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A Pistol for Ringo & The Return of Ringo (1965) Blu Ray (Arrow)

This Arrow Blu Ray presentation features the two spaghetti westerns that made Italian actor Giuliano Gemma (anglicised pseudonym: Montgomery Wood) into a major star.

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A Pistol for Ringo

This one is set at Christmas in and around a small town near the Mexican border. Gunfighter “Angel Face” Ringo (Giuliano Gemma) is taken into custody by the local sheriff Ben (George Martin) for killing four brothers in a shootout. Soon afterwards, however, a group of Mexican bandits led by Sancho (Fernando Sancho) ride into town and rob the local bank, leaving a trail of dead bodies in the process. Ben assembles a posse and they pursue the bandits to a nearby ranch, where they hole up and take the compound’s owner Major Clyde (Antonio Casas), his pretty daughter Ruby (Lorella De Luca) and their various servants as hostages.

The sheriff is concerned for the safety of the people being held by these ruthless criminals. This is particularly the case for Ruby, who happens to be his bride-to-be. He decides to release Ringo from his cell and, in exchange for his freedom and 30% of the stolen money, hires him to infiltrate the gang and take them down from within.

While A Pistol for Ringo may not be on a par with Sergio Leone’s entries in the spaghetti western genres it is, nonetheless, incredibly entertaining stuff. Duccio Tessari’s direction is more functional than stylish but he does move the proceedings along at a great gallop with some epic long shots and excitingly-staged action scenes. Giuliano Gemma (a former stuntman) plays more of a mercenary anti-hero than an all-out good guy but always has a certain semi-comedic likability that keeps the viewer rooting for him even while we occasionally wonder about his ethics. He also possesses certain a catlike physicality which works equally well in both his charming and rough-and-tumble moments.

Giuliano Gemma in A Pistol for Ringo

Most of the film’s shootouts come in the opening and final third, whereas the midsection keeps its focus largely inside the ranch as the relationships are developed between the various bandits, the family being held hostage and Ringo himself. Unlike many other straight action films, however, the character development bits never feel particularly draggy because the dynamics which play out between manage to hold the interest in their own right. One unusual and satisfying subplot involves Clyde presenting himself as a welcoming and hospitable host to the ruffians who have invaded his home. Unknown to these rather clueless miscreants, however, this is all a ploy to seduce a beautiful female member of the gang named Dolores (Nieves Navarro).

Production values are high by spaghetti western standards; we can see a number of scenes with large numbers of extras on horseback plus a surprisingly expansive town set. The fact that it is set at Christmas also adds a dash of colour to the proceedings.

If there’s anything A Pistol for Ringo suffers from it’s the rather variable photography and music. Cinematographer Francisco Marín makes the obligatory Almeria desert landscapes look great but the interior scenes are too obviously shot on sets and there’s some pretty bad day-for-night work. Ennio Morricone’s score is similarly hit-and-miss, veering from a genuinely stirring theme song to some rather clunky “comedy punchline” musical cues.

However, the tackier aspects (which also include the usual crude English dubbing, should you decide to choose it instead of the Italian-language track) are part and parcel of the charm of Italian genre movies. It may not be Once Upon a Time in the West but it has a sense of pure, unadulterated fun which makes it easier to watch for an hour and a half when you are in a glum mood.

Runtime: 98 mins

Dir: Duccio Tessari

Script: Duccio Tessari, Alfonso Balcázar

Starring: Giuliano Gemma, Fernando Sancho, George Martin, Lorella De Luca, Nieves Navarro, Antonio Casas, Manuel Muñiz

The Return of Ringo

This “sequel” to A Pistol for Ringo features the same director, cast and crew as the original. However, the story has no connection with it and everyone plays completely different characters this time around. This time, “Ringo” is the nickname for Captain Montgomery Brown (Giuliano Gemma), a Union soldier who returns to his hometown only to discover that it has been taken over by two Mexican bandit brothers named Esteban (Fernando Sancho) and Paco Fuentes (George Martin). They have usurped the local gold-panning operation, killed Brown’s senator father and taken residence in the family villa. Moreover, Paco has stolen his wife Hally (Lorella De Luca).

Understandably devastated at the news, Brown is reduced to an alcoholic, unshaven bum who finds work as an assistant to a flower seller nicknamed Morning Glory (Manuel Muñiz). He begins putting the Fuentes brothers under surveillance, biding his time in order to put the town to rights and get his wife and daughter back in the process.

This one is rather different in tone to the original. Whereas that film amounts to little more than a fun, lightweight action picture, this one is a dark, brooding and lyrical piece of work. There’s a heavy emphasis on atmosphere which almost borders on the gothic, with its images of the town streets shrouded in billows of dried vegetation blowing in the wind, the candle-filled church which regularly fills up with the wooden coffins of gunfight victims and the colourfully sumptuous interior of the villa now occupied by the Fuentes family.

It’s easily the stronger of the two films and ranks amongst the top tier of the spaghetti western subgenre. For one thing, Gemma gets to do more in the way of proper acting in addition to turning on the charm and proving his mettle during the action sequences. There’s an early, wordless scene where his character is drunk which is particularly haunting. Director Tessari also displays a flair in his tight, colourful visual compositions and camera movements which is much more impressive than anything in the previous film. The most improved and impactful element here, however, is Ennio Morricone’s score. Gone are the silly comedic musical queues of the original, replaced by a soaringly operatic score which is at its most emotionally intense during the scenes where Brown tentatively reintroduces himself to his long-lost family. While Gemma is great, it’s the beautiful Nieves Navarro who is my personal pick out of the cast here. She plays Rosita, an ambivalent gypsy-like woman who is in a relationship with Esteban, occupies herself with Tarot card readings and takes centre stage in a lively dance sequence halfway through the film.

George Martin in The Return of Ringo

The film’s richly melancholic atmosphere gives way to an action-filled last half-hour which includes much perilous clamouring on the villa’s rooftop and some heavy use of a Gatling gun (which is always a welcome inclusion in a western). Admittedly, Gemma’s character’s transformation from put-upon broken man to righteously ass-kicking hero is perhaps a bit too abrupt and sees him overcome a rather serious injury far too easily. At the end of the day, however, since it’s all a bit of escapism (albeit at the darker-hued end of the scale) this hardly matters.

Runtime: 96 mins

Dir: Duccio Tessari

Script: Duccio Tessari, Fernando Di Leo, Alfonso Balcázar

Starring: Giuliano Gemma, Fernando Sancho, George Martin, Lorella De Luca, Nieves Navarro, Antonio Casas, Manuel Muñiz

Blu Ray Audio-Visual

A Pistol for Ringo is rather inconsistent visually as it appears to include a number of shots which have come from a different, inferior source to the rest of the footage. These inserts look rather blurry and washed out, whereas the bulk of the film is bright and clear with vivid primary colours. The sound, however, is as good as it could possibly be considering Italian cinema’s tradition of doing it all in post-production.

The Return of Ringo, on the other hand, is in the opposite situation. The visuals are consistently wonderful-looking throughout with some amazing, subtly glowing colours. However, there is a strange, gurgling quality to the sound on occasion. This is most noticeable during certain Ennio Morricone musical pieces and some of Rosita’s English-dubbed lines.

Extras

A Pistol for Ringo Audio Commentary

C. Courtney Joyner and Henry Parke have an interesting discussion about the film plus the wider history of spaghetti westerns. The film, the iconic theme song and the subsequent career of Giuliano Gemma were all very successful in Europe but, unlike A Fistful of Dollars, didn’t make as much impact across the pond. Gemma got his facial scar after accidentally setting off an unexploded WWII bomb when he was young. We also learn that the spaghetti western subgenre became so prolific for two reasons: firstly, because most Italians didn’t have television in the 1960s (so they passed the time going to the cinema instead) and secondly, because the country’s studios kept churning out movies of specific genres until their popularity got run into the ground. Lead actors were often given anglicised pseudonyms - even in European territories - as it bestowed a certain legitimacy upon them in the eyes of audiences by making them appear to be American stars (even when they were obviously dubbed).

The Return of Ringo Audio Commentary

Journey and Parke return to contribute another highly entertaining gab track for the pseudo-sequel. It was made very quickly following the success of the first film and came out just 7 months afterwards. The duo spend plenty of time examining the film’s directorial touches - from its use of Catholic imagery (resurrection metaphors, the impalement of the protagonist through his hand at one point) through its emphasis on visual storytelling, to a discussion of the technical challenges that would have been involved in filming a particularly long tracking shot within the pivotal villa set.

It’s a great accompaniment to a highly overlooked western.

Revisiting Ringo

Tony Rayns discusses the two Ringo films as well as the career arc of director Duccio Tessari. A clear buff of Italian genre cinema, he notes the director for being consistently above average and possessing a tendency to twist the usual cliches in an interesting way. He also recounts his initial experiences watching both films at London’s Biograph cinema - which apparently wasn’t the easiest viewing environment due to the fact that it was the kind of place where the police regularly dropped in!

They Called Him Ringo

An archive interview with stars Giuliano Gemma and Lorella De Luca. Lorella describes how she met director Duccio Tessari (who ended up becoming her husband as well as directing her in a number of films). Gemma reveals his influences - James Stewart, Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper - as well as revealing that he was earmarked for a role in a Sergio Leone film (the title of which he declines to mention) but failed to get the part due to unfortunate timing. Lorella also mentions an accident on the set of A Pistol for Ringo whereby Gemma accidentally shot himself with a blank in what she describes as “a delicate place” when unholstering his gun.

A Greek Western Tragedy

Another archive featurette, this time featuring Lorella De Luca and camera operator Sergio D’Offizi. Some of the interview footage with the former is reused from They Called Him Ringo but there’s still enough of interest for fans here. Lorella reveals that The Return of Ringo didn’t follow the story of its predecessor because Duccio Tessari wasn’t keen on sequels. Instead, he based the script around Homer’s Odyssey. The pair also discuss working with the various actors during the shoot. Warning: not all of their opinions are necessarily positive here, e.g. Sergio describes George Martin as coming across like a bit of a “tight-ass”.

A trailer and image gallery round out the extras.

Overall:

The spaghetti western subgenre has remained relatively overlooked in the UK bar the works of Sergio Leone and a handful of other iconic titles such as Sergio Corbucci’s Django. These two films (the second in particular) really deserve more attention here than they have been given thus far. The patchy audio-visual aspects notwithstanding, this is a very nicely presented double-bill.

A Pistol for Ringo

Movie: ☆☆☆1/2

Video: ☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆☆☆

The Return of Ringo

Movie: ☆☆☆☆1/2

Video: ☆☆☆☆☆

Audio: ☆☆1/2

Extras: ☆☆☆1/2

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