Death Rides a Horse (1967) and Shalako (1968)

June 27, 2009 § Leave a comment

So intense-looking he played intimidating characters even as an elderly actor, Lee Van Cleef is among my favourite actors in the Western genre. He has small parts in impressive Westerns like High Noon (1952) with Gary Cooper, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, and The Tin Star (1957) with Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins. Finally, he had much larger roles in most of the Sergio Leone trilogy with Clint Eastwood, appearing in For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1966). As far as I’m aware Death Rides a Horse is among the few Westerns with him as the hero, so I was a little dismayed when it began with a long, unclear shot of rain and horses and opening credits that looked as though a college student had done them. But the film finds its way, and while a little slow it’s an extremely satisfying Western, if a little typical of the spaghetti Western revenge story. With a score by Ennio Morricone, this one deserves a better quality release on DVD.

Shalako stars Sean Connery, having turned down Bond for the first time, and apparently interested to do a Western as a fan of the genre. The film is interesting for the cast — Brigitte Bardot, Stephen Boyd as a villain, and Connery is reunited with his costar Honor Blackman from Goldfinger (1964), certainly one of the better Bond films ever made. Unfortunately, Shalako doesn’t ever really feel like it gets off the ground. The plot concerns an aristocratic hunting party that couldn’t care less they’re on an Apache reservation. When they’re brought clear proof the Apache are upset but prove too pompous and stupid to simply ride off the reservation before daybreak, the viewer begins to wonder why Shalako (Connery) helps them at all, except for the vaguely implied suggestion you’re supposed to help your own ethnic group, no matter what. Most of the dialogue involves characters grumbling at each other, and most of the action involves characters shooting wildly at each other across long distances. Sadly, Shalako is a passable Western and not the film it should have been considering the cast.

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