In a Colt's Shadow (1965)

Dir: Gianni Grimaldi - Cast: Stephen Forsyth, Conrado Sanmartin, Anna Maria Polani, Helga Line, Franco Ressel, Franco Lantieri, Aldo Sanbrell, Pepe Calvo, Graham Sooty - Music: Nico Fidenco

You don't see that very often, a romantic spaghetti western. But that's exactly what you get in this early genre entry from 1965. In that pivotal year, the classic American approach to the genre was still a source of inspiration for Italian film makers, although Leone's cynical, tongue-in-cheek approach started to shine through in most productions. Wearing a lily white shirt throughout the movie, the hero in Gianni Grimaldi's In a Colt's Shadow, played by Canadian actor Stephen Forsyth, has a remarkably clean look, completely unlike Clint's unshaven poncho-clad anti-hero from the Dollars trilogy, but at the same time he can shoot behind his back with utmost precision, without looking over his shoulder, which unmistakably indentifies him as a spaghetti western hero. We all know these spaghetti guys could shoot twelve opponents with only six bullets, eyes closed.

The opening scene is a nice amalgam of influences. In a clear reference to The Magnificent Seven, two pistoleros  rid a Mexican town of an outlaw gang terrorizing it. Sturges' movie is of course a Hollywood classic, but like Leone's A Fistful of Dollars it was based on a Kurosawa movie. Every now and then director Grimaldi comes up with elements taken from classic Hollywood westerns or samurai movies. When Forsyth wants to settle down as a farmer, he arrives in a valley where newcomers and small farmers aren't welcome (shades of Shane) and halfway the movie we get a shot of an opening door, creating a dark frame around a figure of a man nearing the house in bright sunlight, that is very reminiscent of the opening scene of John Ford's The Searchers. But we also have some existentialist talk about the condition of the pistolero, which seems a far echo - the six-shooter replacing the samurai sword - from oriental action movies  dealing with the opposition between the farmer, the man living of the land, and the samurai, the man living by his sword.

The premise of the movie is quite simple: the older one of the two pistoleros, Duke, is seriously wounded during the shootout in the Mexican village, and decides to give his share of the money to the younger man, Steve. Knowing that his daughter and Steve have fallen in love, he orders the young man to give up his plans to marry the girl. An early conversation (as well as the lyrics of the 'spoken theme song') have made us clear that Duke feels that a professional gunman won't ever be able to give up his gun, because trouble will always follow him. For this reason Steve is unsuited to make his daughter happy. Of course Steve ignores all instructions and settles down with his young bride in a valley coveted by two corrupt bankers, who'll do everything to chase the young couple away. Despite being menaced repeatedly, Steve decides to bury his gun in the ground behind his farm, but then Duke turns up in town and challenges Steve to a duel at sunrise …

Combining the American and Italian style of film making, In a Colt's Shadow is a bit of a mixed bag. It's probably more interesting to scholars and critics than ordinary genre fans who might prefer a less story-driven, more action oriented outing. French author Jean-François Giré praises Grimaldi's direction and the well-conceived plot, Tom Betts calls it a western of great interest. I'd say it works best when the Italian style gets the upper hand. The shootout in the Mexican town is well-staged and the great action scene near the end is truly spectacular, with Grimaldi paying homage to Leone with a protracted build up to what is supposed to be a duel, but flows into a large scale showdown. The mid-section tends to drag a little but with a running time of a mere 80 minutes the film never gets the chance to overstay its welcome. Stevio Massi's cinematography is a delight and so is Nico Fidenco's score. The already mentioned 'spoken theme song' (which somehow reminded me a little of Johnny Cash) is played over a love credit sequence of painted graphics, that certainly ranks among the finest credit sequences of the genre. The text is a little corny, to say the least:

I wanna feel, between my fingers, the warm wood of a plough

The prickly ears of grain, the silky soft hair of my woman

But I can't …

'Cos I gotta kill

Like the film itself, performances are uneven. Forsyth's thespian talents make Anthony Steffen's wooden acting look lively in comparison, but Conrado Sanmartin, who plays the older pistolero, turns in an decent performance; although he has far less screen time, he seems to dominate the movie. However, what really makes the film work, even the rather tame midsection, is a trio of first rate spaghetti western creeps. Frank Ressel (most people will know him from Sabata) is at his slimy best, but I was even more intrigued by Franco Lantieri, as Ressel's business partner, a grumpy, short-tempered man frustrated about his wooden hand.  The trio is completed by the treacherous Fabienne, Duke's love interest who secretly prefers Steve and vows revenge after she is rejected by him. She is played by Helga Line, a German born redhead who had a long career in international trash movies with fascinating titles like The Lorelei's Grasp, The Vampire's Night Orgy and Horror Rises from the Tomb. The conniving lady she impersonates here, seems a mixture of a sea siren and a lady vampire, but is definitely too tasty to have risen from the grave.


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