Thursday, April 9, 2015

Blood River (1967)

aka God Forgives…I Don’t!

Original title: Dio perdona…Io no!

When a train full of gold is robbed by a gang of bandits that don’t leave any survivors behind as witnesses, adventurer Hutch Bessy (Bud Spencer), working for the insurance company responsible for making up for the losses, starts investigating the case. Hutch is convinced the way the heist was planned and executed can only point to one man as the responsible brains of the operation - his old acquaintance, the highly intelligent but psychopathic Bill St. Antonio (Frank Wolff). Problem is, Bill has been killed by Hutch’s and his old friend/enemy Pretty Face (Terence Hill) – or Cat Stevens, if you’re a script writer who has probably taken the name right out of the new album releases column of a newspaper – if under rather questionable circumstances.

When Hutch seeks out Cat to have a little chat about his theory and about what truly happened on the day of Bill’s death, the two of course do not decide to team up and find out what’s up, but do the old Spaghetti Western dance where they express their mutual sympathy by trying to put one over on each other at every possible juncture. To no one’s surprise, Bill will turn out to be quite alive and even crazier than ever, and Hutch and Cat just might have to work together one way or the other if they want to find the gold and survive against Bill and his gang.

Giuseppe Colizzi’s Spaghetti Western was made a couple of years before the dynamic duo of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer turned into the dubious but childhood-approved pair of punching comedians we hate and/or love or hate/love to love/hate, and really is your typical earnest and violent Italian western. In its structure God Forgives is clearly indebted to Leone’s second Dollar movie, though it is – like most of the films coming in the wake of Leone and Corbucci – somewhat simpler and certainly less loaded with philosophical and political undercurrents.

Visually, most Spaghetti Westerns tend to orient themselves more on Corbucci inventive yet rougher style than on Leone, most probably because Leone’s approach would take quite a bit more effort, time, and perhaps even money to copy, all things in short supply when you made an Italian genre film meant to cash in on the latest fad. Colizzi, though, actually does use quite a few of Leone’s techniques – most obvious the long shots, yet the film’s pacing tends to the stately too, and the framing of some scenes looks damn familiar, too. To my surprise, the resulting film actually works as more than an attempt to blankly imitate Leone’s style, its surface indeed carrying meaning. At least, the film gives the struggle of its to varying degrees unpleasant protagonists (all of them men, as usual in the genre) the proper atmosphere, and while the political and psychological subtext is pretty much Spaghetti Western by numbers, the film never feels so derivative it becomes annoying.

Rather, it’s another entertaining Spaghetti Western that looks better than some of its brethren, recommends itself by many a shot of men squinting at each other as well as by one of Wolff’s more exalted performances, and presents its typical tale of violence, betrayal, sweat, and more violence with enough style to keep it interesting even if you’re like me and have seen what I suspect is nearly every film in the genre ever made.

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