Thursday, October 2, 2008
FILM REVIEW OF ''DEATH RIDES A HORSE'' (1968)
"Death Rides A Horse" (**** out of ****) ranks as one of the best non-Sergio Leone/Sergio Corbucci spaghetti westerns.
The chief reason that many conssoisseurs lump Giulio Petroni's suspenseful but savage horse-play in the same league with Leone may owe to the fact that scenarist Luciano Vincenzoni, who penned this inventive Lee Van Cleef oater, collaborated with Leone on "For A Few Dollars More," "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," and "A Fistful of Dynamite." Vincenzoni was a talented writer in his own right and his contributions to the Leone westerns appears more obvious in his solo scripting here. Like "FAFDM," "Death Rides A Horse" explores the relationship between an older man and a younger one in their mutual pursuit of men that have wronged them. Indeed, the John Phillip Law gunslinger wears apparel similar to what the Clint Eastwood bounty hunter wore in the "Dollar" epics. Conversely, Lee Van Cleef is not a former Confederate officer in "Death Rides A Horse," but an ex-con outlaw who has completed a long stretch in prison. Composer Ennio Morricone,who scored all Leone's westerns, provides a flavorful but downbeat orchestral soundtrack that captures the savagery of the action; Morricone's score differs thematically from his Leones because it lacks the lively bells and whistles. Skull-faced Luigi Pistilli and barrel-chested Mario Brega, who appeared in Leone's westerns, are the villains. Of course, Lee Van Cleef played in "For A Few Dollars More" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." He gives a terrific performance in one of his better spaghetti western roles as Ryan, a hardcase outlaw condemned to serve a fifteen year prison sentence for a prison for a crime that he did not commit. "Danger: Diabolik's" John Phillip Law co-stars as sharp-shooting tinhorn gunslinger Bill Meceita; Bill has sworn a vow to avenge the murders of his father, mother, and sister since the night that he witnessed the atrocity. Indeed, the same dastards that framed Ryan for the Meceita Ranch massacre and robbery butchered Bill's family. The Meceita Ranch slaughter could only have occurred in an abrasive Italian western.