HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. (1973) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

high-plains-drifter-2

HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER. 1973. DIRECTED BY CLINT EASTWOOD. WRITTEN BY ERNEST TIDYMAN. MUSIC BY DEE BARTON. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY BRUCE SURTEES.

STARRING CLINT EASTWOOD, VERNA BLOOM, MARIANA HILL, BILLY CURTIS, STEFAN GIERASCH AND GEOFFREY LEWIS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I love my Westerns, spaghetti or otherwise. This film was shot in California but was heavily influenced by Clint Eastwood’s regular collaborator, Sergio Leone, he of decidedly spaghetti western fame.

Thanks to Leone’s DOLLARS trilogy (A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY), Clint Eastwood was already an international cinema star with his own film production company, the Malpaso Company, by the time he made HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER.

It’s an excellent and entertaining revenge Western with a possible bit of a ghost story thrown in. No-one plays a Mysterious Stranger Who Rides Into Town And Does A Bunch Of Macho Stuff like Clint Eastwood does, and in this film he’s possibly at his most mysterious and macho, or at least the most so that I’ve ever seen him.

His ‘Man With No Name’ character was already well established by now. Clint had played him in each of the DOLLARS trilogy. Though he was given nicknames like ‘Joe’ or ‘Blondie’ or even ‘Boy’ in the trilogy, he essentially remained formally nameless and without an identity or back story.

We may find out the back story of characters like Colonel Douglas Mortimer (FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) or Tuco the Bandit (THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY) but Clint’s character remains an enigma. He’s the ultimate Mystery Man, A Man Without A Past. We know nothing of his past or possible future, only his present.

Anyway, in HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER, Clint, again nameless, arrives in the tiny seaside mining town of Lago and immediately starts stirring things up big-time, putting the townspeoples’ backs up and having forced- or is it…?- sexual congress with what can only be described as… ahem… the town slut.

Within his first few minutes of landing in Lago, he shoots three men dead in self-defence and rapes a beautiful local woman called Callie Travers who deliberately singles him out and starts an argument with him. He decides to ‘teach her some manners’ by dragging her into a nearby barn and raping her. That’ll learn her, lol.

You see, I think she’s seeking out Clint’s attentions on purpose on account of he’s the best-looking man to arrive in Lago in many a day. And she looks like she’s enjoying herself to me. Sure, she cries ‘rape’ afterwards to save face but later in the film she joins Clint for dinner and goes to bed with him willingly, openly this time.

Of course, the feminists and the ‘me too’ brigade would be up in arms if such a thing happened in a film today but, back then, stuff like that happened all the time and no-one batted an eyelid.

Just like no-one bats an eyelid in Lago when Callie Travers runs around screaming ‘Rape! Rape!’ after the event in the barn. Some of the townspeople might even decide that that slut Callie got what was coming to her.

I’m a woman and I enjoy watching that scene and find it exciting. I don’t think it means I want to be dragged down a dark alley by a knife-wielding stranger and violated. I just think that Clint Eastwood was one of the handsomest film stars of all time and it’s exciting to watch him having rough sex with a woman in the rather Neanderthal style of the time, that’s all. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, lol.

Anyway, it turns out that the people of Lago need the super-tough, enigmatic Stranger a ‘hell’ of a lot more than he needs them. (See what I did there?) They need him, in fact, to protect them from a trio of lowlifes who are being released from prison in the near future and who are expected to be gunning for the people of Lago who’ve previously double-crossed them in a deal.

The deal apparently involved a previous Marshal of the town called Jim Duncan who, when he became a painful inconvenience to the townspeople, was bull-whipped to death on the main street of Lago by Stacey Bridges (Geoffrey Lewis, the grave-digger from SALEM’S LOT) and the Carlin brothers, Dan and Cole, the trio of degenerates.

Well, I suppose that in prison you have a lot of time to think, and it seems like most screen villains don’t waste a minute repenting of their sins and former lifestyles but only entertain thoughts of revenge. Fantasising about vengeance against the person or people who put them in jail is what gets them through their sentence. 

So now the trio of gurriers- that’s what we call lowlifes in Ireland- are riding to Lago to revenge themselves on the townspeople, who have plenty on their consciences themselves. They stood by and did nothing while a man, a fellow human being, endured an agonising death at the hands- and whips- of the three thugs. How can they live with themselves after what they did? A little too easily, it seems to me. 

The Stranger decides to stay and help out the undeserving citizens of Lago when the townspeople promise him that he can have anything he wants, free, gratis and for nothing, from any of the establishments in Lago.

He makes good use of their offer, partaking liberally of free wine and steak dinners while enjoying the willing company of Callie Travers, the blonde woman he ‘raped’ when he first landed in Lago. It’s not a terribly politically correct film, but then again, it probably wasn’t a terribly politically correct era for film-making, as we’ve already discussed.

The Stranger also has sexual congress with Verna Bloom as Sarah Belding, an unhappily married woman who at first appears to resist the Stranger’s advances but who then capitulates to his stubbly and no doubt ever-so-slightly malodorous charms.

Her husband, the hotel-keeper, is so useless and lily-livered that he stands by like a mouse and does nothing when he thinks that his wife, whom he presumably promised to love, honour and cherish till death do them part, is about to be raped by Clint. He doesn’t deserve a good strong woman like Sarah, the only person in the whole miserable town of Lago to speak out against the horribly inhumane death of Marshall Duncan.

The Stranger, aided and abetted by a dwarf called Mordecai, the only person he troubles to befriend in Lago and whom he has ‘promoted’ to the twin roles of Marshal and Mayor, wreaks havoc in Lago.

He forces the townspeople to paint every building in town bright red and paints the word ‘HELL’ over the town sign as an ominous welcome to the little gang of hoodlums. He trashes the town completely in the name of ‘helping’ them, and I think it’s because he figures they deserve it. They got away scot-free after the death of Jim Duncan, after all.

Anyway, the three lads eventually turn up and start shooting up the town but it’s not too long before Clint, at his enigmatic best, dishes out some good old-fashioned Wild West retribution with a little whip-action of his own.

“So, you guys all like whipping then, do you…?” he so easily could have said, though he doesn’t. “Well then, me buckos, let’s see how you like THIS…” Whip crack away, whip crack away, whip crack a-WAAAAAY and so on and so forth…

I love the character of the cowardly sheriff because he openly admits that he only got the badge by sort of default when Jim Duncan died. (That’s how Police Chief Wiggum in THE SIMPSONS got HIS badge…!)

I love the cowardly- and mercenary- town preacher too and I’m certain I’ve seen him in other films before in a similar role. I like the cowardly greasy barber with his comb-over as well. There are some great characters amongst the townspeople.

I love that Clint, who’s accused of being ‘cruel’ by the townspeople, is openly kind, decent and generous to the Native American Indians and the Mexicans in Lago. They’re treated like dirt by the townspeople who abuse them (the Indians) and make them do their dirty work for them (the Mexicans). What a rotten lot the townsfolks of Lago are. Clint should leave ’em all to rot in Hell…

You should watch this brilliant sort-of-spaghetti Western if you want to see Clint all bristly and manly and shooting up a storm with, as usual, one hand tied behind his back. Well, not literally, but you know what I mean. Hey, it works for me.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

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THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. (1966) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Eli Wallach in The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. (1966) DIRECTED BY SERGIO LEONE. MUSIC BY ENNIO MORRICONE. STARRING CLINT EASTWOOD, LEE VAN CLEEF, ELI WALLACH, ALDO GIUFFRÈ AND MARIO BREGA.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘I’ve never seen so many men wasted so badly.’

This is the third film in Sergio Leone’s renowned triumvirate of spaghetti Westerns, the ‘DOLLARS’ trilogy. Preceded by A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965), it’s also the longest and most ambitious of the films and the only one to feature the American Civil War.

Clint Eastwood, who stars in all three films, made his name internationally in the ‘DOLLARS’ trilogy and introduces in them his famous character of ‘The Man With No Name.’ This is the laconic Man-Of-Few-Words who has such superlative skills as a gunfighter that he frequently can shoot at things behind him or to the side of him and get ’em bang-on. Even just by using his peripheral vision he’s a crack shot.

In THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, Clint teams up with Lee Van Cleef (Colonel Douglas Mortimer in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE) as the ruthless Angel Eyes and Eli Wallach in his first and only ‘DOLLARS’ outing as Tuco. Clint is here known as ‘Blondie’ because of the sun-lightened highlights in his lovely thick head of brown hair.

Blondie and Tuco have an hilarious but rather unreliable scam going together at the start of the film. Tuco is the comic relief throughout the movie, but that doesn’t alter the fact that he’s also a desperate desperado of a villain and a thief and he’s ‘WANTED’ in several towns for his various outlawed shenanigans. And I do mean ‘WANTED,’ not just plain wanted, lol.

Here’s what they do, see? Blondie pretends to run Tuco into the Sheriff of the different towns where there’s a price on the foul-mouthed Tuco’s charming lickle head. Blondie collects a nice fat reward, often thousands of dollars.

Tuco is duly sentenced to hang by the denizens of the town. At the point of hanging, a strategically-placed Blondie shoots at the rope around Tuco’s neck and Tuco, already comfortably seated on a horse, lights on outta there a free man, later to share the spoils with Blondie. Then it’s onto the next town to commit the same delightfully ingenious fraud again.

There’s a lot that can go wrong with this scam, or possibly scam-ola. (THE SIMPSONS!) All it takes is for Blondie to get the sudden urge to scratch his ass or swat away a fly that lands on his face or for the sun to blind him at the wrong time, and Tuco is toast.

Not to mention the fact that the various towns in the Wild West were already able to communicate with each other via telegraph, mail coach, horse messenger and plain good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. Word would surely have gotten around sooner or later that Blondie and Tuco were engaged in a scam of the scammiest order. But whatever, it’s a film…!

Anyway, Blondie and Tuco don’t trust each other as far as they could throw each other, despite the fact that they’re compelled to work together if they want to make a quick easy buck without resorting to honest, back-breaking labour. Which naturally they do. Honest, back-breaking labour both sucks and blows.

They’re frequently on the outs with each other or trying to kill each other, or threatening to, at any rate. It’s my honest belief that, when it comes to the crunch, they wouldn’t do it. There’s a grudging mutual liking there, despite themselves.

It’s during one of these ‘outs,’ however, that the two bandits learn from a dying man calling himself Bill Carson of the existence of two hundred thousand dollars worth of Confederate gold in a grave in a cemetery somewhere.

Ironically, Tuco only learns the name of the cemetery and Blondie only manages to find out the name on the gravestone. The pair are forced to work together, therefore, in order to pull off the biggest coup of their bandity lives.

Unbeknownst to the pair of them, though, Lee Van Cleef’s unscrupulous mercenary Angel Eyes character is also after this money. In order to find out its whereabouts, he’s already murdered a small family of peasants without any qualms and beaten a young prostitute half to death. Shame on you, Angel Eyes, you family-killer and prostitute-beater, you! As if their lives weren’t tough enough already.

The American Civil War is going on while all this is happening. Do Blondie’s comments about the terrible, pointless waste of life mirror the director’s own opinions? It’s certainly hard not to agree with Blondie when you see the carnage and the utter chaos that characterises this awful conflict.

Blondie and Tuco are trotting along happily on the way to the cemetery anyway, wearing some stolen grey uniforms of the South, when they see a regiment of grey-clad soldiers coming towards them.

Oh great, it’s the South, they think, relieved, until the dust of the desert road brushes off the soldiers’ coats to reveal them as the navy-blue-clad soldiers of the North. It’s a very funny scene, though, where Tuco is yelling yay, hurray for General Lee, etc., and then the soldiers turn out to be the enemy. Poor stupid Tuco…!

Angel Eyes is surprisingly a Union Sergeant in the regiment that captures Tuco and Blondie. His huge henchman Wallace (the magnificent Mario Brega in his third ‘DOLLARS’ outing) gives Tuco the most horrific-looking beating to get him to tell Angel Eyes where the loot is, quite literally, buried. Tuco gets his threatened revenge on Wallace later. ‘An bhfuil cead agam dul go dtì an leithreas, máis e do thoil e…?’

Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes have their inevitable three-way showdown in a wide-open space of suitably amphitheatrical proportions, to the accompaniment of Ennio Morricone’s marvellous music.

But not before Blondie and Tuco have done a big and much-appreciated favour for an exhausted and dispirited navy-blue-coated Captain (Clinton) of a regiment fighting the dreadful Civil War…

There’s a very touching scene where Blondie gives a dying young soldier a puff of his ever-present cigarette and wraps him in his good warm coat, taking only a poncho in return. Which suits both him and us perfectly, as we’re more used to seeing him so garbed.

So, who gets the precious moolah in the end? Blondie, Tuco or Angel Eyes? None of them? Or do they agree to a highly unlikely three-way split? Like I said, it’s highly unlikely. Lee Van Cleef is properly mean in this one too, unlike when he was Colonel Douglas Mortimer in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE.

Then, he was reduced to working as a bounty hunter by straitened circumstances and, of course, he had his own deeply personal reasons for wanting to kill the bandit El Indio, but here he’s motivated purely by greed. His moustache is slightly longer and darker too here, a sure sign of proper villainy, lol. Never trust a man whose moustache curls up slightly at the ends. You could live to regret it.

By the way, when I saw Ennio Morricone perform his greatest hits in Dublin’s 3Arena back in early 2015, I only went because I was absolutely convinced that it’d be his last hurrah. I’ll never get another chance to see such a living legend in person, I told myself.

He’s been back three or four times since then, lol, and he’s probably booked in for next year as well, making a total mockery out of my assumption that he was nearly ready to hang up his baton. I bet he’s doing it just to spite me…!

Anyway, when during this concert the orchestra struck up the opening bars to ‘THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY,’ a definite frisson of excitement rippled through the audience.

A thrilled culchie (a country person Up In Dublin For The Day, usually for some kind of All-Ireland sporting event) behind me was heard to remark to his companion: ‘Tish The Big One.’ You’re not wrong there, my country friend. You’re not wrong there.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. (1964) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

clint dollars

A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. (1964) DIRECTED BY SERGIO LEONE. STARRING CLINT EASTWOOD, MARIANNE KOCH, JOSEPH EGGER, JOSE CALVO, MARIO BREGA AND GIAN MARIA VOLONTE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

This magnificent spaghetti Western is the film that launched the careers of both Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood into the cinematic stratosphere, and it can’t have hindered the upward trajectory of film music composer Ennio Morricone either.

It’s the first film in what is commonly referred to as the ‘Dollars’ trilogy. It’s followed by the sublime FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, my personal favourite of the trilogy, and the equally excellent THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

Clint Eastwood introduced a new kind of hero to the cinema screen at this time. This was his ‘Man With No Name’ character, long, lean, laconic and stubbly, viewing the world through cigar-smoke-narrowed eyes, lightning-quick on the draw with moves to make even the slickest gunfighter in the Wild West pea-green with envy, and irresistibly attractive to women without even trying.

‘My, isn’t he tall…?’ This last is from the busty, toothsome landlady of the hotel in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. This Man With No Name- here he’s called Joe, ironically- makes their husbands and lovers look like sacks of crap by comparison. His sexual magnetism cannot be denied.

And neither can his ability to sharp-shoot his way out of every sticky situation imaginable. Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! and it’s Goodnight Irene for an entire gang of cut-throats and murderers, with which the Wild West was of course rife, and all without breaking a sweat for The Man With No Name. But here his name is Joe, for some reason. Remember that, lol.

In A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, Clint Eastwood’s lone rider character, gun-belt carefully in place under his poncho (what I wouldn’t give for a root around under that poncho!) trots into a grim and dusty border town called San Miguel.

It’s a town where the Americans and the Mexicans are accustomed to knocking seven bells out of each other over gold, guns and liquor. Don’t anyone tell Donald Trump now, in case he gets the mad idea of separating the two nations with some kind of wall…

San Miguel, a one-horse town barely deserving of the name, is ruled by two gangs, the Baxters (the town Sheriff is a Baxter) and the Rojos. The Baxters aren’t up to much. It’s the Rojo Brothers who seem to be the more proactive of the two gangs and the gang that’ll probably give Clint the most trouble.

Clint signs on with the Rojo Brothers to supposedly earn a few quid for himself. The criminal siblings are Miguel, Esteban of the Alarmingly Gleaming Teeth and the handsome and charismatic Ramon. Ramon is played by Gian Maria Volonte, who brilliantly portrays the desperado bandit El Indio in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. Ramon is clearly the head brother here but he’s also a bit of a loose cannon too.

Ramon doesn’t trust Clint as far as he can throw him, but Clint isn’t exactly going to be giving Ramon his house keys and credit card numbers any time soon, either. In fact, he’s going to be a big fat thorn in Ramon’s side before very much longer.

Clint is fantastic as he plays the Baxters and the Rojos against each other, earning himself wads of cash (‘Look at my wad…!’ Remember Harry Enfield’s comic character Loadsamoney?) in the process.

He becomes Ramon’s mortal enemy for life when he releases Marisol, a beautiful local woman who’s been abducted by Ramon and forced to live in the Rojo compound as his concubine, and sets her free to escape with her delighted husband and small son.

Ramon doesn’t take this lying down. He’s been mortally insulted, after all. He sets Chico, his massive family bodyguard played by Mario Brega, on Clint and Clint gets a really terrible and realistic-looking roughing-up. Mario Brega plays Indio’s huge, muscular sidekick Nino in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and it must be said that he is really, really good at playing enormous thugs.

Clint just about survives the beating, fortunately, but for how long? Ramon is out for his blood and he won’t rest until he’s put this enigmatic Lone Gunfighter Six Feet Under where Ramon feels sure he belongs. Could there be a showdown on the cards?

Ah go on, you knew already that there was gonna be one, lol. These things always end with a cracking showdown, with all the Bang! Bang! Pew! Pew! and the bodies piling up on the Main Street of a town so dead that even the tumbleweed has gotten pissed off, packed up and gone for a burton.

One of my favourite things about this movie is the lovely relationship between Clint and the town’s two oldest male residents, Silvanito the Inn-keeper, who seems to feel paternally protective of our Clint, and Piri-Pero, the undertaker and therefore the town’s busiest man.

That’s on account of how everyone who comes to San Miguel gets killed sooner or later by one or other of the two gangs, and it’s usually sooner. They don’t much cotton to strangers in that part of the world. Therefore, the undertaking business is what you might call booming. It’s the only thing that is in the God-forsaken town of San Miguel.

The undertaker, on-screen for the last scene, busily measuring up corpses for a buryin’, is played by Joseph Egger. He’s the lovely beardy auld fella who cameos as the Prophet in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. This is the guy who hates the railroad, with its choo-choo and its filthy smoke and the screeching of the brakes and the rattling of every window in his poor little hut as the Iron Horse thunders by, insensible to the disruption it’s causing.

A lot of people disliked the railroad for the noise and smoke but progress can’t be halted, as we modern-era folks know all too well ourselves. There’s an office block going up across the street from me as I write this, and if it gets any higher it’s gonna block out the sun.

It’s already greatly impeding my view of the Dublin Mountains, grumble grumble grumble. God forbid we shouldn’t have yet another building in which to store our cellphone-gym-and-coffee junkies. Let’s not kid ourselves, that’s all we use ’em for.

Anyway, in the sequel to this, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, Gian Maria Volonte settles really well into his role of Mexican bandit as El Indio, who is a much more interesting and well-developed character than Ramon Rojo, in my humble opinion. That’s no slur on Ramon, but Indio is the better bandit for sure. It’s like Ramon was the prototype, but Indio is the finished product, if you get me. Indio is a terrific villain, one of the best in the Western genre.

Clint Eastwood’s character of the Lone Gunfighter, the Man With No Name- except here it’s Joe!- comes out fully formed in the very first film, however, with his horsey and his cigar and poncho and tanned leathery face and squinty eyes.

Even way back then, Clint Eastwood was a superlative actor. He is able to use his eyes to great comedic effect, as in here when he accidentally punches Marisol in the face, thinking she’s a man. He rolls his eyes as if to say ‘Ah Jaysis, look what I’ve done, I’m a total tit!’

It’s very funny, a bit like the way he squints wryly up into the night sky in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE when Colonel Douglas is just shooting the shit… out of poor Clint’s hat…! Clint’s actually something of a comic genius as well as an exceptionally handsome Action Man, and he always has been. Long may he continue.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

SERGIO LEONE’S ‘ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.’ (1968) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

west jill face

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. (1968) DIRECTED BY SERGIO LEONE.

STORY BY DARIO ARGENTO, BERNARDO BERTOLUCCI AND SERGIO LEONE. STARRING CLAUDIA CARDINALE, HENRY FONDA, JASON ROBARDS, CHARLES BRONSON AND GABRIELE FORZETTI.

MUSIC BY ENNIO MORRICONE.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘He not only plays. He can shoot too.’

‘Gonna be a beautiful town, Sweetwater.’

‘People like that have something inside. Something to do with death.’

‘Nothing matters now. Not the land, not the money, not the woman.’

‘How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? Guy doesn’t even trust his own pants.’

‘He’s whittling on a piece of wood. I gotta feeling when he stops whittling, something’s gonna happen.’

Christ Almighty, I love cowboys. Hot sweaty cowboys in films like this one really do it for me. With their week’s growth of beard, tousled hair, cigarette-smoke-narrowed eyes and big fat holsters, they push all my buttons big-time.

I would not say no to being dragged by the hair into the nearest stable by a seasoned cowboy and shown the stuff that a real man is made of. Of course, they have a name for that type of thing nowadays (I believe it’s called being dragged by the hair into the nearest stable by a seasoned cowboy and shown the stuff that a real man is made of) but, oh wow, how glorious the Wild West must have been in some ways. You saw what you wanted and you just took it.

A woman, a homestead, a decent piece of horseflesh or a plate of beans. It was all the one to those dusty drifters, half-crazed with lust after many lonely nights on the trail of the lonesome pine, beating their meat in solitude to the music of the crickets.

Can this be the most magnificent Western, spaghetti or otherwise, ever made? God, yes. Set in the dying days of the old Wild West as we know it, it’s an epic battle between, not good and evil exactly but, shall we say, more a battle between bad-with-more-than-a-hint-of-good-thrown-in and evil, if you get me. Although of course everything seemed so black or white in the old days with not much in-between. No room for half-measures.

Claudia Cardinale, an absolute bombshell of a woman cast in the mould of Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch and Brigitte Bardot, plays Jill, a young woman who travels alone to the railroad town of Flagstone. Jill has hope in her heart. Jill is going to be looked after by a man from now on. No more nasty fending for herself in the cold cruel world. Nice work if you can get it, huh?

She’s expecting to be met off the train by Brett McBain, an older man with property whom she’s married the month before. After a lifetime of whoring in New Orleans, Jill is finally ready to settle down and embrace respectability.

But the entire McBain family, the father and his three children Maureen, Patrick and Timmy have been brutally slaughtered by the hired killer known locally as Frank. Frank works for crippled railroad mogul Mr. Morton.

Mr. Morton wants Brett McBain’s land, which is rich in water, a valuable commodity in such a dry, dusty desert town, but not only that. The railroad is expanding at a rate of knots and the McBain land is the ideal situation for a new station.

Mr. Morton wants Frank to scare the McBains’ away, but Frank is something of a hothead. No half-measures with Frank, see? A few well-placed gunshots and Jill’s lovely dream of married bliss goes up in smoke. Aw well, maybe respectability ain’t all it’s cracked up to be anyway, lol. Maybe Jill’s better off without it.

Henry Fonda is superb as the baddie Frank. Dressed in black, chewing tobacco constantly- a disgusting habit!- and always looking to increase his own cut of every pie, he’s probably the most evil character Mister Goody Two-Shoes Nice Guy Henry Fonda (TWELVE ANGRY MEN, THE WRONG MAN) has ever played.

Frank’s cold, calculating and cruel. He talks about killing Jill, the rightful heir now to the entire McBain fortune and therefore an obstacle to Mr. Morton’s acquisition of the precious land, even while he’s making love to her in a scene that always makes me hold my breath.

Such is his personal magnetism that Jill doesn’t even care about what he’s threatening her with. All the women love a bad boy, and hired gun Frank is as bad as they come.

Jill’s so weak at the knees she can’t even stand up straight and take umbrage when he says, while expertly caressing her naked body: ‘You like to feel a man’s hands all over you. Even if they’re the hands of the man who killed your husband.’ Swoon, Jill, swoon, what else is there to do?

Jason Robards plays Cheyenne, a local bandit whom Frank attempts to frame for the wholesale slaughter of the McBain family. Cheyenne fancies Jill too and she likes him but I think that this is more of a friendship thing in that he never tries to force himself on her. When he barges in on her at the McBain homestead, however, she naturally assumes that that’s just what he’ll do. Check out what she says to him:

‘You can throw me across the table and amuse yourself with me, and you can even bring in your men. No woman ever died from that.’ (I don’t think that’s strictly true, is it?) ‘And afterwards all it’ll take is a jug of boiling water and I’ll be exactly the same as I was before. Just with another filthy memory.’ Feisty little thing, ain’t she?

I love it when Cheyenne tells Jill as he’s leaving her kitchen, having partaken of her hot, strong coffee: ‘You know, Jill, you remind me of my mother. She was the biggest whore in Alameda and the finest woman who ever lived. Whoever my father was, for an hour or for a month, he must have been a happy man.’

In his own way there, he considers that he’s paying her a compliment. However, the #me too and #time’s up people would have a fit at some of Cheyenne’s later words to the buxom Jill. Referring to the railway workers and station builders working away right outside her door:

‘You don’t know how good it makes a man feel to see a woman like you. Just to look at her. And if one of them should pat your behind, just make believe it’s nothing. They earned it…!’ You know what, for once, I ain’t sayin’ nuthin’…

I’ve left Charles Bronson till last because he’s the coolest character in the film by miles. He plays a Mysterious Stranger who comes into town on the train with a view to finding Frank and wreaking revenge on him for unknown crimes Frank has committed in the past.

The Man says very little, but what he says counts. ‘Inside the coats were three men. Inside the men were three bullets.’ He’s the f**king coolest cowboy to ever wear shoe leather and have a leathery complexion to match. (Although in that red undershirt, I thought he bore an uncanny resemblance to Ralph Waite who played Pa Walton in THE WALTONS…!)

The Man plays his silver harmonica with an eerie expertise and before long, without his lifting a finger really because that’s how freakin’ cool he is, Jill is head-over-heels in love with him, Cheyenne the bandit is his friend for life and the normally confident Frank is running scared. He doesn’t know who the Mysterious Stranger is but he knows that he’s frightened of him.

The showdown between Frank and The Man is one of the greatest in cinema. They just don’t make ’em like that no more. The first ten minutes of the film too, by the way, is fantastic beyond words.

It’s like a complete short film in itself, the three dirty sweaty cowboys in the long coats known as ‘dusters’ waiting for the train and the one person they’re waiting for is revealed to be suddenly on the other side of the tracks, eerily playing his harmonica…

ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST is a fabulous film. With a knockout score by Ennio Morricone (I saw him perform live here in Dublin in 2015, by the way!) and the constant close-ups of craggy, unsmiling unshaven faces, it’s something that leaves a powerful impression behind it, unlike some other films which you may well forget the minute they’re over. This is one film you won’t forget in a hurry. This one, you’ll remember. It’s a killer of a film.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

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