Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Ghoul Goes West :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Mario Bava's Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1970)

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Dear Jack,xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Since the gang couldn't get dishonest enough to make
any money, I went looking for an honest job.
I punched out a cowboy. How sad! I miss our fistfightsx
very much. So long.xxxxxxxx1xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx-- Your friend, Roy."
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Our film opens with our two title characters fighting over who gets to be the leader of their band of outlaws. And while these two beat the snot out of each other, the rest of the gang idly watches unenthused; obviously, they do this kinda thing a lot ... In the end, when Jack (Southwood) wins, Colt (Halsey) decides to leave his lawless days behind him and go legit. And while he's off trying to go straight, Jack manages to save Manilla (Tolo), an enterprising Indian maid -- who never met a dollar she didn't like, and a man she couldn't dupe several out of -- from a gang of vigilantes. As a reward, she let's Jack sleep with her -- after he takes an ice-water bath, and then keeps a running tab on all her *ahem* services rendered during the rest of the movie, no matter who she winds up bunking down with.

Meanwhile, Colt manages to get himself appointed Sheriff of Carson City, a mining town; and while he's off escorting a gold shipment, Jack teams up with another outlaw to find out where the lucrative mine is hidden. This outlaw in question is a psychotic Russian called the Reverend (Corra), a former disciple of Rasputin himself, who is also a massive hypochondriac with a thing for dynamite. Together, they manage to destroy half the town and steal a map to the gold, each taking half of it. Using that mistrust to his advantage, Sheriff Colt unhinges the shaky alliance by playing both sides against each other, letting the rival gangs whittle each other down to a more manageable size, as they head for the X-that-marks-the-spot and the final, fatal showdown...

Of the thirteen films included I was probably most anxious to see Roy Colt and Winchester Jack when I placed the order for both of Anchor Bay's Mario Bava box-sets awhile back. I was aware that the brilliant director/cinematographer had made some westerns but, up to that point, I had yet to see any of them. Now, my enthusiasm took a major hit when I did a little research and found out that this movie was, in fact, a parody of the genre's trappings. Uh-oh ... I mean, those of us who've sat through Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Bombs (-- and if you managed to make it to the end of that I salute you, fellow survivors --) know what I'm talking about, and if the maestro has an Achilles heel, cinematically speaking, it is with his handling of comedy, where he usually falls flat on his face. Yes, he can be funny -- when he's being morbid, sly and subtle, but when he goes all out for the laughs the results were typically pretty odious. But now, having finally seen it, I'm happy to report that as a comedic vehicle, Roy Colt and Winchester Jack, like its protagonists, is a lot more hit than miss.

Obviously a mish-mash of (and cash-in on) Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid, with a healthy side-order of The Good, the Bad & The Ugly, it didn't take long for the film to win me over. Starting with the trippy and infectious theme song provided by Umiliani and Gizzarelli, it had me laughing before the credits and initial brawl had barely finished. ("I won," says Southwood, who promptly collapses.) Halsey was a former AIP regular (Hot Rod Rumble and High School Hellcats), who moved to Italy when his domestic career stalled out, and he and Southwood (I Am Sartana, Trade Your Guns for a Coffin and A Fistful of Lead) are both likable doofs and have good chemistry together as our brawling, roguish heroes. And this was my introduction to the absurdly gorgeous Marilù Tolo (The Triumph of Hercules and Kiss the Girls and Make them Die), proud holder of my latest cinematic crush/obsession, who really commands your attention as the conniving vixen/sexpot. Her career has run the gambit of peplum, spies, spaghetti westerns, and gialli, and I look forward to tracking down as many as possible. A nod must also be given to Corrà's take on the mad Russian; that throwaway scene where he's dropping a deuce while his men are setting up an ambush is priceless and had liquid coming out my nose once I realized what that honking music cue meant.

And those actors do deserve a lot of credit because rumor has it that it didn't take Bava long to chuck Mario di Nardo's script (-- the two would collaborate on Five Dolls for an August Moon the very same year, where it's rumored Bava did the exact same thing), meaning the majority of the film was ad-libbed from the get-go and shot piecemeal. But aside from a lengthy, unnecessary, and ill-advised sidetrack to a brothel that is ultimately destroyed in an ensuing melee over a chance to bed a couple of Irish whores, the film holds together remarkably well. While watching, it's easy to tell that nobody was taking things all that seriously, so as a viewer, I won't either.

And even if the comedy leaves you flat, there are still plenty of inventive and masterful Bava strokes to take in. There's a great scene where Halsey rallies a posse to go after Jack and the Reverend, and as the camera pans with him, back and forth, as he speaks in front of the mob, we notice with each pass the crowd is thinning out until, his speech complete, he turns to face an near empty room, setting up the scenes ultimate punchline. (And yeah, it should have quit while it was ahead.) And the whole scene at the Indian burial ground -- the set-ups and camera-work -- are pure Bava. (I especially liked the scene where the camera actually "digs" for the gold.) It's also kinda cool to see how the director tried to make the Spanish coast look like Monument Valley with just some National Geographic cut-outs and a little shifty matte work.

I don't know, maybe it caught me on a good day but, in the end, I think Roy Colt and Winchester Jack is one of those movies that will only get better with repeated viewings. It is by no means the second-coming of Blazing Saddles, or as good as the Terence Hill and Bud Spencer Trinity movies, but it will go a long way to scrub the lingering after-taste of Dr. Goldfoot from your palette if you'll just give it half a chance.

Roy Colt and Winchester Jack (1970) Produzioni Atlas Consorziate (P.A.C.) :: Tigielle 33 / P: Luigi Alessi / D: Mario Bava / W: Mario di Nardo / C: Antonio Rinaldi, Mario Bava / E: Olga Pedrini / M: Piero Umiliani / S: Brett Halsey, Charles Southwood, Marilù Tolo, Teodoro Corrà
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