Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.
Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or
improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if
you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can
be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore
A scruffy and unwashed man called not Ringo, not Django, not Sartana, but
Shenandoah (Anthony Steffen) rides into a small frontier town. The place has
some troubles since the gang of bandit Lupe Rojo (Armando Calvo) has put their
base of operations into the area around town.
Shenandoah seems to have something in mind with the gang, though. At first,
he does the usual "let's compare our penis sizes" bit by playing the always
lovely "poker leading to fisticuffs" game with some of the gang members.
A little later, he subtly interferes with a bank robbery in town, carefully
constructing an opportunity to grab a wounded gang member and rescue him from
the law. It seems like he wants to join up with the gang.
Unfortunately, Rojo isn't just letting anyone join his merry band of
slobbering psychopaths. There is a rather ill-advised membership test in form of
a deadly game of hide and seek with guns against one of the original gang
members for the potential newbie to survive.
Shenandoah is rather good at the game, though, and uses the possibility of a
slowly dying bandit right at his feet to ask some questions about a stagecoach
robbery and a murdered woman in Omaha two years ago. Alas, he doesn't get the
answers he seeks.
At least, his life's dream of being one of a group of psychopathic bandits
who are bound to die rather sooner than later is fulfilled. Nevertheless, he
continues to ask pointed questions about the Omaha business. One could get the
idea that it is somehow a lot more important to him than raping and pillaging.
It might just be possible that our unshaved hero is out for revenge for a
certain murder in Omaha.
All goes swimmingly, until Rojo decides to plunder the ranch of a local
rancher named Wilson (George Rigaud). Wilson is an old friend of Shenandoah, and
the gunman can't help himself but warn him and his pretty daughter (Luciana
Gilli) of the ensuing attack.
The following debacle for the gang and Shenandoah's not exactly inconspicuous
behaviour weakens his position as a big bad bandit decisively, though, starting
off his obligatory torture and the typical finale of bloody vengeance.
If the plot synopsis of A Coffin For The Sheriff (and no, I have no
idea what the title has to do with the film) makes it sound as if the typical
fan of Spaghetti Western had seen this all before, that impression is perfectly
true. There truly is no original bone in Mario Caiano's film's body, but while
watching it, I didn't find myself holding that against it.
It is a very thin line which divides the realms of the clichéd and of the
iconic. Caiano's film mostly dances directly on the line, doing too much of the
expected in the expected manner to come down on the iconic side, yet doing it
with too much panache to result in the let-down of the too clichéd.
A Coffin For The Sheriff succeeds as a very pleasant example of its
genre (and this isn't exactly typical of the usually rather scattershot
Spaghetti Western) mostly through the tightness of its script and Caiano's drive
in executing it. While the usual assortment of side characters (with three women
fawning over our hero) with their little side plots is there, the film
integrates them into the main plot in a sensible way instead of going for a
smoke and letting the side plots take over from time to time. This gives the
film a sense of wholeness one seldom finds in the genre outside of the work of
But it would be unfair not to give Caiano his fair share of props. Having
gone through a very typical career for an Italian director of the time by
working in every genre that was popular at the moment, Caiano obviously picked
up quite a bit about keeping his plots moving and cutting down on filler while
letting his film look much more costly than it probably was through judicious
use of rather impressive outside locations. As an old pro (his first writing and
assistant directing credits come from the 50s), Caiano doesn't miss out on
adding stylistic elements typical of the Spaghetti Western, elements which might
still have looked vaguely original to an audience just one year after A
Fistful Of Dollars. It is an excellent example of how fast some of the
things Leone and Corbucci did visually became part of the visual language of
Italian filmmakers trying to make a quick buck off of their successes.
So, friends of frightening close-ups of ugly, sweaty, unshaved men won't miss
Also not atypical for an early Spaghetti are the acting performances. Steffen
is (as was often the case with him) a little bland, yet as solid as someone with
seemingly total facial paralysis can be, while the bunch of half-remembered
character actors playing the bad guys are chewing the scenery nicely.
A Coffin For The Sheriff is probably not the sort of film I'd
recommend to a Spaghetti Western beginner. There are just too many excellent
films to see first before starting to waste time on one which is "just" very
good, but when one has reached the point where one has worked through the
classics and semi-classics of the genre, films like this are the little gold
nuggets hidden in the dust and mud of the genre.