Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Spaghetti Western Review: "MY NAME IS PECOS" (1966- Italian)

What “Hercules the Avenger” director Maurizio Lucidi's Maurizi's sagebrusher “My Name Is Pecos” (1966) lacks in terms of the style and scope of a Sergio Leone blood bath, this low-budget, cynical, revenge-themed Italian horse opera makes up for it with its standard-issue, nihilistic violence. The sweaty, unsavory villains shoot anybody without a second thought. They show no mercy for even unarmed, handicapped men that cannot defend themselves. As far as that goes, the solitary hero displays a similar predilection to violence, but vengeance primarily motivates him. Aside from the traditional protagonists and antagonists, the character of loathsome undertaker emerges from the background for a change and participates in the action, not necessarily on the side of good, and this is a difference between “My Name Is Pecos" (**1/2 out of ****) and run-of-the-mill European westerns. Swarthy Robert Woods is convincing enough as the resilient, swift-shooting protagonist with a deadly aim. After all, a passel of Spaghetti westerns, among them the sequel “Pecos Cleans Up,” “Savage Guns,” “Five Thousand Dollars on One Ace,” “Johnny Colt,” “Seven Guns for the MacGregors,” “The Belle Starr Story,” “Machine Gun Killers,” “Challenge of the McKennas,” and “A Colt in the Hand of the Devil,” top-billed Woods as the hero. Although he is forged in the mold of the Man with No Name, Pecos suffers the wrath of the villains in a moment of vulnerability, just as Clint Eastwood did in the first two “Dollars” epics.

Interestingly, what sets “My Name Is Pecos” (**1/2 out of ****) apart from most Spaghetti westerns is its Hispanic hero. Mind you, Mexicans were the heroes largely in the politically-themed oaters about the numerous revolutions that rocked Mexico between the end of the American Civil War in the late 1860s to the 1920s. Occasionally, the grimy villains refer to Pecos as a Mexicano. This implies that he is the son of Mexicans that bore him in Texas. Unfortunately, the outlaws bandy the two terms Mexican and Mexicano interchangeably so Pecos cannot with surety be called either. One thing is for certain, the bad guys fare abysmally when they challenge him in duels. Furthermore, “My Name Is Pecos” benefits from “One Damned Day at Dawn . . . Django Meets Sartana!” composer Lotto Gori’s lively little score and the ballad sung during the opening credits has a rhythmic quality that sounds like the pop song “House of the Rising Sun.” Most Spaghetti westerns contain charismatic orchestral music.

A lone gunman with neither horse nor gun trudges through the desert with a blinding sun glaring unmercifully down on him. Eventually, he reaches a Mexican hovel where he can get water, but an unfriendly American gunman lounges outside. When the sombrero wearing peon and his wife poke their heads out at the arrival of the stranger, the black-clad, American gunman drills a couple of slugs their way, driving them back into their white-washed, adobe-brick house. Dropping his saddle, the Hispanic hero ambles up to American gunman who offers him a scoop of water. The American gunman warns Pecos about being unarmed, “It’s not very healthy to travel without a gun around these parts.” Pecos pays him twenty dollars in paper money for a Colt’s .45 revolver. As our hero walks away with his back to the him, the treacherous American gunman replaces the gun that he sold to the stranger with another firearm. Just as the gunman draws on Pecos, the stranger whirls and guns him down, then identifies him, “They call me Pecos.” Pecos (Robert Woods of “The Battle of the Bulge”) orders the peons to bury the dead gunslinger.

The villains that Pecos Martinez tangles with enter the plot as they pursue a man furiously whipping a team of horses hauling a wagon piled high with beer barrels. Pecos watches them as they storm through a pass from Laredo to Houston in pursuit of the wagon. The wagon driver reaches Houston before the Kline gang and stashes a barrel stuffed with $80-thousand in the saloon. Hustling back outside, he tries to ambush Joe Kline (Pier Paolo Capponi of “Commandos”) and his outlaw gang. The Kline gang are determined to recover the loot they stole from the Bank of Laredo. It seems that Kline trusted some skunks and they stole the loot from him after the robbery. Kline flushes the wagon driver out and they grill him about the money. When the wagon driver tries to kill Kline, one of Kline's men shoots him dead. Naturally, Kline is furious. "You idiot, you killed him off too fast. How are we gonna find the money now." In fact, Kline and his murderous cutthroats spend the remainder of “My Name Is Pecos” searching for the money. One outlaw shoots the telegraph wire to ensure that no messages about their whereabouts reach the Texas Rangers. Kline refuses to leave until they find the cash, even though the Texas Rangers may be on his trail. Kline has a deep rope burn around his neck from when the authorities tried to hang him. The scarred outlaw leaves couple of men in Houston and backtrack the wagon. Anyway, the two Kline gunmen confront Pecos and make the mistake of trying to shoot it out with our hero. After they die, our hero identifies himself. Later, Pecos discovers the location of the loot and has to kill two more of Kline's men. Meanwhile, the devious undertaker Morton (Umberto Raho of “Duel of Champions”) informs Kline about Pecos’ whereabouts under the saloon. The villains capture Pecos and beat him to a pulp, just as Clint Eastwood got beaten up in “A Fistful of Dollars.”

Nina, the Mexico senorita who works in the saloon, smuggles Pecos a knife while Kline’s man is distracted. She operates a spinning wheel upstairs above the room where Pecos is confined, and she lowers knife by twine through a crack in the floor. Pecos kills the guard with the blade and Nina helps him escape. They take refuge in Dr. Berton’s office. No sooner have they done so than Tedder, the saloon keeper, lugs over a barrel of wine that secretly contains the $80-thousand. When the outlaws ride back into Houston, Kline and his men discover that Pecos is missing as well as the Mexican girl so they high-tail it out to where Nina's parents are working in the field and start killing peons. They are about to rape Nina's sister when Pecos cuts them down from afar with a Winchester. Eventually, Pecos confronts the evil Morton at boot hill. Morton tries to shoot Pecos in the back, but our resourceful protagonist guns him down. Later, we learn that Pecos came from the same village as Nina and that he is seeking revenge against the dastardly Kline who wiped out his family. Kline and his gang hate Hispanics. Pecos delivers the missing loot to Kline and his pistoleros at the end of the story. However, they have a little surprise because Pecos has hidden a stick of dynamite in the barrel and he shoots it, it explodes, and kills them. Pecos strangles Kline to death.

'My Name is Pecos" illustrates several princples of the genre. First, turning your back on the villains in a Spaghetti western is a surefire way to catch a slug in the spine. Second, the law is ineffectual. Kline's outlaws have run all five lawmen out of Houston and the only law comes from the barrel of a six-shooter. Third, greed is rampant. The outlaws cannot trust each other and the undertaker is willing to sell out anybody for money. Fourth, life is cheap but death is quick. Innocent bystanders as well as bad men are gunned down in the blink of an eye. In other words, violence is the first resort. Fifth, vigilante justice takes precedence over duely constituted legal measures. “My Name Is Pecos” qualifies as a formulaic example of a continental western with a catchy musical score.