Thursday, January 27, 2011

In short: Three Crosses Not To Die (1968)

Original title: Tre croci per non morire

Professional bounty hunter Reno (Giovanni Cianfriglia), professional charmer of women Jerry (Craig Hill) and professional Mexican horse thief Paco (Pietro Tordi) all have to look forward to a nice thirty days of jail time for their professions. Fortunately for them, their special talents are needed, and a group of monks and a desperate Mexican father first organize a very soft jailbreak for them, and then hire the men to prove the innocence of the father's son in a murder and a rape committed in another town. Preferably, the three crooks should solve the crime before the innocent will be hanged in seven days.

There's good money in it for the trio too, so they decide to take the offer of employment on the side of what's right and honourable for once.

But someone really doesn't want them to even start their investigation. Even before they arrive in the town where the crime took place, the three dubious heroes already have had to fight off a fake lynch mob and a band of Mexican bandits. Life doesn't get much easier when the three finally arrive in town. The townspeople do not want to have anything to do with the whole affair, and make for especially unhelpful witnesses. Someone behind the scenes - perhaps the man responsible for the murder and the attempts on the trio's lives - has more violent reactions to them snooping around.

Still, after some snooping, the investigators find out that there was a secret witness to the crime, a woman named Dolores. Might she have anything to do with the woman (Evelyn Stewart) living in an abandoned mill Jerry sets his mind on seducing as soon as he sees her?

Sergio Garrone's Three Crosses Not To Die is one of those films that are easiest praised by complimenting aspects of them that sound like they should be normal for any film, but usually aren't. There's an air of professionalism and competence about the movie that all too often just signals boredom and a lack of imagination. In Three Crosses' case that air is more the effect of a director and a script more interested in coherence and telling a simple and linear story cleanly than one is used to from Spaghetti Westerns.

There is, I think, something to be said for this approach, especially in a genre that usually doesn't take it, and instead tends to drift off in all directions. That drifting is something I like films to do too, obviously, but Garrone's peculiar way of being conventional makes for an interesting change, surprising in its lack of surprises.

It does help the film's case that Garrone still delivers much of what is needed in Spaghetti Westerns: people in ridiculous brownface pretending to be Mexican (Evelyn Stewart as a Latina? Really?), lots of close-ups of men making shifty-eyes, shoot-outs with a body count of the "the more, the merrier" sort, and a standard-for-its-genre yet rousing enough musical score. The movie's even well paced.

It's all quite traditional, but also very entertaining, really. The only true surprise the film offers lies in the fact that its script tends to the more American type of characterisation: the film's protagonists are really heroic beyond reason and not much given to the bouts of sadism and asshattery common in the European Western hero. In this respect, I was also a bit disappointed how much the ending pulled its punches - I didn't necessarily expect The Big Silence, but what Garrone does is too much of a cop out for my tastes.


No comments: