Death Rides a Horse (Giulio Petroni / Italy, 1967):
(Da Uomo a Uomo)

A horde of riders materializes out of the rain on the crest of a hill, the ranch house down below is invaded and a family is decimated -- a zoom imprints it all onto the eyes of a hiding child, who grows into John Phillip Law, hungering for revenge. The young gunslinger retains mental mementos from each of the killers (a pierced ear, a tattooed chest, a scarred forehead) for future identification, and director Giulio Petroni drenches the screen red for every vendetta, traumatic memories superimposed upon fervid peepers for a quivering image: Kill Bill offered a thorough analysis, down to the undulating Ennio Morricone war cries that announce Lee Van Cleef's release from jail. The joke is that both fellas are after the same bunch of bandits, with Law seeking emotional retribution while Van Cleef reaches for monetary remuneration, with "bad investments" for both. Law turning down the sheriff's position while leaning on a porch chair is Petroni's refusal of My Darling Clementine classicism in favor of modern turmoil, in the direction of High Plains Drifter by way of Borges; preachers are dilapidated drunkards, the saloon offers sin, Van Cleef informally quotes de Laclos ("revenge is a dish served cold...") to warn Law of spiritual indigestion. "Did you change your mind, hero?" "Yes. I decided to kill you." The Old West here amounts to the killings erupting in between the electric blue sky and stubbly grounds and, if not as luxuriant as Leone or as politicized as Corbucci, the film boasts its own blunt poetry: captured in a villa, the hero is placed on a body vise for a whipping, then left buried up to his neck in sand with a mouthful of salt, the sequence ushering the rousing climax while clarifying the influence of ¡Qué Viva México! on many a spaghetti Western. With Luigi Pistilli, Anthony Dawson, Mario Brega, and José Torres.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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