed print currently on DVD has fallen foul of those who used to carve these things up to cater for the short attention span of an American audience, shoehorning them into TV spots or double features. Hence it suffers from an often disjointed and episodic flow.

Nevertheless, there's plenty to make up for this, with viewer expectations challenged by Warner's switch to a heartless and sadistic killer, plenty of violence, an embarrassingly bad narration by Borgnine (possibly added for the US market to explain away what's been removed), some hilariously bad drunken acting from Hilton and a memorable and sombre climax where the band of desperadoes face down the might of the Mexican Army at the Plaza de Toros. Great soundtrack, a complete lack of moral compass and that classic Spaghetti feel; what more can mortal man ask for?

A Bullet for the GeneralA Bullet for the General

It was a hard fought race for fifth spot on this list with Django, The Big Gundown, $10000 Blood Money and Death Rides a Horse all jockeying for position. However, it was a last minute viewing of an old favourite that saw Damiano Damiani's 1966 masterpiece, A Bullet for the General, come from further down the field and pip all four to the post.

This Spag Western has it all. Political chicanery, amoral anti-heroes, a bomb-hurling holy man, a high-velocity golden bullet, sun-scorched vistas and enough sweat-soaked lingering close-ups to please an army of salophiles. Throw into the mix a terrific Luis Bacalov soundtrack and the requisite stopped-counting-when-it-nudged-over-50 body count and you have one of the best.

Gian Maria Volante (Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; Face to Face) plays Mexican bandit-turned-revolutionary gunrunner, El Chuncho, whilst Lou Castel (Kill and Pray) is the sharp-suited Gringo mercenary who infiltrates his gang to take out a high-profile revolutionary leader. The backdrop of the Mexican revolution provides plenty of scope for Franco Solinas's (Tepepa; The Mercenary) excellent script to explore the left wing themes it so proudly wears on its sleeve. Klaus Kinski, who appeared in over 20 Spaghetti Westerns, quite often at the low rent end of the market (Black Killer; Fistful of Death – made by the Godfrey Ho of Spaghetti Westdom, Demofilo Fidani) plays Chuncho's brother, El Santo, notable not only for the fact he's a grenade-toting monk quoting passages from the bible whilst administering explosive justice upon the repressive forces of the Mexican army, but also for his blue eyes and flowing blonde hair. "Our mother is the same, but his father... who knows?" As El Chuncho explains.

With there being so much to recommend A Bullet for the General, whether it's the sumptuous cinematography, the sweeping Luis Bacalov score, the epic Spaghetti Western ambience, or the symbolic victory over imperialist capitalism at the denouement; it's safe to say that if you only see a couple of Spaghetti Westerns in your lifetime, make sure A Bullet for the General is one of them.

To read more from Jeffman visit headfullofsnow.com which covers psychedelic, acid, prog and classic rock as well as his upcoming contributions to the print magazine Shindig! You can also follow him over at twitter @jeffman1

 


Takashi Miike, best known for cult classics "Audition", "Ichi the Killer", and "The City of Lost Souls", redefines the Spaghetti Western with Sukiyaki Western Django, a tale written in blood. Two clans, Genji, the white clan led by Yoshitsune, and Heike, the red clan led by Kiyomori, battle for a legendary treasure hidden in a desolate mountain town. One day, a lone gunman, burdened with deep emotional scars but blessed with incredible shooting skills, drifts into town. Two clans try to woo the lone gunman to their sides, but he has ulterior motives. Dirty tricks, betrayal, desire and love collide as the situation erupts into a final, explosive showdown.

View the US trailer in Quicktime at apple.com/trailers  

View the teaser in Quicktime: High | Low

View the second teaser in Quicktime: High | Low

Official Japanese site | North American Website | Myspace 

Via: www.sukiyakimovie.com/


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