AKA UNA PISTOLA PER RINGO
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: 19th March, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 98 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A gunfighter known as “Angel Face” or “Ringo”, kills four men in a gunfight, then is arrested for manslaughter and locked up in the city jail where he awaits trial. Meanwhile, Major Clyde and his daughter Ruby are celebrating Christmas with several guests on their ranch when a bandit gang takes them hostage and threaten to kill two people a day unless the authorities stop pursuing them. Ben the sheriff decides to enlist the aid of Ringo, who agrees to infiltrate the gang and free the hostages in exchange for his freedom and a percentage of the stolen money….
Sometimes there’s nothing like a good action movie, and with as itchy trigger a finger you could wish for and a body count to rival your average Arnold Schwarzenegger effort, A Pistol For Ringo pretty much satisfied this writer who was almost going to put on Commando or Face Off for the umpteenth time and put off watching and reviewing this ‘spaghetti’ western for a couple more days even though this would have meant that the review would have been posted after its release date. The ‘spaghetti’ western sub-genre can be pretty much divided into the actioners, with a strong emphasis on violence, that begun with A Fistful Of Dollars, the political westerns that became widespread a few years later, and the comedies which super-seeded them at a time when taking the mickey of it all was all that was left to to. A Pistol For Ringo, he first major spaghetti to come after A Fistful Of Dollars, is certainly influenced by Sergio Leone’s film with some similar plot points, but derives as much from older American westerns while also looks forward to the likes of They Call Me Trinity with its light approach some of the time- and I emphasise “some of the time” because this is also a film that, for example, has our bad guys constantly shooting hostages, though the violence isn’t as graphic as some of the other popular spaghettis of the time. It also boasts a very cool hero [well, some may prefer the term ‘anti-hero’] who manages to be the midway point between being a nice variation on the Man With No Name [I’ve always thought it daft that he’s referred to as such because in all three of the Sergio Leone films he’s given an actual name] and a fresh new character with some different traits.
This was really only the second spaghetti western to make it bit. Encouraged by the success of A Fistful of Dollars the previous year which he had helped write, Duccio Tessari, an experienced screenwriter of ‘peplums’ [the ‘sword and sandal’ movies which were hugely popular in Italy until the westerns took over] decided to produce his own western, developing the story and then co-writing the script with Alfonso Balcázar. Ringo aka “Angel Face” was loosely based on the real gunfighter Johnny Ringo, and possibly star Giuliano Gemma’s earlier role in the peplum Sons Of Thunder. Cast were roughly equally Italian and Spanish in number, and the film was shot in the usual place for these things, Almeria in Spain. A Pistol for Ringo was a huge success in the domestic market and its theme song, composed by Ennio Morricone and performed by Maurizio Graf, rising to number one on the Italian charts. The film did well overseas too, though the English language version lost around ten minutes, removing in particular the opening duel and Ringo removing the bullet from Sancho’s shoulder. The version shown in the UK was even shorter, losing most of the violence to get a ‘U’ certificate. Much like Django, A Pistol For Ringo led to numerous unofficial sequels, including even a musical comedy, in addition to the official follow-up The Return Of Ringo.
It’s actually the few days leading up to and following Christmas in which this film takes place, but Ben the sheriff certainly isn’t in for a happy, peaceful time. Ringo shoots down four guys which Ben wanted to bring to justice, and he’s so good with a gun that he’s able to bring all four of them down whilst joining some children in a game of hopscotch. This guy is as lethal as the Leone hero, and soon proves himself to be if anything even more sly and opportunistic, one of my favourite lines of his being: “never side with the losers” when telling of how he fought on the side of the Confederates during the American Civil War until they begun to lose so he joined the Union instead. However, he’s also smartly dressed, talks a great deal, and most amusingly just drinks milk, not any form of alcohol which, in his probably correct opinion: “blurs the sight and makes the hand shake”. Giuliano Gemma, whom I’d seen in a couple of other westerns and Tenebrae, was not really an actor of much range [but then – and I have to admit it – neither was Eastwood], but he possesses considerable charm [as well as looking like he’s going his own horse stunt] and you can’t help but like him here despite not appearing to have any loyalty to anything but money. In fact, we’re not even sure what side he’s on at times, at one point going as far as to offer his services to the bandits if they’ll promise him a larger percentage of the take than the law.
Our sheriff doesn’t seem to want to do anything when a woman – a woman who turns out to be not all she seems – rushes into his office saying that her livestock has been taken and her husband nearly shot dead, but just a few seconds after that he hears an explosion that is the door of the local bank’s safe being blown off. The amount of gunplay that immediately follows is quite something and goes on for some time until Sancho – who’s wounded by Ben – and his lot retreat to a ranch and hole up in there and say that they’ll kill two hostages a day unless Ben and his men leave them alone and let them escape – and these bad guys certainly have no qualms about committing cold blooded murder, even shooting a woman right in front of her young son. The wise open, expansive nature of the film now switches to something more claustrophobic as we spend most of our time inside the main house of the ranch. Ben’s fiancee Ruby is lusted after by bandit Pedro, while Sancho’s woman Dolores gets closer to Ruby’s father Major Clyde, who thinks that sweet-talking her may positively influence the other bad guys. And soon Ringo has infiltrated the gang and has to work out how to free the hostages – as long as that’s what he wishes to do. He seems to take a liking to Ruby – or does he? I loved that I was never quite able to work Ringo out. The emphasis on character relationships and tension of the slow building kind means that the mid-section, despite somebody being shot roughly every five minutes, seems to move quite slowly after the furious pacing of the first act, but it’s never boring [unlike some of the lesser spaghettis when all the stuff between the bullets flying is just dull filler], and the action hots up again in the final act – though you’ll have to put up with some especially poor ‘day for night’ footage which in no way looks like it’s taking place at night.
Action-wise you also get a lengthy one-on-one brawl which begins outside and then goes through a barn, while of course you just have to have a scene where the hero is caught out and beaten up. What with a bullet ricocheting off a bell that kills a villain, people who are shot tending to spread their arms out before falling down dead, and Ringo demanding an impromptu trail before he goes on his mission which is then carried out in the jailhouse with all the words speeded up, there’s certainly the feel of a send-up here. At times this approach does jar with the ‘serious’ stuff like an attempted rape, but not as much as you may expect because Tessari has quite a sure hand on the material. He doesn’t go for Leone-type stylistics, preferring a less showy approach, but does bring a few quirky details like some of the dialogue scenes partly carried out by the characters speaking into the camera. The placing of characters in both the foreground and the background creates a sense of depth and provides some quite artistic tableaux, notably a shot during a funeral with two men on the left in the foreground, two men on the right in the background, a cross in the ground, and Ringo riding towards the camera in the middle. It almost has a Gothic feel.
Fernando Sancho is your typical over-the-top bandit and fun he is too, though my favourite character after Ringo was Dolores, first shown shooting someone dead. Having a deadly female gunslinger was unusual in the traditionally male-dominated spaghettis [and hadn’t been seen for time in American westerns for some time either], and even when she seems to mellow you’re still not sure what her game is. Nieves Navarro is a real beauty and a reasonably good actress too. One of the reasons I was looking forward to seeing this film was to hear another score by the great Ennio Morricone. His laid back main theme isn’t one of his most memorable, and the vocal version is closer to a traditional American western theme. Morricone’s spaghetti western ‘sound’ is overall a bit muted here, while one track is an obvious variation on the trumpet-led main theme from A Fistful Of Dollars, and the device of introducing our villains via a very loud honkytonk source music piece just provides laughter, though maybe the latter was intended. Still a decent and fairly varied effort though. A Pistol For Ringo may just miss being one of the all-time classic spaghettis, but it’s still great fun and I reckon I’ll stick it on more often than some of the worthier efforts that I own.
A Pistol For Ringo comes to Blu-ray looking quite marvellous. I do nit-pick when I think transfers are flawed, and I couldn’t find any issues with this one at all. Colours, depth, grain – it’s all spot on. There’s the option of watching the film with both its Italian and its English language tracks. Even though most of the cast appear to be speaking English, the film – as was usually the case – was shot silent and then dubbed by others later. I flicked back and forth and, while the Italian track flows better, the English one is a very good example of its kind – the voices are okay, the audio is decent, and the translation quite faithful.
Arrow have ported over the two featurettes from the German Koch DVD and added three things of their own. Each film has its own audio commentary track by western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke. Over A Pistol For Ringo, they never shut up, so you don’t any of those lengthy gaps thst you tend to get with these things. They don’t go into production very much, but are great to spend time with; very genial and obviously walking western encyclopedias, continually making good observations – though they do say that the ‘day for night’ footage is convincing! Overall though a very strong track and you’ll probably come away from it with a greater appreciation of the film even if you weren’t too hot on it at first.
Revisiting Ringo covers both films with Tony Rayns, usually talking about Asian cinema, going heavily into background including Tessari’s career, the way Italian ‘popular’ cinema was back then with one genre tending to be dominant before another one took over, and the position of the two Ringo films in Italian cinema history. He never bores throughout the 33 minutes. They Called Him Ringo, running 25 minutes, is the first of the archival featurettes and concentrates on the first film. Lorella de Luca does the lion’s share of the talking, doing lots of reminiscing of the filming and her co-stars. Though he does tell of an occasion when he accidentally hurt himself between the legs with the flare from his fake gun, Giuliano Gemma seems a bit reticent and the bits in which he talks of lower visual quality for some reason. The clips from the film look quite poor when you’ve just watched the Blu-ray and ought to convert any reticent film collector to the cause.
The remaining two special features are specific to the sequel and I’ll go through those in my review for that.
SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
*Brand new 2K restorations of both films from the original negative
*High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
*Original Italian and English soundtracks
*Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio
*Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
*Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
*Audio commentaries for both films by Spaghetti Western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke
*Revisiting Ringo, a new video interview with critic and Ringo fan Tony Rayns
*They Called Him Ringo, an archival featurette with stars Giuliano Gemma and Lorella de Luca
*A Western Greek Tragedy, an archival featurette with Lorella de Luca and camera operator Sergio D’Offizi
*Gallery of original promotional images from the Mike Siegal Archive
*Gallery of original promotional images
*Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Gilles Vranckx
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the films by Howard Hughes and a newly-translated interview with Duccio Tessari