A Pistol for Ringo/The Return of Ringo: Two Films by Dessario Tessari (Arrow, Blu-ray) A Fistful of Dynamite (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray)
Duccio Tessari is not one of the directors known for spaghetti westerns. In fact, he only directed two in his long and successful career, both with Giuliano Gemma (billed as Montgomery Wood) playing against the mercenary expectations of the defining spaghetti western anti-hero. Both make their American home video debut as Blu-ray double feature.
In A Pistol for Ringo (Italy, 1965), Gemma is a wily gunfighter known to all as Angel Face who is released from jail to infiltrate a gang of Mexican bank robbers holding a rancher’s family hostage in their manor home, which they’ve guarded like fortress. Sancho (Fernando Sancho) plays the jolly bandit king who acts like he’d prefer to let everyone live and then has his men drop anyone who gets out of line, but he isn’t shy about executing his hostages as the stand-off drags on, and he targets the lowly Mexican laborers, hardly the actions of the Robin Hood he pretends to be.
Tessario was an uncredited writer on A Fistful of Dollars and the high body count, ruthless killers, double crosses and calculated ambushes seem to be informed, if not outright inspired, by Leone’s film. But while Ringo appears to be a classic heartless mercenary bidding up his services, he turns out to be more of a lovable rogue with a soft spot for women and kids and a loyalty to the good guys.
Once Upon A Time in America: Extended Director’s Cut (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) is Sergio Leone’s portrait of a 20th century American success story as a gangster epic of greed, loyalty, betrayal, and power, seen through the haze of an opium high. Shuffling back and forth through the century, from New York’s East side in 1923, where scrappy street kids Noodles and Max form a partnership that will blossom into a mob empire, though the glory days of the depression cut short by mob warfare, to 1968, when the graying Noodles (Robert DeNiro) returns from a 35 year exile to the scene of the crime to discover what really happened to his partner and best friend Max (James Woods) all those years ago, this is Leone’s most passionate, elegant, brutal, and elegiac film. William Forsythe and James Hayden complete the gangster quartet, with Joe Pesci and Burt Young as gangster cohorts. Elizabeth McGovern, Treat Williams, Tuesday Weld, Danny Aiello, and young Jennifer Connelly co-star. Ennio Morricone’s score is one of his most haunting and beautiful.
The film was originally released in the US in a butchered version cut by over an hour and torn from its evocative time-shifting structure to a traditional linear narrative. It was restored to its 229-minute European cut decades ago but earlier this year it was expanded with an additional 22 minutes of footage that Leone was forced to cut out before its Cannes premiere in 1984. The added footage was taken from workprint material and, faded and sometimes damaged, stands out against the well-reserved and beautifully-mastered material from the previous cut. Among the restored sequences is a legendary scene with Louise Fletcher as a cemetery director, previously only glimpsed in publicity stills (you can see the clip below). Susan King goes over the history of the cuts and the scope of the restoration in an article for the Los Angeles Times.
It’s available on DVD and Blu-ray along with an excerpt from the documentary Once Upon a Time: Sergio Leone and trailers. A deluxe Blu-ray Book edition also features the previous Blu-ray release of the 229-minute European cut, which features commentary by Richard Schickel, and an UltraViolet Digital HD copy of the “Extended Director’s Cut.”
Remember that old term “horse opera,” used as a somewhat demeaning term for western movies? Leave it to an Italian to put genuine operatic dimension into the great American saga of western expansion.
Sergio Leone’s loving tribute to the myth of the American West leaves the cool, cruel mercenary world of the Clint Eastwood “Dollar” films for a glorious epic that transforms western tropes into horseback fairy tales in the wonderland of John Ford’s mythic landscape. Though most of the film was actually shot in Spain, the defining landscapes were shot on location in Monument Valley, including one stunning sequence that quotes Ford’s Stagecoach.
Casting Charles Bronson as his slow-talking, harmonica playing hero, Henry Fonda as a steely, blue eyed killer, and Claudia Cardinale as the fallen woman who stakes out her claim for the American Dream after her new husband and his entire family have been massacred, Leone creates a horseback epic of bad guys with a heart of gold and an iron engine that reshapes the landscape as its tracks are laid through the wilderness. Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento co-wrote the screenplay and Ennio Morricone’s operatic score (one of his greatest) so inspired Leone that he directed and edited to the rhythms of the music, which Morricone completed before the film was finished. It flopped in release but decades later it stands out as Leone’s masterpiece, a sun-baked blast of frontier opera. Jason Robards co-stars and Leone casts such icons as Woody Strode, Jack Elam, Keenan Wynn, and Lionel Stander in small but memorable roles.
After transforming the old west into the cool, cruel mercenary world of the Clint Eastwood Dollar films and defining the style and attitude of the spaghetti western, Sergio Leone made this honest to God American western epic. Once Upon a Time in the West was shot (like his Eastwood films) largely in Spain but he managed to get stateside for stunning footage set in the wonderland of John Ford’s mythic landscape: Monument Valley. Into this dream American West, Leone drops Charles Bronson as his slow-talking, harmonica playing hero, Henry Fonda as a steely, blue eyed killer, Jason Robards as a notorious criminal who signs on with the good guys and Claudia Cardinale as the fallen woman turned beautiful widow who stakes out her claim for the American Dream after her new husband and his entire family have been massacred.
Leone transforms western tropes into a horseback epic of bad guys with a heart of gold and an iron engine that reshapes the landscape as its tracks are laid through the wilderness, and he pays tribute to the genre by casting such iconic screen faces as Woody Strode, Jack Elam, Keenan Wynn, and Lionel Stander in supporting roles. Bernardo Bertolucci and Dario Argento co-wrote the screenplay and Ennio Morricone’s operatic score is sublime. It flopped when it was released in 1968 but decades later loving tribute to the myth of the American Frontier stands out as Leone’s masterpiece, a sun-baked blast of frontier opera and one of the most glorious and greatest westerns ever made.
Plays at NWFF December 11-17 as the final film in their ’69 retrospective.