(Dir: Giuseppe Vari - Cast: Anthony Ghidra, Robert Hundar, Rosy Zichel, Corinne Fontaine, John Bryan, Giorgio Gargiulo, Elsa Janet Waterston, Giuseppe Addobati - Music: Roberto Pregadio)
In the days of the Alamo, a treasure was stolen by three soldiers of the army of Santa Anna and hidden in a secret place. When combined, the information written on three playing cards will reveal the location of the treasure. Those playing cards are in possession of Munguya, a deserter who calls himself 'general', Morienda, a drifter, and Garrincha, an outlaw. Morienda has made an appointment with the famous gunman Billy Blood in a monastery, but at his arrival he is severely wounded (by some of Munguya's men, who were on his trail) and can only hand over his card and utter a few words. Blood infiltrates the gang of Munguya but is exposed by the bandit and beaten up. In the meantime Garrincha sets up a trap for Munguya with the help of a double-crossing arms-dealer. The three men finally meet at the monastery where the treasure is hidden.
Most readers will have recognized story elements from both The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (the combined info revealing the location of the treasure) and A Fistful of Dollars, (the beating up of the exposed infiltrator) so it won't a surprise if I call the movie a little predictable. There's also an obligatory scene with the machine gun and the larger-than-life abilities of the gunman, who shoots all opponents through the forehead (from the hip, no less). But this is one of those Italian westerns that rely more on atmosphere than story (or even action), and director Giuseppe Vari sure knows how to create that real spaghetti western feel. The opening scene, Ghidra riding through a deserted landscape for minutes and minutes, will have you in the right mood immediately, not in the least because of Roberto Pregadio's wonderful score. To fans of the genre Pregadio is best known for his score for The Forgotten Pistolero, probably the most famous non-Morricone score of all spaghetti western scores (the whistle theme is instantly recognizable). His work for A Hole in the Forehead has met with less approbation (and admittedly is not completely as overwhelming), but it's a very fine score nonetheless. It fuses melancholic organ pieces Procol Harum style with a wonderfully relaxed Spanish guitar, exquisitely played by Mario Gangi. Performances in A Hole in the Forehead are always acceptable and some of them are really good. Ghidra is as reliable as always as the stoic, taciturn gunman, and I was pleasantly surprised by Robert Hundar's Mexican bandit, who's quite the opposite of Ghidra's gunman: talkative, loud and hyperactive. As Phil H put it on SWDB, the only thing bigger than Hundar's characterization here is his hat. It's truly gigantic, one of the most outrageous pieces of headwear I've ever seen in a movie.
A Hole in the Forehead is an above average genre entry, but some will call it a bit slow-moving. The film offers several sudden shootouts, arms wrestling over spikes and pretty awkward scene in which Ghidra puts two prostitutes 'to sleep' by banging their heads against each other (in return two other prostitutes are salvaged by him). But there's a lack of large scale action - this really feels like a small film - and the finale, set in and around the same monastery from the opening scenes, is a bit of a let-down. In this finale, a shortcoming of the script becomes all too obvious: the treasure hunt is a three horses race, but A Hole in the Forehead basically is a two character movie, Billy Blood versus Munguya. When the two face each other outside the monastery, Garrincha enters the stage and we seem to be heading for a thee way finale, but he's quickly carried off again, as if the director has no place for him in his plans (which probably was the case). The film will no doubt be enjoyed primarily by those who fancy the genre for its atmosphere and strong visuals. Apart from Hundar's head-gear, some of the location work give the film a distinctive look among the Italian westerns; part of it was shot in the Grotte di Salone, an archeological area in the Lazio provence, often used (more than half a decade earlier) for peplum movies. Moreover, with both the opening and the conclusion set in a monastery, and the main villain's hideout located in some kind of catacomb, the always lurking religious symbolism is more emphatic than ever. Wearing only a loincloth, Ghidra is even dressed (or better: undressed) to make him look like the Christ during the beating-up scene. It's quite an uneasy scene, glorifying Christian iconography and at the same time flirting with blasphemy, but that is what the genre is all about, at least in its best moments.