Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Before he became a film director, Giuseppe Colizzi served as Federico Fellini's production manager on "The Swindlers." The short-lived Colizzi helmed four of his six films with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer. Nevertheless, Colizzi belongs to a select handful of distinguished Italian western directors, such as Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci, Tonino Valerii, and Gianfranco Parolini--who imbued their oaters with an unmistakable aura of flair and style, doubling not only as director but also as writer. The first entry in an overlooked and underrated spaghetti western trilogy, Colizzi's "God Forgives, But I Don't" boasts the numerical distinction of pairing Hill and Spencer together for the first time after a foot injury forced lead actor Peter Martell off the picture. "Ace High" and "Boot Hill" followed. Hill and Spencer went on to achieve greater fame in Enzo Barboni's two "Trinity" features. Before Hill capitalized on comedy westerns and later modern day adventures, he proved himself as gunslinging Cat Stevens, a pistolero who found it just as easy to cross the line between good and evil as fire up a cheroot. Bronzed like a tawny Greek god with a deep masculine voice dubbed in by another actor and displaying admirable restraint in the stoic tradition of Clint Eastwood, Hill proved equally adept at portraying sober dramatic leads as well as lightweight, comic leads. Hill and Spencer are evenly matched by seasoned spaghetti western villain Frank Wolff who resembles Harpo Max with mutton chops.

"God Forgives, But I Don't" (***1/2 out of ****) seizes your attention from the start. A crowd in Canyon City awaits the arrival of a train at the railway depot with a brass band. The train trundles into the station, breezes past the surprised on-lookers, and crashes into a barrier at the end of the siding. A dead man with a bullet hole in his forehead tumbles out of a passenger coach when the door is thrown open. Colizzi presents a swift montage of bullet-riddled corpses and faces to highlight the enormity of the massacre. During the excitement, a wounded passenger stumbles off the other side of the train and flees without attracting attention. Eventually, we learn that the murderous outlaw chieftain Bill San Antonio (Frank Wolff of "A Stranger in Town") and his gang of despicable desperadoes held up the train and stole $100-thousand in gold.

Colizzi shifts the action to a poker game. Cat Stevens (Terence Hill of "The Leopard") looks as cool as ice as he gambles with a quartet of hard cases. A dispute arises over the conduct of the game and a brawl breaks out. Cat whips his adversaries with his fists but in the process trashes the premises. Cat's trademark gesture is pushing a cheroot up and down with his fingers. Later, Cat's friend Hutch Bessy (Bud Spencer of "The 5-Man Army") finds him at a remote waterhole and tells him about the MK&T train robbery. Hutch found the sole survivor of the train massacre. Before the passenger perished, he told Hutch about Bill San Antonio's role in the robbery. Hutch describes Bill's clever plan. The outlaws rode 150 miles to the halfway point between El Paso and Canyon City and then rode in circles to make their presence known at that point. The gang turned south, followed the river, and then galloped back to El Paso. They watched as the gold loaded onto the train and then bought tickets, and waylaid the train 20 miles from the Mexican border. After he robbed the train, Bill San Antonio had everybody on board murdered and sent the train onto Canyon City.

Initially, Cat refuses to believe Bill could have planned and participated in the hold-up. Colizzi flashbacks to a scene in a shack where Bill and Cat squared off against each other in a showdown after Bill's henchman Bud (José Manuel Martín of "The Savage Guns") sets the building ablaze. Cat guns down Bill and Bill's men allow him to leave alive. Later, they come after him and try to kill him. Meanwhile, Bill is never heard or seen again until the MK&T robbery. The bank took an insurance policy out on the stolen money and Hutch plans to find the gold and collect the insurance. He wants Cat to team up with him so they can locate the loot. Not only did Bill San Antonio not die in the fire but he also robbed the train. Garrulous desperado that Bill is, he explains what happened and why. The banker and Bill were in cahoots. When things got too hot, the banker recommended that Bill disappear for a spell. Cat sneaks into Bill's hideout one night, blunders into a trap, and gets strung up by his heels. Nevertheless, he manages to defend himself against his opponents. Hutch intervenes and they steal the $100-thousand dollars in gold.

Neither Cat nor Hutch has an easy time holding onto the gold while surviving Bill and his gang. Numerous shoot-outs occur with a take-no-prisoners mentality. Colizzi models loquacious Bill San Antonio after Eli Wallach's Mexican bandit Calvera from "The Magnificent Seven." Bill feels responsible for his cronies and wants to take care of them. Blue-eyed Terrence Hill has the stew beaten out of him and nearly drowns in one scene. Hutch displays his Herculean strength both in fistfights and in shouldering a chest packed with gold. The same friendly rivalry that characterized Trinity and Bambino's relationship in the "Trinity" appears to have been foreshadowed by Colizzi. The final showdown between Bill and Cat takes the shoot-out at the beginning to the next level. Good dialogue, rugged laconic heroes, grimy trigger-happy hooligans, atmospheric settings, Alfio Contini's impressive widescreen photography, and the scenic sun-drenched plains of Spain make "God Forgives, I Don't" a solid, satisfying saga, head and shoulders above the average spaghetti western.

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