Sunday, January 3, 2010

In short: Death Sentence (1968)

A few years ago, one of the accomplices in a robbery was killed by his partners. His brother Cash - inevitably called Django in some dub versions - (Robin Clarke) was an alcoholic wreck at the time and not fit to take the mandatory vengeance.

Now, Cash is sober, only drinks milk and has grown rather good at shooting people, so it is time for him to do what is his genre-codified duty. Cash drifts from town to town, killing his brothers' former friends one by one, disturbing whatever interesting new career (honest farmer, card sharp, serial-killing preacher or Tomas Milian outrageously overacting as a gold and blondes-obsessed albino with slight psychological problems) they might have found for themselves in the intervening years.

The plot of Mario Lanfranchi's only Spaghetti Western is really just a very loose scaffolding on which to hang four episodic set pieces. This type of plotting does of course often go horribly wrong, but while I wouldn't say that the episodes are hanging particularly well together, I don't see this as a problem in this film's particular case, since they really aren't supposed to. Lanfranchi isn't out to tell a story here, but rather to reduce some of the iconic elements of the Spaghetti Western to their basics and see what might be the result of this reduction.

Turns out that what happens is something like a trip through all the elements that make the Spaghetti interesting. The mock-realistic grime, the deliberateness of every single gesture, the outrageousness of the villains, the unscrupulous hero and the jumpy narrative that drifts in the direction of the surreal when nobody is looking so typical of the Italian Western are all accounted for and presented as if the film were a fabulous little museum of the genre.

As it goes with museums, Death Sentence isn't exactly emotionally involving, but Lanfranchi's near classicistic eye for the iconic shot manages to keep one's interest up, at least if one has an interest in the Spaghetti Western and its style and content.


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