AKA IL RITORNO DI RINGO
AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY: 19th March, from ARROW VIDEO
RUNNING TIME: 95 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
After fighting for the Union Army in the American Civil War, Ringo returns home to find that his town of Membres has been overrun by the Mexican Fuentes gang, led by Esteban and Paco Fuentes. To his horror, he also finds that his wife, Hallie, has been taken by Paco with the intent to marry her. He decides to go undercover disguised as a Mexican. Then he discovers he has a daughter.…
Well it’s an odd kind of sequel in a way, unless you really are into your spaghetti westerns which went on to do this kind of thing a lot. Despite its title, it’s unrelated to A Pistol For Ringo, it’s name instead referring to the basic premise of the film whose story is derived from the final part of Homer’s The Odyssey. I did initially wonder if this was a sort of prequel considering that the Ringo of the first movie said that he was in the American Civil War, until I realised that Giuliano Gemma was playing a very different character in this one. Adding to the confusion is that – because the film was shot immediately after – the majority of the previous movie’s cast return, some of them playing very similar characters, but some of them as totally different folk. This sequel is almost entirely serious compared to the mixture of seriousness and humour that its predecessor had, so the change in tone may surprise some. One thing is sure though – this is a fine melding of revenge drama and gun-blazing action that for me actually betters the first film. As with For A Few Dollars More, it seems that, while everyone who worked on it was proud of their results, they also felt that they could do better, and pushed themselves to create a superior follow-up. It really is quite a quality production,with little of the unintentional silliness which undoubtedly adds to the fun but which can sometimes mar these films and prevent one from totally taking them seriously.
Information seems to be more scant on this one, so I’ll go straight into the review proper. After an early example of the famous knife and hand gag from Aliens, we again open with Ringo showing his prowess with a gun, blowing away two bad guys in a bar seemingly without any provocation until he kicks away a table to reveal that one of them had pulled a gun on him. But this is certainly not the same guy, the rather unscrupulous, very confident protagonist we saw before replaced by a much more brooding, intense individual who most certainly does not consider alcohol to be an impediment. Gemma, despite being covered in makeup for most of the time so his character looks like a Mexican, gives the best performance I’ve ever seen from him, exuding anger, pain and, when he needs to, determination. And as well he might be full of anger and pain, because he’s returned home to find many members of his family dead and buried and a brutal Mexican gang has taken over the town. Not only that, but one of the two leaders Paco wants to marry his wife Halle and isn’t the type to take no for an answer. The sheriff , a character clearly inspired by Rio Bravo’s Dude, is an alcoholic and has no interest in taking action. Ringo disguises himself and becomes an assistant to a florist named Myosotis [!], then arranges a fake funeral for himself, but his first real chance to wreak some vengeance is ruined when he notices that Halle has a young girl with her. I suppose most other spaghetti western heroes wouldn’t care if a child was around to witness the carnage they create – though this is contrasted with a strange moment later on where his parenting skills leave much to be desired, as he lets his daughter play with his loaded gun while he smiles approvingly.
This is a much less trigger happy film than the first and it’s around a full hour before Ringo begins to wreck his vengeance, but the relative paucity of action really doesn’t matter very much because there’s some emotional power to the tale and the way it’s told. It’s believable that the tormented Ringo goes on a bender and for a while doesn’t seem to care whether he lives or dies. Even after he has his reunion with Hallie, he has his doubts about killing the villains and wants to just flee with her. Perhaps less believable is that he’s able to resist dancer and possibly prostitute Rosita for the entire duration of the film, Nieves Navarro simply exuding raw sexuality from every pore, but then that’s love for you. Rosita feels she has to make herself available to Paco’s brother Esteban, but soon has the hots for our hero. In one scene she’s stroking the hair of a doll, a nice, if sad, little detail which is a good example of the way this film at least attempts some depth to some of its characters. And the final third certainly delivers, despite Ringo having had to learn to shoot with his left hand due to a nasty incident with a knife. In both of these films, Ringo is unable to fire a gun for long periods of time in a typical Duccio Tessari twist on genre conventions. In the first one, it was because nobody would give him one, and in the second one it’s just because he can’t until he’s trained himself to use his left hand.
The climactic town shootout is a very good example its kind, even with over the top stuff like Ringo free falling from rooftops to enact skillful kill shots, and a Native American aide to the good guys who only manages to get off one shot with his bow and arrow – and it’s with an arrow that obviously doesn’t have a tip! Gemma really does seem to throw himself around though. Also notable are two fight scenes where a handheld camera follows the combatants and only occasionally cuts. This kind of action cinematography is quite common these days, but certainly wasn’t at the time and gives the scenes a visceral quality without going overboard with the ‘shakycam’ and making one feel sick! The direction is a bit more stylised this time around, with more close-ups, odd angles, and a bit where Ringo walks down the main street through coloured glass windows, though Tessari still displays his great knack for positioning characters so we get an illusion of depth. Ennio Morricone’s score is louder and more upfront this time. It’s a more repetitious effort, the good if not great main theme – which as before opens the film in a vocal version again sung by Maurizio Graf – heard throughout in different guises, while elsewhere it’s mainly dark suspense cues. Francisco Marin’s cinematography is more dramatic, like the red that illuminates Ringo’s face when told about his wife, but often very good indeed, especially the staging of Ringo’s and Hallie’s reunion which showcases terrific use of shadow and reddish light coming from a lamp. The atmosphere throughout is slightly haunting, the constant wind blowing hay, dust and sand everywhere certainly adding to the effect. Humour is restricted to little underplayed moments like when Ringo awakes in a coffin and is seen by a surprised old lady. It seems like this film had a higher budget than the first as the lighting of the sets is much better and those sets do look very convincing indeed.
The cast are all very good and their characters are allowed to breath. Having most of the cast members be the same and either play similar or very different parts does have a strange effect which might be distracting if you watch both of these films in quick succession. Tessari’s wife Lorella De Luca again plays a woman trapped in a house with villains while her husband or fiancee has to try to free her, and Fernando Sancho again plays a ruthless bandit, although this time he’s a more classy, cleaner, more smartly dressed one. On the other hand, George Martin’s Paco, a rather wily, evil man, is a complete turnaround from the squeaky clean sheriff he portrayed in the first film. Manuel Muniz’s florist is obviously inspired by A Fistful Of Dollar’s Piripero, though American westerns seem to be even more of an influence on this film than on the first. The Return Of Ringo stumbles in a few places but it really is a very involving piece; exciting, dramatic and quite deeply felt. And Ringo’s re-appearance in a sandstorm is as cool as any of Clint Eastwood’s introductions.
The Return Of Ringo looks similarly impressive on Blu-ray, perhaps even more so. Out of the two special features specific to it in the two film set, the audio commentary is a must-listen. C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke really get going for this one and pull off such a good chat track that their previous one almost seems like a dry run for it. Okay, Parke is rather too prone to saying “it certainly can/does/is” in answer to something Joyner says, but there’s never am uninteresting moment and you can feel their love for the film and its rather neglected director throughout, the two sometimes getting genuinely excited as they praise the way parts of the film are shot. Then there’s the 25 minute A Western Greek Tragedy, the follow-up to the previous DVD featurette which has Lorella de Luca and camera operator Sergio D’Offizi, who describes this one as one of his favourites, describe their memories of working on the film. The recollections are mainly of warmth – it sounds like doing these films was genuinely fun and cast and crew often went out together, though de Luca does say that she found Nieves Navarro “uppity”.
Arrow’s two-film set of A Pistol For Ringo and The Return Of Ringo offers two very different films yet in the same genre and with much the same cast and crew. If you only know the spaghetti western from the Leone classics and want to dip into this very interesting sub-genre, then this is a very good place to start, though you may become addicted. Highly recommended.
*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 star Giuliano Gemma
*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