AKA KILL AND PRAY
ON BLU-RAY: NOW, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 92 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A group of Mexican villagers is betrayed by Confederate soldiers led by aristocratic Officer George Bellow Ferguson who is after their land, and they are slaughtered. After the massacre, the boy Requiescant wanders in the desert but he is rescued by the travelling Father Jeremy who raises him like a son. Years later, Requiescant is himself a preacher, though is also very close to his rebellious stepsister Princy. When Princy leaves her family with a theatre company, Requiescant promises to seek her out and bring her back home. Discovering, along the way, that he’s rather handy with a gun, he arrives in San Antonio and finds that the city belongs to Ferguson, and that Princy is working there as a prostitute….
Alex Cox, filmmaker and, many moons ago, presenter of BBC2’s Moviedrome series which introduced me, and I’m sure a great many others, to many weird and wonderful movies, said of Requiescant that it was the“one film to prove that the Italian Western was not solely Sergio Leone’s”. Personally, I would probably pick The Great Silence or Face To Face as better examples of this fact [which of course is something that all fans of this interesting genre are aware of anyway – I fact, I would go as far to say that the two films I just mentioned are decidedly superior to Leone’s first two efforts]. Requiescant, while not being one of the very best spaghetti westerns that I’ve seen, is still a pretty strong effort nonetheless, very well made and consistently enjoyable. I found it to be rather better than Day Of Anger which Arrow Video also released a few month ago. Relatively low on gunplay compared to many others, and less over the top and amusing than you may expect too, its relatively simple tale of revenge turns into a full blown political allegory and left wing statement, while it has a more interesting hero than normal at its core. Requiescant may soon find himself to be very quick on the trigger [though at first more by luck than judgement], but he also carries a bible around with him and, as soon as he’s shot someone, he’ll read the dead person their rites. He’s shy, innocent and often seems out of place, though a combination of chance and skill generally gets him through, even though he likes to hit his horse with a frying pan to get it to go faster!
Requiescant, whose title translates as ‘Rest In Peace’, came along when the spaghetti western was becoming virtually dominated by politically themed works where you often had a simple, inexperienced character pair up with someone else who seduces him into joining the cause and fighting for what’s right, usually against rich landowners. Its director, Carlo Lizzani, a filmmaker who began his career as part of the Italian Neo-Realist movement, then worked in many genres [and was especially adept at crime dramas], liked to put in political messages in his films, but Requiescant, due to the climate it was made in, was the first film in which he felt he could be explicit about it. He’d not long made The Hills Run Red, another western which had been a solid hit in the US, and was happy to make another western, but seemed more interested in telling a political allegory, going so far as to cast performers who had “resonance beyond behind a movie star” with connections to the cultural and political battles going on at the time. Most notably, this involved casting the great director Pier Paolo Pasolini in a fairly prominent role. Now the writing credits for this film belong to a whopping eleven people, which even if you remove those just given ‘story credit’ is still eleven, while Lizzani says that he also worked on the script. You’d think this would result in a mess, but the result wasn’t really the case. Shot outside and around Rome, Requiescant, often called Kill And Pray for export release, was popular in many European countries but failed to get released in the US and the UK.
The dramatic opening shots introducing the Mexican peasants and the nasty white folk who are after their land are very well chosen and the subsequent massacre quite shocking, from a small boy being shot bloodily in the forehead to the sheer relish with which the two soldiers operating their Gatling Gun seem to be carrying out their killing. To be honest, this scene does virtually set up expectations that Requiescant is going to be an extremely brutal piece, expectations which aren’t really followed through, with the rest of the film as much interested in plot and political matters as action, and much of the nastiest stuff taking place off-screen, though it’s still quite a tough movie in some respects, such as the hardly enjoyable but probably realistic way the female characters tend to be treated. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself, and right after the massacre we get the credits and a montage showing the boy, whom we already know is the title character, being found and brought up by a preacher. Riz Ortolani’s title theme is more romantic and even American-style than your usual spaghetti western theme, but goes well enough with the images. No time is wasted setting up the story, a shot of Requiescant’s stepsister Princy looking in at a saloon where girls are dancing on stage immediately followed by her having disappeared.
As Requiescant goes in search of Princy, his first gunfight involves a dead man’s gun falling right into his hands, then him shooting two people by mistake, though it’s not as bizarre as a truly puzzling moment later on where, just after Requiescant shoots three guys, he opens his gun and looks at the bullets. There are six bullets in there, as there should be, but none have been fired as the firing caps are still intact. After that, he looks at his Bible and was saved as it stopped a bullet. Are we to infer he is not actually shooting the bad guys, but God is striking them down? This would account for him never loading his pistol and why he becomes a crack shot all of a sudden. I couldn’t stop thinking this for some time, but it adds to the odd feel of the piece, not overly stylised but full of strange little bits and pieces, from a bad guy who owns and talks to a western-style Barbie doll whose face he likes to periodically rub on his stubble, to Pasolini’s appearances which consist of him spouting wisdom. Requiescant soon does find Princy, and she’s a whore working for the bad guys, whom Requiescant then finds himself coming up against. There are confrontations, though expectations for a kind of love story don’t materialise [no room for that in this kind of West], and eventually Requiescant finds himself roped into a full blown revolution where the sympathies of the director and writers become apparent.
Requiescant is initially like Juan Miranda in Leone’s A Fistful Of Dynamite, unsure of the point of replacing one set of masters with another, but the film argues that that viewpoint is redundant, though it unusually suggests that peaceful ways of introducing change are better than armed revolt, a worker’s strike virtually making the army of revolutionaries redundant. Lizzani’s film is full of left wing idealism [Leone’s astoundingly cynical effort would critique the point of view of all these political spaghettis and find it wanting] but is quite complex in its commentary here and there, like when Ferguson the main bad guy delivers a pro-slavery after-dinner speech, providing some food for thought he chastises the pious Union capitalists, whose payment of low wages effectively results in supposedly ‘free’ Union labourers being trapped in a cowed state of need and near starvation, while slaves actually have more security. All this may suggest that Requiescant is all politics and no fun, but that certainly isn’t the case, even though much of the story is quite harsh in the way in which it plays out. There are some very memorable set pieces, especially a shooting contest, shot in a very Gothic manner, where a Mexican maid is forced to hold a candelabra at arm’s length while Ferguson and Requiescant take it in turns to shoot out its lit candles, each man having to gulp down a large glass of wine between shots and the reckless Ferguson repeatedly ordering the maid to move further and further away. Then there’s a peculiar later duel taking place on bar stools; both men have their necks in nooses and they draw and shoot at the stools’ legs as opposed to at each other. Look out for a great variation on For A Few Dollars More’s hat shooting scene too.
Lizzani’s direction is quite restrained for this type of film, though he perhaps overdoes the device of having someone suddenly appear at the side of the screen just before the camera to give a shot depth. Lou Castel, who also played memorable spaghetti western heroes in A Bullet For The General and Matello, is a rather endearing hero while Mark Damon’s main villain is straight out of a vampire movie, pasty faced and black cloaked. Barbara Frey has a sweet presence as Princy though her character isn’t really thought through. Riz Ortalani’s score has a few decent themes and motifs though isn’t great, really. While I found it to lack some of the audaciousness, viciousness and excitement of some of my all-time favourite spaghettis, I still thoroughly enjoyed Requiescant, and found it to be a very decent western all round that never lets its desire to make the viewer think get in the way of providing good entertainment.
Requiescant looks very fine on Arrow Region ‘A’/’B’ Blu-ray, perhaps not quite as striking as Day Of Anger which was almost reference material, but highly impressive nonetheless. Aside from a few minor fluctuations of density I can’t really fault it. As usual, neither the English nor the Italian track is totally satisfactory because the film was shot silent and dubbed later mostly by others [though Damon dubbed his part into English]. I flicked back and forth, and found the Italian track to flow better, and the subtitles to be better scripted than the English dialogue, but to be slightly out of synch. The special features aren’t as extensive as usual for Arrow – they mainly take the form of two interviews, one of them taken from the German DVD – but most fans will be pleased that the film is out there and looking so fine.