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Finger on the Trigger (1965)
Been There, Done That
Cavalry deserters, led by Rory Calhoun, run afoul of treasure-seeking Confederate hold-outs, who've captured a Union fort deep in hostile Indian country, a location that forces the two sides into a confrontation with angry natives.
Barren Spanish locations are about the best thing about this grim pseudo- spaghetti western, full of unsympathetic characters. Of course, the unsympathetic characters themselves are the second best thing, giving this so-so movie an edge it really doesn't deserve. There is a good climax though.
Better known for sci-fi B-movies like Reptilicus, Angry Red Planet and Journey To The Seventh Planet, director Sidney Pink follows his usual formula of casting a Hollywood has-been and filming things on the cheap in Europe.
Shoot the Sun Down (1978)
Christopher Walken's Only Western: Offbeat, Mildly Interesting
Christopher Walken is an enigmatic stranger wandering the west. Geoffrey Lewis is a scalp-hunter, turned prospector, with a serious case of gold fever, while Margot Kidder is the indentured servant of emotionally-stunted ship captain Bo Bundin. The four collide in and around Mexican-controlled Santa Fe as they dig for gold and search for the lost treasure of Montezuma.
Though mostly character-driven and not for everyone's taste, this independent western looks great, with nice location photography and and the presences of Walken and Kidder, right on the cusp of their breakthrough performances in The Deer Hunter and Superman: The Movie respectively, though Walken is a bit out of place.
Of the cast, the late Geoffrey Lewis is the most game (as usual), delivering some amusing lines, his eulogy for a treacherous henchman especially memorable. Familiar faces, A. Martinez and Sacheen Littlefeather (on the final seconds of her fifteen-minutes of fame) round out the cast.
Action scenes are clumsy and the score is all over the place, with spaghetti western horns one minute, pulsing rock the next, traditional string instruments a few minutes later, with some prints featuring a title song by Kinky Friedman!
Beyond The Rifleman
The lone survivor of the Battle Of Bitter Creek, an Apache massacre of U.S. cavalrymen, Chuck Conners is falsely court-marshaled for cowardice and desertion. Dishonorably discharged, he's forced to roam the west, taking on odd-jobs, while enduring cruel taunts and unprovoked violence, proving his manhood time and again.
Branded is pretty high-concept for a fairly low-budget thirty-minute show, with a lot of early episodes (under the supervision of series creator Larry Cohen) dealing with the nature of cowardice and what exactly makes a man a man, as well as Connors' attempts to keep the secrets of Bitter Creek, his encounters with various friends and relatives of his deceased men and the inevitable vengeance-seekers among them.
The first season is the more cerebral and ambitious of the two, with much of the action taking place primarily in town and leading to some anticlimactic conclusions to some of the episodes. The second season finds the series upgraded to color, with a bigger budget and better- staged action scenes. It's a bit of a trade-off though, with Connors' past (and the participation of Cohen) pushed to the back-burner. There's still some quality scripts, though in the spirit of a more conventional western series. It does however, provide a serviceable ending to the series.
One of the show's strengths, over only two seasons, is it's virtual army of old and new guest stars: Johnny Crawford, Burt Reynolds, Bruce Dern, Noah Beery, Beau Bridges, Lee Van Cleef, Dick Clark (!), Jay Silverheels, L.Q. Jones, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Cesar Romero, Iron Eyes Cody, James Best, Pat O'Brien, John Carradine, John Ireland, Claude Akins, Burgess Meredith, Martin Landau, Angelo Rossito, Pat Wayne, Dick Miller, Victor French, etc.
As the show ended, the producers gathered much of the crew, Connors and Branded guest stars Michael Rennie and James MacArthur for the feature, Ride Beyond Vengeance. Fans of this should definitely check it out.
Wanted: Dead or Alive (1958)
McQueen Is King!
Steve McQueen stars as Josh Randall, the straight-arrow bounty hunter who gives away most or all of his reward money, a gimmick that in actuality only lasted the first few episodes. However, Randall did indeed have a heart of gold, standing up for not only law and order, but actual justice as well, even if there wasn't always a fairy-tale ending and sometimes finding himself protecting the guilty against vigilante justice.
Like many of the late-fifties and early-sixties western television series', Wanted: Dead Or Alive packs a lot of narrative in each thirty- minute episode, usually with enough great ideas to fill a typical feature-length B-movie from previous decades, though featuring sudden bursts of violence you probably wouldn't see in the thirties and forties.
This made a bonafide star out of McQueen and a cult-star out of his signature gun, a sawed-off repeater rifle. Also, it was a great showcase for up-and-coming actors like James Coburn, Warren Oates, Michael Landon and Lee Van Cleef, not to mention a few old-timers like Lon Chaney and Noah Beery.
Also of interest is the short-lived stint of Wright King (who was probably being groomed to take over from the famously fickle McQueen), as Josh's flawed apprentice. Although it was somewhat better to have Randall acting alone, King's character was interestingly handled by the writers and his episodes (especially the first few) were very worthwhile.
One thing that might interest the modern viewer, is Josh's unwillingness to let his more sympathetic bounties to make a run for it, dispensing with one of the latter-day's most reliable contrivances.
Finally, look out for a few outstanding and hard-hitting episodes, penned by Twilight Zone writers Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont, as well as a Kung-Fu themed episode that predates the series "Kung-Fu" by a dozen years!
A Knife for the Ladies (1974)
Bringing A Knife To A Gunfight
City private investigator Jeff Cooper travels to frontier backwater in order to investigate the slasher murders of town matriarch Ruth Roman's son and a gaggle of local prostitutes. Things are complicated by the vigilante murder of a Mexican cowboy and brutish, old-school sheriff Jack Elam.
Mildly entertaining drive-in trash, this benefits from the old low-rent sets and ancient costumes that were pretty much a sign of the times in the early seventies. You can practically smell the mothballs, though they (the set-pieces not the mothballs) make this low, low-budget western/horror flick almost look like a million bucks. The weird, very exploitative climax is fun too, as are the presences of Elam and Roman.
For a better Jack-the-ripper-goes-west story, watch the Episode of Dead Man's Gun aptly titled "The Ripper".
Rio Grande (1950)
Light Entertainment From John Ford And John Wayne
Commanding a remote outpost in Texas, cavalry officer John Wayne reconnects with estranged wife Maureen O'Hara and new-recruit son Claude Jarman Jr. However, the reunion is complicated by an Apache uprising and an illegal incursion across the Rio Grande.
One of the lesser talked-about pairings of Wayne and John Ford and their third cavalry picture, this is satisfying, though a bit familiar in the drama department. Action scenes and Monument Valley locations are excellent, as are the musical numbers by Ken Curtis and the Sons Of The Pioneers. O'Hara looks a little young to have a teenage son though.
Memorable subplots include fugitive recruit Ben Johnson trying to stay ahead of the law and some male-bonding between himself, Jarman, and fellow soldiers Harry Carey Jr. and Victor Maglaglen.
Sartana Lights It Up
Sartana infiltrates a sadistic frontier prison in order to bust out an inmate accused of stashing half a million dollars in gold. However, getting the inmate out proves to be easier than uncovering the whereabouts of the missing loot, located somewhere in a town full of crooked characters with shady intentions.
Another fast-moving entry in the official Sartana series, starring Gianni Garko, there's a lot of twists and turns, with Sartana seemingly able to read minds, tell the future and see in all directions at once!
There's loads of gun-play and a fairly interesting mystery regarding who exactly has the gold. It's not quite groundbreaking cinema, but it'll do.
One gripe though, there isn't one single likable character in the whole movie, not even Sartana!
Okay Italian Western
After proving himself quite resourceful during an attempted robbery of a gold shipment, newly appointed sheriff Giuliano Gemma finds himself framed for murder by ruthless cattle-rustlers that want someone a little more friendly in his place. Escaping jail, he fights the rustlers and the new sheriff to clear his name.
Wanted is pretty straight-forward and unpretentious and star Gemma is one of the great spaghetti western stars. There's also some good pulp-western atmosphere, with none of the silly humor and gimmicks that seemed to take over the genre in the years following this one's release.
On the other hand, there really isn't anything new here this time around and although it's decent enough entertainment, it's ultimately not very memorable.
Adiós gringo (1965)
Decent Early Spaghetti Western And An Early Role For Giuliano Gemma
After unknowingly buying stolen cattle from an acquaintance, Giuliano Gemma is forced to kill their hot-headed owner in self-defense. Pursued by bounty hunters, he hunts down the cattle rustler in order to prove his innocence. Along the way, he finds a rape victim staked to the ground and himself at odds with yet another powerful foe.
An early western role for Giuliano Gemma, this borrows ever so slightly from the Kirk Douglas vehicle Last Train From Gun Hill, with it's spoiled rich-boy-gone-bad villain and is in turn is borrowed upon by Hang 'Em High, a few years later.
This is pretty unsophisticated and not one of Gemma's best, though it's entertaining enough and competently made, with a straight-forward story and some good Spanish scenery, although the petty townspeople that seem to populate the movie are just too much!
With his good looks, charisma and way with action, it's easy to see why Gemma went on to bigger things in Europe, even if he's only known as a cult star elsewhere.
2 once di piombo (1966)
Tepid, We've Been Down This Dusty Road Before
Mexican drifter Robert Woods returns to his hometown to find trouble in the form of a vicious group of cutthroats who have taken it for their own, a gang that Woods seems to have taken a real disliking to, or perhaps he's encountered before.
There's very little story here, just mainly a series of violent and not very imaginative encounters between Woods and the nasty, racist gang of killers, or the killers and various townspeople.
Though somewhat interesting in the lead role, Woods is pretty wooden. It's not really his fault though. His character is as cardboard as any I've seen playing the main protagonist in a spaghetti western. It's hard to believe this was popular enough to spawn a sequel.
The theme song is pretty nifty though
Uno dopo l'altro (1968)
Watchable Richard Harrison Western
After a violent bank robbery by fake Mexican Bandits, the crooked bank president/ringleader hires bounty hunter Richard Harrison to find the patsy blamed for the holdup. Catching up with him, Harrison learns the truth and schemes with the real gang of banditos to get his hands on the loot.
Cleanshaven, with spectacles, neat hair, and a black overcoat that conceals his size, Harrison looks a lot different than you're used to seeing in various spaghetti westerns and muscle-man movies. His character is a bit colder as well.
Though somewhat typical, there's a high level of torture and double- crossing going on. It might not be memorable, but it's watchable and has a few surprises going for it.
Watch out for Harrison's glasses case, which unrolls to find about six pairs. I imagine his line of work can be pretty hard on your face!
Good Spaghetti, Hard-Boiled Characters Make Up For Flaws
Using a pistol slipped to him by his sweetheart, bandit Tomas Milian escapes an armed transport before encountering hard-as-nails bounty hunter Richard Wyler in what's left of his nearly deserted hometown, where the people are squarely on his side.
Although there's nothing much new here, there is a hard edge and a dead-serious nature to the proceedings that help make it enjoyable, along with Milian, who gives one of his typically offbeat performances, playing it cool and crazy! I wish I had a nickel for every time he basically played the same guy. Unfortunately though, Wyler is no match in the acting department and appears a little stiff.
In an interesting reversal of what you normally see in western films, the town of basically law abiding people (including spaghetti western star Mario Brega) welcomes the villain and actively aids him against the hero!
Movie Is Silly, Eh Providence?
Weird, rat-like bounty hunter Tomas Milian repeatedly captures grungy outlaw Gregg Palmer, only to quietly help him escape jail, so he can re- capture him and claim the reward all over again. Along the way, they encounter various characters like scheming showgirl Janet Agren, pool hustlers, a crooked sheriff, and a rowdy group of drunken Confederates.
Like a live-action cartoon, only dumber, this very broad western comedy is only occasionally funny. Most of the jokes fall completely flat. With the exception of a good saloon brawl, the action doesn't fare much better.
In a career full of eccentric performances by Tomas Milian, this may be the oddest of the lot, except maybe his role in Sergio Corbucci's The White, The Yellow And The Black, where he (offensively) portrays a comedic Samurai warrior!
Also, this has a terrible score by Ennio Morricone, probably his worst in a western.
Occhio alla penna (1981)
Fun, Politically Incorrect Bud Spencer Vehicle
Trying and failing to shake off his Indian sidekick, drifter Bud Spencer is mistaken for a doctor, thanks to a stolen physician's kit. Now the toast of the town in a place in desperate need of a doctor, he has to assume not just the role of healer, but it's protector against a gang of sadistic outlaws.
An amiable late spaghetti western comedy, Bud does what he does best, mainly breaking things, man-handling bad guys and putting down large amounts of food! In other words, if you like Bud Spencer movies (with or without frequent partner Terence Hill), you'll probably like this one as well. As his sidekick, Italian comedian Amidou is sometimes hilarious, but sometimes pretty embarrassing as well.
A neat score by Ennio Morricone has the maestro revisiting and parodying many of his best known western compositions, sometimes more than one in the same cue!
Observant viewers will also recognize Claudia Cardinale's house from Once Upon A Time In The West, being used as Bud's hiding place early on in the film.
Vivi o preferibilmente morti (1969)
Fast And Funny Vehicle For Giuliano Gemma
In order to claim an inheritance, fancy-pants Giuliano Gemma, a problem gambler, must go west and live with his brother for six months. Though they don't like each other very much, the two use the time to embark on an inept crime spree that keeps getting interrupted by a gang of real criminals.
A genuinely likable and often times really funny western comedy, this is a good showcase for Italian western superstar Gemma, who gets to show off his charisma, as well as his prowess as an action star, doing all or most of his own stunts.
There's some good action action sequences here too, including a rowdy bath-time punch-out/gunfight and an exciting train robbery climax, all leading to a finale that actually rips off the final scene of The Graduate!
Lively, One Of Richard Harrison's Better Spaghetti Westerns
Ex-Confederate Richard Harrison returns home from the war to find his father murdered by a ruthless land baron. Caught in the act of exacting revenge, he escapes with bandito Fernando Sancho and become hunted men, squaring off against the famous bounty hunter Sabata.
With the nearly non-stop exaggerated movements of it's characters, the rapid-fire dubbing and comedic elements, this bogus sequel to Sabata seems almost like a comic book come to life or a live-action cartoon. It's all pretty broad, though fun to watch, the humor being a bit easier to take than a lot of other Italian westerns. It was better than expected and quite satisfying in the revenge department.
Harrison and Sancho, who can seemingly play these type of characters in his sleep, make a good team.
Depressing, Grim Melodrama
In the days following the Civil War, defeated Confederate Giuliano Gemma and a young traveling companion encounter various killers, low-lives and unsympathetic citizens. When his friend is killed, Gemma stays with the boy's family and protects them from a vicious gang of bounty hunter turned outlaws.
As usual, Gemma's good. However, he's defeated by an unrelentingly depressing story, an atmosphere of doom and gloom and a grating, almost non-stop soundtrack. One interesting thing though, are the sights of the crumbling, once great spaghetti western sets of the previous decade.
One thing I didn't quite get is that early in the movie, the boy makes a big deal of how he comes from Georgia and his family lives in Georgia and how he's headed back to Georgia. When Gemma gets to the family farm, it's in the middle of the desert! What happened to Georgia?
Watch The Outlaw Josey Wales instead.
Decent, With A Frigid Performance By William Berger
Ice cold outlaw William Berger frees three brothers on the verge of execution in exchange for fifty percent of their unrecovered loot. Unfortunately for him, recovering the money isn't as easy as he'd hoped for, having not accounted for the double-cross the brothers have planned.
What could have been a run-of-the-mill spaghetti western is made more watchable by an interesting performance by Berger, who plays his role with no emotion whatsoever, making the few times he shows any joy or compassion look like the mimicry of a sociopath!
As far as everything else goes, direction and production values are adequate, though it's the gun-play and seeing how the aloof Berger reacts to different situations and challenges that really makes the film fun.
Doomed Caravan (1941)
Technically Well-Made, Though Uninspired
Agreeing to help a lady freight operator who's suffering attacks and sabotage from possible rivals, Hopalong Cassidy battles a fake military escort and a contrived class war in Mexico!
Story-wise, almost everything about this Hopalong Cassidy adventure, starring William Boyd, is rather ordinary. However, the production values are spectacular compared to other B-westerns of the nineteen-forties, with a real Hollywood sheen, probably due to the fact that this was made at Paramount Pictures.
The detail in the sets, costumes and props are excellent. Photography is first-rate and action scenes are well-handled. It's just too bad that the script is uninteresting and pretty much all over the place.
Director Lesley Selander (who did a few of the Hopalong movies) was a great director and made studio B-westerns from the nineteen-thirties right up until 1968.
Border Patrol (1943)
Great Stars And Oddball Villains!
After witnessing the murder of a Mexican national, border patrolman Hopalong Cassidy and pals are promptly abducted and taken to Mexico by a feisty senorita who believes them responsible. Set free by the federales, they investigate the disappearances of dozens of migrant workers seeking jobs in a silver mine and end up stepping into a madman's own private town.
A William Boyd/Hopalong Cassidy vehicle that comes real close to going over the top, there's a lot of fun and great stars here, with head villain Russell Simpson giving a spirited, amusing performance alongside henchman Robert Mitchum (billed here as Bob in a very early role!), as well as future Superman George Reeves and the Cisco Kid, Duncan Renaldo!
As offbeat as you're likely to get in a "Hoppy" movie, action and humor mix effortlessly, leading to a rousing climax, well directed by genre veteran Lesley Selander, who helmed low-budget westerns for major studios well into the 1960's, some of which are considered minor classics.
Sunset Carson Rides Again (1948)
Sunset Carson saves a young easterner in the desert and brings him back to his ranch, where Sunset is planning a boxing exhibition to fund a new school, while his crooked partner and brutish ranch-hands are planning to take the money. Meanwhile, the young man agrees to fight for Carson, despite allegations that Sunset killed his father!
There's nothing much to recommend about this B-western, except for the color photography and some great fiddling by The Rodeo Revelers. The acting is bad and the action is often times pretty inept. While certainly not the worst B-western of the 1940's, there's definitely better examples.
Sunset sure is brawny though. He just doesn't have much to do in the mostly talky script.
Red River Valley (1936)
Gene Autry As The Ditch Rider
When dynamite-wielding mystery men repeatedly sabotage the construction of a new reservoir and kill the "ditch rider" responsible for the site's security, cowboy Gene Autry is hired to replace him and bring the saboteurs to justice.
A typically entertaining Republic Pictures production, this has some good action and stunt work, with the always likable Smiley Burnette backing up Gene and offering some comic relief to the proceedings.
One interesting sequence (that should have been longer) involves Autry tracking the villains to an abandoned territorial prison in the middle of the desert.
Keen viewers will recognize future Producers' Releasing Corporation contract villain Charles King, who figures prominently in the film's climactic riot!
Musical interludes are few this time around, though Gene does get to sing his big hit version of the title song.
Stagecoach to Denver (1946)
Inoffensive Red Ryder Adventure
With their crooked land scheme in trouble, villains sabotage a stagecoach, killing the local land commissioner and seriously wounding a young boy, before switching the boy's aunt and the commissioner's replacement with impostors, leading to the inevitable range war.
An alright, though trite entry in Republic Pictures' Red Ryder series, based on the popular comic strip, this stars Ron Lane as Ryder and Robert Blake as his pint-sized Indian sidekick Little Beaver. A fair amount of gun-play and a compact running time almost make up for the bland heroes and villains and so-so production values, which aren't quite as good as other, mostly earlier Republic B-westerns.
Peggy Stewart stands out as the attractive pretend aunt, who's re-awakened maternal instincts lead to a crisis of conscious.
On the Old Spanish Trail (1947)
Lesser Roy Rogers Adventure
In order to keep The Sons Of The Pioneers' equipment from being repossessed, Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan and the boys attempt to pull off a lucrative joint appearance and claim a reward on a not-very-dangerous outlaw known as The Spanish Gypsy.
A featherweight adventure, there isn't much to recommend this time around. Songs are less than memorable, even Roy's featured song, a duet of "My Adobe Hacienda". Action, suspense and (real) romance are almost non-existent until the finale.
With Dale Evans missing in action, sidekick Andy Devine not given much to do and Trigger spending most of his time grazing, this is recommended only for the most die-hard Rogers fan.
Marked Trails (1944)
Two Great Stars Team Up, Okay But Forgettable
A crooked couple (who like to tie up loose ends with a knife in the back!) set their sights on a town surrounded by oil-rich farms. Unfortunately for them, the last man they knifed was the uncle of Bob Steele, who infiltrates their gang, with partner Hoot Gibson working from the outside.
It's always fun to see B-western stars team up for double the thrills. However, this time around there just isn't enough action to make it really worthwhile, though one really shouldn't expect much from a 1940's Monogram picture. Top-billed Hoot looks a little long-in-the-tooth here, leaving all the rough-and-tumble stuff (whatever there is) to Steele.
Anyone bothering to tune in pretty much knows what they're getting into and will most likely be modestly entertained.