Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Shoot, Gringo, Shoot! (1968)

Somewhere in Mexico. The American gunman Stark (Brian Kelly of Flipper fame), having been betrayed by his partners in a robbery, is incarcerated in a Mexican jail. Thanks to a nice and effective performance as a leper he manages to escape. His new-found freedom only leads him into a confrontation with one of his ex-partners. A dead ex-partner and a minor shoot-out with the forces of the local potentate (Folco Lulli) later, Stark is captured again and bound to hang very soon.

Fortunately for him, Gutierrez, as the potentate is called, has a sudden change of mind about his destiny. If Stark would help him with a little problem, he'd just forget all about the small legal matter, and pay the gunman even $5000 for his work.

Gutierrez' son Fidel (Fabrizio Moroni) has run away from home to live the exciting life of a bandit with the gang of a Civil War veteran usually just called "The Major" (Keenan Wynn), but his father, and even more so his mother (Linda Sini), would very much like to have Stark bring their son back again. Of course, this is an offer Stark won't refuse, especially since it turns out that he himself is a friend of the Major and does not have much trouble getting into contact with the gang.

Stark is not straight with the Major or Fidel. Instead, he makes up a nice possibility of robbing a gold transport and takes Fidel with him on reconnaissance to kidnap the young man. As it goes, everything is becoming rather more complicated between the two men, and before Stark will be able to deliver his victim/friend, there will be the usual game of one or the other getting the upper hand, but everyone's plans getting thwarted again and again by unpleasant circumstances. Somewhere in between, there will also be time for the shortest romance subplot with Erika Blanc ever.

Sergio Corbucci's brother Bruno did a lot of work as a writer (often enough for his or with his brother), but he also has quite a number of directing credits. Shoot, Gringo, Shoot! is one of them, and while it never manages to achieve the heights of Sergio's best work, it still is a very fun movie to watch. This Corbucci is not a brilliant director, but a sure-handed one, perfectly capable to play around his two rather weak lead actors to provide some Spaghetti Western goodness. He also has a real knack for using nature and outside locations to set the mood of a given scene, keeping his film far away from the slap-dash look some of the cheaper Italian Western can get through over-use of rather boring looking sets.

His script isn't as successful. What starts out cleverly getting rid of the potential revenge plot, setting a light and humorous tone, with some moments of comic relief courtesy of the Major's gang and their leaders disturbing love for a duck I'd rather not have witnessed, seems to slowly turn dark when Stark and Fidel are starting their travels together, but never dares to go all out emotionally. Instead the film's focus shifts on an episodic series of adventures and mishaps that don't share enough thematically to be wholly satisfying, or are given too little room to be believable (like the romance plot). Then it all ends in a cleverly thought out, but random feeling darkened final stretch which then again turns into some sort of happy end.

Now, I am the first to admit that life itself is rather random, but I'm not too sure art should mirror this part of life and I'm absolutely not sure that Shoot, Gringo, Shoot! is out to talk about the randomness of life, as satisfying a thought as that may be.

What seems to be a better explanation for the movie's state is that Corbucci and his writing partner Mario Amendola had some great locations, all these actors on contract - some of them like Blanc and Wynn probably only for a few days - but only had little time to churn out a script before shooting began, so they put all the clichés that make up a typical Spaghetti Western into it, some of them with neat little twists. They just never had enough time to make a final re-write and polish it all up. That's my theory at least.

Fortunately (for me), I am well able to overlook silly little problems with a film like a lack of coherence of its parts, an overabundance of clichés or the lack of a thematic throughline if and when the non-cohering parts are in itself interesting and fun. Shoot, Gringo, Shoot!'s parts are, and while they don't cohere into the psychologically deep, depressing and plain exciting masterpiece the film's set-up promises, they make for a fine genre picture, no more, yet most certainly no less.



T.L Bugg said...

Sounds pretty good. I don't think I've ever seen one of Bruno Corbucci's movies, but I'm going to have to check this out out. Thanks for the review.

houseinrlyeh said...

I think it's really worth it to sometimes look beyond those Spaghettis directed by people named Sergio.
Bruno seems to be your typical Italian genre film director, with a handful of films in every genre. And he co-wrote a few of my favorite films.

Todd said...

Even my tinfoil hat can't protect me from the voices of these emphatic Spaghetti Western titles. I keep telling them that my name isn't Django or whatever, but they won't stop exhorting me to kill(!) die(!), shoot(!), etc.

houseinrlyeh said...

Just be thankful it's not the German version of those voices, Todd, or they'd inform you about things like that fact that the bible isn't a game of cards.