Archive for October 20, 2019

John Phillip Law West of the Pecos

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on October 20, 2019 by dcairns

DEATH RIDES A HORSE. Also dismounts, walks about, drinks whisky-and-water, smokes a pipe. Death leads an active, outdoorsy kind of life.

This movie is Pure Cinema — pure cinema is a pretty violent place, it sometimes seems. The spaghetti western version amps everything up to eleven and reduces the script to something that could be scrawled in a matchbook. The plot is mythic, the characters iconic, which is another way of saying childish, maybe.

The movie begins with a gang of outlaws performing what Slim Pickens in BLAZING SADDLES calls a “number six” — killing the men and raping the women. Then, since it’s important that we realize these are the bad guys, they shoot some bottles, some jugs and some assorted carrots and parsnips.

No, not the vegetables!

One of the rapists is called Burt Kavanaugh which seems a bit on the nose.

So, a nasty beginning, though it manages to avoid fetishising the sexual assault, and is brief to the point of implausibility. Beginning with this violent primal scene — witnessed by the youngest child — the movie establishes an almost giallo-like tone, before turning into an episodic revenge narrative Cornell Woolrich might have approved of. Sort of The Dude Wore Black.

There’s a loophole in the “number six,” you see — a small boy, not covered in the articles of war. He survives, and through the miracle of editing grows up to be John Phillip Law, next seen shooting some objects of his own. But he does his target practice in the open air, like a civilised person.

Next, we meet Lee Van Cleef, being freed from a chain gang to the tune of one of Ennio Morricone’s finest western scores, a kind of shitkicker Carmina Burana with a male chorus that seems to have been recorded in a bathroom, in a cavern. Words cannot express.

The lyrics are pretty indecipherable but seem to include neat-o phrases like “Wiiiiild Women of Woo-gow!” though I may be mondegreening a little.

Screenwriter Luciano Vincenzoni also worked on defensible films like THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY and DUCK, YOU SUCKER! (but Leone employed whole swing-gangs of writers on each film) but also on less dignified-sounding ones like MEAN FRANK AND CRAZY TONY and MR. HERCULES AGAINST KARATE.

Some great fractured compositions in the obligatory musical duel, timed to three strikes of the piano keyboard. Director Giulio Petroni worked almost exclusively in this genre, and delivers striking set-pieces as well as possibly the best landscape stuff I’ve ever seen in an Italian western.

Van Cleef is his dependable bad-ass self. Law is pretty good — the character is meant to be more callow than Eastwood’s grizzled stranger, so his lack of authority isn’t a major problem. But if the film is slightly less than the sum of its excellent/ridiculous parts, it may be because the pretty and sunny young fellow at its centre does not compellingly suggest a vengeance-driven nemesis eaten up by Hate.

DEATH RIDES A HORSE stars Angel Eyes; Pygar; Father Pablo Ramirez: Dial M for Me; Capannelle: and Boogulroo.