Gunfight At Red Sands, 1963
This was neat.
It’s a precursor to spaghetti westerns, being an Italian-made western featuring American leads, but predating Sergio Leone’s definitive ripoff of Kurosawa, A Fistful of Dollars, by a year or more. It’s stylish, but not excessively so. It features far less moral ambiguity than most Italian oaters. And the story is interesting pretty much all the way through.
Then there’s the soundtrack. Morricone it ain’t. (Well, actually, it is Morricone under a pseudonym, but not hitting anything like the operatic heights he soared to in the following few years.) But it fits the movie, and the damned theme song sticks in your head for days. Here’s the opening three minutes or so of the film, where the music under the dialog makes you think the theme is going to be one of the coolest themes ever.
Then Dicky Jones begins to sing.[audio:http://blog.ianhamet.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/a-gringo-like-me.mp3%5D
From that brief setup, you know that the Martinez family is successfully prospecting gold (from a stream on their property). They also have a wayward adopted son, “Gringo”, who is off in Mexico fighting in the civil war there. All of his men get killed, and he makes his way back across into Texas, going home and swearing off violence.
Until he actually gets home to find his adoptive father shot, and all the gold in the house stolen. His dad dies in his arms, and he spends the rest of the movie hunting down the men responsible, one by one, with no help from the local Sheriff, who blames it on Mexicans who have probably already gone back across the border.
There is, of course, the final showdown, over the very end of which the end-title music struts in:[audio:http://blog.ianhamet.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/06/gringo-reprise.mp3%5D
The producers were afraid, apparently, that your auditory centers were not scarred quite permanently enough by Dicky Jones’s warbling, or that you might have forgotten that key-change that he managed so artlessly.
Anyway, it’s a neat film, with excellent music apart from the singing. It moves along and never really gets boring. Plus, there’s two major female roles performed by lovely women, and some more lovelies in the background here and there. If nothing else, Italian filmmakers sure have an eye for women.
It’s available in a muddy, scratchy, full-frame print (which is simply fair warning — no better print seems available on DVD) on three different Mill Creek Entertainment collections:
the Spaghetti Westerns 20 Movie Pack,
the Western Classics 50 Movie Pack,
and the Western 250 Movie Pack.
If you want my advice, skip the 50 pack unless you really, really want a lot of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, and other singing cowboys. Go instead for the Spaghetti Western collection and, if you really love westerns in general, the 250 pack. (The Spaghetti Western collection has at least ten movies not available on any other Mill Creek collection, so it’s a must-buy, regardless.)