From The Warner Archive: Two Offbeat Westerns
If you follow me on Tumblr, y’all know how much I love westerns, so I was really excited to find out about these two newly remastered films from the Warner Archive. The first is a Zapata spaghetti western Un esercito di cinque uomini aka The Five Man Army, from producer/director Italo Zingarelli with a screenplay co-written by master of Italian horror Dario Argento (who also co-wrote Once Upon a Time in the West). A Zapata spaghetti western, fyi, is an Italian western from the late-1960s/early-1970s that is set in Mexico and usually they have political (i.e. dealing with the revolution, etc.) themes. The second film is 1972’s The Wrath of God directed by Ralph Nelson (not to be confused with Werner Herzog’s similarly named film, which also came out in 1972).
To be honest, other than Ennio Morricone’s Man with No Name films and recently The Hills Run Red, I haven’t seen that many spaghetti westerns, despite my love of all films considered “western.” I really enjoyed this film from start to finish.
I fell in love with this actor the minute he started grinning. Then about five minutes later I realized it was Nino Castelnuovo from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg! He is so attractive in this movie it is a crime. He also gets scruffier and scruffier as the film progresses. Nino plays Luis Dominguez, a Mexican acrobat-turned-outlaw who is recruiting men for a man named Dutchman, who has big plans for robbing a train.
The first man Luis recruits is a strongman Mesito aka The Animal, who is needed for – what else – his strength. Mesito is played by Italian actor Bud Spencer, who was active in the Italian film world for over six decades. Spencer is wonderful in this role, creating a character who fully deserves his nickname.
Next up is munitions expert turned gambler and ex-army man Capt. Nicolas Augustus played by James Daly – probably best known as Honorious in Planet of the Apes. Augustus is a world-weary man, who although tempted by the promise of a fortune, is convinced that death is always just around the corner.
The last man recruited is simply known as the Samurai. He is played by Tetsurô Tanba, who appeared in more than 300 films in a career that spanned six decades. I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that the Samurai a) gets to wield the best weapon and leave a pretty sweet path of death and destruction in his wake and b) gets the best end of the deal when all is said and done.
What can one say about Peter Graves other than he was one of the most badass badasses to ever be a badass on the big screen? Here again Graves gets to be a badass and commit badassery like blowing up trains and putting together flawless crews of men. He might also have something else up his sleeve, but I’m not going to spoil that for you either.
She look at these men being manly.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Ennio Morricone’s brilliant film score. Much like his score for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, it’s a score unlike what Hollywood was used to at the time and it is instantly recognizable as pure Morricone.
Which brings us to The Wrath of God. This western is set in 1922 and features a gangster on the run disguised as a priest in an unnamed South American country. Yep. It’s hard to imagine that a film described by Roger Ebert as, “a simple, dashing tale told for sheer fun” was written and directed by Ralph Nelson – whose 1963 Lilies of the Field was nominated for Best Picture and whose adaptation of Flowers For Algernon became the Oscar-winning film Charly.. Then again, Nelson is also the man behind …tick…tick…tick… so we know he’s capbable of anything.
So now I know Robert Mitchum plays an unscrupulous man who masquerades as a priest in at leas two films (the other, of course, being The Night of the Hunter). He does it so well. I love Mitchum because he manages to disappear into all his characters, yet also somehow always still be Mitchum at the same time. Fans of the actor will love this film.
Ken Hutchison is probably best remembered as the rapist in 1971’s Straw Dogs; so if you want to remember him as something else, watch this film. He’s quite charming as Irish ex-pat Emmet Keogh who just wants to get the heck out of whatever country this film is set in (it remains unnamed throughout). He’s also quite naked.
Victor Buono is mostly known for his comedy and appearances on television in the 60s and 70s, but he also had some standout roles in Robert Aldrich’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush. . .Hush, Sweet Charlotte. He’s deliciously sneaky as Jennings, a man in need of a driver, and who, along with Mitchum and Hutchison, wind up being recruited to kill a local desperado.
Which brings us to a young and babe-alicious Frank Langella as Tomas de la Plata. He hates priests. HATES THEM. Do not be a priest around this man. Langella plays psychotic so well, with an icy cool exterior that eventually becomes a slow burn, which in turn becomes a full-on boil.
Rita Hayworth made her final screen appearance in this film as Tomas’s mother, who wishes her son would stop killing all the priests. She also oversees his mine, which was left to them both by her late husband. It’s hard to watch Hayworth in this film, as you can see how hard it was on her declining health to make this film.
Lastly, I just wanted to share the above screencaps as I love how Nelson and cinematographer Alex Phillips, Jr. utilize classic western motifs, but because this is a film set in 1922, you have the addition of a car. Old meets new, yet somehow the aesthetic remains the same.
Disclaimer: This review is based on review discs given to me by the Warner Archive, though the opinions are all my own.
Posted on September 21, 2012, in Classic Film, DVDs and tagged Alex Phillips Jr, Bud Spencer, Dario Argento, Ennio Morricone, Frank Langella, Italo Zingarelli, James Daly, Ken Hutchison, Nino Castelnuovo, Peter Graves, Ralph Nelson, Rita Hayworth, Robert Mitchum, Tetsuro Tamba, the Warner Archive, Victor Buono. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.