Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Writer & director Gianfranco Baldanello's "This Man Can't Die!” (**1/2 out of ****) with Guy Madison qualifies as an above-average spaghetti western. Baldanello penned the screenplay with “Three Dollars of Lead” writer Luigi Emmanuele and “Atlas against the Cyclops” scribe Gino Mangini. Actually, Baldanello, Emmanuele, and Mangini have written a rather formulaic but entertaining oater that relies on the literary use of foreshadowing to tell its tale of greed, redemption, and justice. Watch the box of guns & gun belts that are given to the hero in the first scene and you’ll see what I mean.

Baldanello, Emmanuele, and Mangini do a good job of establishing the action in the first scene at a cavalry fort. The army captain (Giovanni Ivan Scratuglia of “Kill and Pray”) tells our hero, Martin Benson (Guy Madison), “So far you’ve done a good job, Martin. But obviously you won’t be able to continue undercover any longer, their friends will be after you like a swarm of bees.” Benson gauges his payoff, “Instead of ten pieces of silver, I get paid in gold.” Martin Benson is a lean, mean, tall, unshaven, cigarette smoking specimen of humanity. In other words, he is a standard Spaghetti western protagonist.

Three felons that Benson brought in swing from the gallows outside the captain’s office. The captain complains, “Damnit, even with death staring them in the face, they won’t talk. The smuggling of firearms certainly won’t end with a rope around the necks of those devils outside. I don’t care how you do it but we’ve got to find out who’s in charge of this operation and where the new hide0ut is. Washington is never going to get off my back until rifles and rotgut are off the reservation. You know, Martin, I’m up for promotion.”

Benson refuses to take the assignment. “If I keep fooling around with those gun runners my hide isn’t going to be worth a damn.” The captain demands that Benson handle the job and he manages to convince him with more money that he --rather than Tony Guy (Steve Merrick) -- isn’t appropriate for the mission. “I’ve just been bought,” Benson agrees as he accepts the money. Before Benson leaves, an army sergeant enters headquarters with the guns and gun belts of the three outlaws that were hanged outside. Benson tells the captain to sent the hardware to his father and he rides out. No sooner does Benson hit the trail that two horsemen and a couple of riflemen lay an ambush for him in the sagebrush. Benson blows the two horsemen away while on horseback him wielding his Winchester repeating rifle with one hand. This doesn’t keep the bad guys from pursuing Benson. Meanwhile, at the Benson ranch, Martin’s father has disowned his oldest son because of his criminal record. This is one plot point that the scenarists never resolve. Earlier, the army captain told Martin that he could have his record wiped clean by discovering the identity of the man behind the contraband whiskey and rifle trade. Anyway, the same gang that are tracking Martin strike his parents ranch while his two brothers and oldest sister are gone to town. The gunslingers kill Martin’s mother and father; one outlaw rapes his youngest sister, Jenny (Rosalba Neri of “Lion of Thebes”), and traumatizes her so that she cannot talk.

When Daniel Benson (Pietro Martellanza), his older sister Susy (Lucienne Bridou of “Black Jack”) and their youngest brother arrive at the ranch, they find their horses have been stampeded and a wounded man is lying on their property. Initially, Daniel believes that the wounded man is one of the brigands that killed his parents. He takes the man to a cave and brings the doctor to attend to him. Meanwhile, Vic Graham (Rik Battaglia) lusts after Susy, even though she refuses to have anything to do with him. The action shifts back to Martin who discovers the rendezvous point between the Indians and the gun runners. He uses his skill with a Winchester to blow up two wagons filled with rifles. The bad guys wound him, a mere flesh wound, but he escapes and rides to the ranch to learn about the massacre of his family. The bad guys never give Martin a moment of respite. Eventually, they capture him as well as Daniel and trap them in their ranch house while they pile trees outside before they torch the structure. In the wagon that Susy drove to town to fetch the mail is the box of guns from the gun runners that were hanged at the fort in the first scene. Not only does Martin discover the ring leader of the rotgut and rifles outfit, but he also kills him during a fight in the upper story of a building.

Although this horse opera has been clearly dubbed, especially Guy Madison, the words do match the mouths even though the voices seem incongruous. The scenery isn’t as spectacular as the terrain in most Euro westerns. The dialogue isn’t as clever or catchy nor are the gunfights staged with the ostentation of those in either a Sergio Leone or Sergio Corbucci oater. On the other hand, “This Man Can’t Die!” is largely believable and pretty straightforward with its linear narrative and shuns the use of flashbacks. The performances, especially “Since You Went Away” actor Guy Madison, who earlier rode the range in 112 episodes of “The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok,” are credible. Rik Battaglia of “The Mysterious Island of Captain Nemo” makes a suitable nemesis, while Pietro Martellanza of “Kill Them All and Come Back Alone” is good as Guy Madison’s younger brother. Composer Amedeo Tommasi contributes a good orchestral score and a James Bond style theme song, but often Baldanello borrows (or steals depending on your point of view) cues from Ennio Morricone’s “Fistful of Dollars.” The use of mixed soundtracks with a number of themes from other movies without the composer’s permission is standard operating procedure for most low-budget kung fu movies, but this is the first time that I’ve heard of this done in a Continental western. “This Man Can’t Die” draws its title not from its tough guy protagonist but from its second string hero, Tony Guy, who is mistaken for one of the marauders that murder Benson’s parents.

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