El Puro (1970)

Dir: Edoardo Mulargia (and Bobby Woods and Mark Fiorini?) - Cast: Robert 'Bobby' Woods, Aldo Berti, Mario Brega, Rosalba Neri, Ashborn Hamilton Jr. (Mark Fiorini) - Music: Alessandro Alessandrini

poster for El Puro

Made relatively late, in 1970, when production was already in decline, this film tries to cover new grounds for the genre. Like in The Great Silence and A Minute to Pray, a Second to Die, the film's 'hero' is killed in the final reels. The film is also part of a short experimental and psychedelic phase within the genre, resulting in western oddities such as Django Kill and Matalo! Like virtually all of these psychedelic spaghettis, El Puro is marked by strong homo-erotic and sadomasochistic elements. According to several people involved in the production, director Mulagria played second fiddle to two of his actors, Bobby Woods and Mark Fiorini (who plays Gypsy), who were mainly responsible for the outlandish atmosphere of the movie.

Five gunmen are on the trail of El Puro, a former pistolero who has become an alcoholic, and also has a price on his head. Four of them are after the bounty, but the fifth, Gypsy, a young pistolero, wants to know if he can beat El Puro in a duel. It's this character who gives the movie its Italian title: La taglia è tua ... l'uomo l'ammazzo io ! (The Reward is yours ... I'll kill the man!). El Puro is hidden by his girlfriend, the beautiful Rosie, who's even prepared to give her life for him. The gunmen are all depraved personalities, who make several victims en route. Finally four of them face him in a ghost town, while the fifth is waiting for him in the hills just outside of town...

People used to the fast pace and high body count of the average spaghetti western, will probably reject this one for its slow pace and lack of excitement. El Puro is a slow, meditative western, with a script that often feels a little disjointed. The film seems to start in the middle of a scene and for quite some time, we have no idea of what it's all about. Despite the lack of spectacular action scenes, El Puro is ranked among the bleakest and ugliest examples of the genre. There's a scene, in which a woman is knocked down with the head and finally beaten to death, that is particularly violent and nasty, even for a spaghetti western. The scene is made even more disturbing by the fact that the man who's watching, is sexually aroused by the events, and finally kisses the brute full on the mouth.

I found Woods completely convincing as El Puro; I noticed that he is very quick on the draw, what made the scenes in which he was actually using his gun fascinating: he can do the trick himself, there's no need for a close up of somebody else's hand to give the viewer the impression that it's the main character, and not a double, who is shooting. Gypsy, El Puro's challenger, might be a vague reference to Gregory Peck's opponent in The Gunfighter (a film that apparently was an influence), but will remind most viewers more of El Indio, the famous lunatic/bandit from Leone's For a Few Dollars More (he even has a speech in a dilapidated church!). The music, by Allessandro Allessandroni (Morricone's private whistler), is a clear rip-of of the master's score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (and some themes from For a Few Dollars More).

El Puro was hardly noticed when first released, but has become a cult movie over the years, first in the gay scene (because of this kiss on the mouth), then in the spaghetti western community. The basic idea apparently was to make a Buddhist western, about the spiritual rebirth of a pistolero. Therefore El Puro's violent death in the final moments of the movie, is probably more a catharsis (purification, hence the title) than a nihilistic anti-climax (like Trintignant's death in The Great Silence). The film is harmed a little by a limited budget and some sloppy editing. It sometimes feels like a parody, but please note that the atmosphere is all but lighthearted. Personally I'm not a real fan of this movie. To me it simply is too odd to work as a drama, and too ugly to be a parody (by any stretch of the imagination). But, as said, that is a personal opinion, and I do admit that it's a very interesting contribution to the genre.

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