Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Despite its many shoot-outs and high body count, "Bullets Don't Argue" director Mario Caiano's "Train from Durango" (**1/2 OUT OF ****)  is an early Spaghetti western comedy with lots of men dying. The Mario Caiano, José Gutiérrez ("The Hellbenders") Maesso, and Duccio ("The Ballad of Death Valley") Tessari screenplay resembles some of Sergio Leone's "For A Few Dollars More." In the Leone western, the outlaws hijacked a safe from a bank, but they cannot open it up without destroying the money, so Lee Van Cleef's Colonel Mortimer applied his skills as a craftsman to open the safe for a percentage of the loot. The heroic duo in "A Train for Durango" are out to accomplish a similar feat for a gang of revolutionaries. Caiano's film represents an example of those Italian westerns like Sergio Corbucci's "The Mercenary" that occurred during the Pancho Villa-led revolution in Mexico against the dictator President Diaz, so the appearance of an early model car driven by one of the protagonists is perfectly legitimate. The suspense evolves over whether or not this duo can survive their encounters with the gang. "A Train for Durango" contains several surprises at the outset, during the action, and at the end. Although the villainous outlaws are cretinous, they are also quite murderous and kill without a qualm. This supplements the suspense about whether or not our heroes will survive.

Two hard-luck drifters—an American and a Mexican—sell their horses and their six-shooters to catch a train to Durango. Not only do they not know the train carrying a huge safe filled with government loot, but also that a gang of bandits is aboard the train. The American, Gringo (Anthony Steffen of "The Stranger's Gundown"), strikes up a friendship with a beautiful woman, Helen (sexy Dominique Boschero of "Ulysses against the Son of Hercules"), doesn't seem to mind that Gringo hasn't taken a bath in ages. She informs him that since she's come to Mexico that she has grown accustomed to the stench of unwashed bodies. She offers him a cigar, and he winds up taking the case of cigars.

Meanwhile, Gringo's Mexican friend, Lucas (Enrico Maria Salerno of "The Warrior Express"), wanders throughout the train. Sneaking up on passengers, he gobbles mouthfuls of their food when they aren't paying attention or outright steals their chow. The bandits go searching for him when he arouses their suspicion. Meantime, when the train stops at a depot, Lobo (Roberto Camardiel of "The Big Gundown") and his army of bandits make their move. First, they kill all the passengers. They shoot Gringo, but the bullet embeds itself in the cigar case concealed under his shirt. Second, one of Lobo's henchmen, Heraclio (José Bódalo of "Ringo's Big Night") abducts Helen. Third, his gang of bandits transfers the government safe from the train to a wagon and hauls it away. Meanwhile, Lucas has eluded the bandit's and survived the massacre. Gringo and he find the keys to open the safe on the bodies of the murdered Americans. They decide to follow Lobo and his army of gunmen. They know that Lobo's bandits don't have the means to open the safe, and they propose a deal with one of Lobo's men to open the safe in return for splitting the booty.

The dreams that our heroes have prove ephemeral. A Lobo follower takes them captive and tries to obtain the key from them. First, he plants them up to their necks in the ground and places a pot over their heads which he bangs on to drive them crazy. Second, when the first option falls through, he has his men ride over them. The American produced but Spanish lensed "Guns of the Magnificent Seven" used this form of torture. Another American, Brown (a mustached Mark Damon of "The Fall of the House of Usher"), shows up earlier driving a car. Later, he appears at an opportune moment to wipe out the group of horsemen about to ride down on our hapless protagonist while they are buried up to their chins in the ground. Brown amounts to a kind of guardian angel for them. He intervenes later on during a night-time gun battle, careening into the scene and lobbing explosives at the villains Mexicans trying to kill our heroes.

Helen suggests that they use a small cannon to blow the safe open. When the cannon ball strikes the safe, it blasts it through the adobe hut that the safe was setting in front of and doesn't make a dent in the safe. Gringo and Lucas show up immediately after and try to infiltrate the gang. Lobo's second-in-command remembers that he shot Gringo and
our heroes have a close shave escaping from the bandits. Brown keeps showing up and helping Helen as well as our heroic duo get out of one scrape after another with their skin. Eventually, at the ending, Caiano and his scribes shed light on Brown's reason for repeatedly popping up at the worst possible moment to rescue out heroes.

Anthony Steffen and Enrico Maria Salerno make a charismatic heroic duo. They argue incessantly with each other and their arguments are amusing. Incidentally, future "Trinity" director Enzo Barboni served as the director of photography. Talented composer Carlo Rustichelli never leaves us in doubt when a scene is supposed to be amusing or murderous. "A Train for Durango" isn't the greatest Spaghetti western ever made, but it manages to be cynical, comedic, and entertaining.

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