VCI’s Spaghetti Western Double Features, Vols. I and II repackages four Italian westerns originally released on DVD eight years ago or so by VCI into a pair of double-features. While none of them are among the classics of the genre, they are a distinctive collection spotlighting some of the genre’s less celebrated directors and stars.
The legacy of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is all over Enzo G. Castellari’s Any Gun Can Play (1967), about three scoundrels (folk hero outlaw Gilbert Roland, bank officer Edd Byrnes, and bounty hunter Jorge [George] Hilton) chasing a fortune in stolen gold hidden somewhere in the countryside. Castellari has none of the style or sweep of Sergio Leone, nor the cold-blooded edge or cynicism of Sergio Corbucci, but his twisty little story of suspicions and betrayals and shifting alliances has a pleasantly lighthearted tone, helped immensely by Roland’s easy performance. Byrnes cuts a surprisingly effective figure as the stuffy Eastern bank officer turned scheming crook, and he looks plenty hard and ruthless with a gun in his hand. In the overstuffed buffet of spaghetti westerns, this is one of the few worth dishing up.
Brett Halsey (under the name Montgomery Ford) stars in Today We Kill, Tomorrow We Die (1968) as the vengeance hungry cowboy who leaves prison with one burning drive: to find and kill the man who killed his wife and framed him for a bank robbery. Tonino Cervi’s spaghetti western (co-written by Dario Argento) is a revenge twist on The Seven Samurai (Halsey hires four crack gunmen to serve as his posse), but the most interesting twist is casting Tatsuya Nakadai (co-star of Yojimbo and future star of Kagemusha) as the ruthless comanchero bandit El Fego. The plot holds no surprises but the script is straightforward, the acting avoids the usual histrionics, and amidst the usual spectacle of violent death and hordes of killers is a camaraderie unusual to the genre and a hero whose deadly intentions are nothing if not honest. Bud Spencer (later of the Trinity films) co-stars with spaghetti western veterans William Berger and Wayde Preston.
Sergio Garrone directs The Stranger’s Gundown (1969), an unofficial Django sequel with Anthony Steffen as the “stranger” of the title, a Confederate soldier who survives a Civil War massacre and rises like an avenging spirit to take revenge on three former Confederate officers who betrayed him and his fellow soldier to the Yankees. It is, no surprise, exceedingly violent.
A Bullet For Sandoval (1970) stars George Hilton is a Confederate officer who deserts to marry his Mexican girlfriend before she gives birth (and thus save her name), and slowly degenerates into a vengeful killer when his girl dies, her father (Ernest Borgnine, teeth clenched and eyes mad with hate) abandons the infant, and a heartless world refuses to feed the dying baby boy. A typically violent spaghetti western, it’s an anti-Robin Hood, complete with a loyal Little John sidekick and a Friar Tuck, but his mission has little to do with stealing form the rich and everything to do with murdering all he blames for the infant’s death, and his band of followers are vicious cutthroats in it for the loot and the notoriety. Director Julio Buchs (with an uncredited assist, according to many sources, by Lucio Fulci) is no stylist and has no sense of irony or tragedy, but he embraces the nihilism inherent in more extreme versions of the genre, right down to an epic massacre that climaxes the film.
All four films are widescreen and anamorphic. The prints can be a little rough in places and the colors are a little dull but in general the source material is okay and the mastering is adequate to the task: not stellar, but satisfactory. No supplements beyond the trailers.