After his brother goes missing in a remote small town, a notorious gunman rides in looking for him. He soon finds out that the missing man had hired out to protect a local rancher and his daughter. There’s been a string of mysterious deaths in the area, and the cattle baron believes that he will be next…
Bizarre cross-pollination of the Spaghetti Western and the Giallo with an added helping of witchcraft thrown into the mix for good measure. If mixing such disparate elements sounds like an intriguing concept, sadly the finished film is a chaotic, incoherent mess, its shortcomings the result of significant production problems.
Gunslinger Mike Wood (Mickey Hargitay) is a man with a price on his head. He’s wanted for murder, bank robbery and stealing a horse. South of Tuscon, he finds work at the ranch of Don Alonso (Omero Gargano). The cattleman needs protection; people in and around the local town have been dropping like flies, foaming at the mouth as they die. No-one can explain it, and everyone is running scared. Hargitay agrees to help, influenced by his growing romance with Gargano’s daughter, Pilar (Lucia Bomez). One morning, when he wakes, he finds a strange clay doll in his room.
Sheriff Sam Carroll (Giovanni Ivan Scratuglia) arrives on Hargitay’s heels but discovers that the gunman has disappeared without a trace. All he can track down is the gunslinger’s younger brother, Ringo (Jean-Louis) who is also following the family trade. The two reluctantly join forces to find out what has happened to Hargitay and explain the strange and deadly plague that has stricken the town.
Examining the finished film, it’s easy to conclude that this was likely a troubled production in more ways than one. The problem we do know about involves the participation of Hargitay. The film had not been shooting long before he abruptly quit to return to the States. His son Zoltan had been seriously injured by a lion during a photo-opp with his wife, Jayne Mansfield. He did not return, leaving director Mario Pinzauti with about only 20 minutes of footage. Eventually, this ended up forming the film’s first act, accompanied by some fruitless attempts to provide plot coherence by our old friend, VoiceOver Man.
Casting Jean-Louis as Hargitay’s brother allowed production to continue, but the finished results have all the earmarks of a film that ran out of money. For a start, the director still had access to the rest of the cast, the locations and the sets. Given that, why not reshoot the Hargitay scenes with Jean-Louis instead? Obviously, in the final film, Hargitay just abruptly disappears, and this is only resolved by a passing reference to his probable death. It’s incredibly clumsy and could have easily been avoided if reshoots had been possible. On the other hand, maybe he had some marquee value in Europe, and the producers wanted his name to stay attached.
But that’s the least of the film’s issues. The narrative is all over the place, skipping from one scene to the next with no sense of natural story development. Jean-Louis meets with Gargano at his ranch in an early scene and asks him about the family coat of arms on the hacienda wall. The camera lingers on it for almost ten seconds. Obviously, it’s going to be important to the story. No, it’s never mentioned again. Similarly, in a later scene, the cattleman promises to come clean and explain everything that’s going on. This explanation? His wife went mad, sees ‘visions’ and ‘some people have died.’ That’s it. That’s everything. Later on, he makes the same promise and, again, doesn’t tell anyone anything. In addition, production values are very low with only a limited number of interiors, including a threadbare saloon that has no windows and is always shot from the same side.
The highlight of the picture is probably a scene in the ranch-house between Jean-Louis and Bomez. The first time he met her was five minutes before when he’d shot a man (I don’t know who!) attempting to climb in her bedroom window. She screamed, and he leapt in with his trusty six-gun to save her. Now she’s come to his room to thank him. They speak for a minute, with Gomez following her father’s lead and providing gloriously vague and non-specific explanations about everything. Another woman screams somewhere close by. ‘Don’t worry, it’s just my mother, she’s mentally sick,’ says Bomez, providing the obvious cue for the couple to start kissing and have sex. Was that the actor’s original dialogue? Somehow, I doubt it. The scene where Jean-Louis and Gargano meet for the first time is also noteworthy. Jean-Louis’ side of the conversation takes place in perfect daylight, but Gargano seems to be speaking at night!
Some obvious conclusions can be drawn here. Firstly, the filmmakers had to use every scrap of footage that they had, whether it informed the story or not. Also, attempting to impose some kind of a plot on these mismatched bits and pieces probably involved assembling scenes in a different order from what was initially intended and dubbing on dialogue not in the original script. This contention is further supported by the facts that the finished feature runs only a scant 73 minutes, with opening credits delivered over a black screen, and a release date five years after the beginning of principal photography.
Writer-director Pinzauti did not go on to a long career in the Italian film business, but he did co-direct well-regarded Spaghetti Western ‘Let’s Go and Kill Sartana’ (1971). He also delivered unofficial addition to the ‘Emanuelle’ adult film series ‘Emmanuelle Bianca e Nera/Passion Plantation’ (1976). In the same spirit, it’s worth mentioning that this film has nothing to do with the two popular ‘Ringo’ Spaghetti Westerns directed by Duccio Tessari. This film was simply an attempt to cash in on their success.
Given the mixture of genres, there might have been an interesting story to be told here, but production difficulties condemned the finished product to an abysmal fate.