Ringo and His Golden Pistol (1966)

(1966 - Dir: Sergio Corbucci - Cast: Mark Damon, Ettore Manni, Valeria Fabrizi, Franco De Rosa, Giovanni Cianfriglia, Andrea Aureli, Loris Loddi, Giulia Rubini - Music: Carlo Savina)

Ringo and his Golden Pistol (or Johnny Oro as it was originally called) was the movie Corbucci made immediately before the ground-breaking Django. According to some sources, he even abandoned the project before it was completed, forcing his producer Bolognini to shoot several additional scenes in order to avoid a claim. Readers may have noticed that Corbucci has provoked debate among people writing for this site: J.D. doesn't like him, I love him. I think The Mercenary is a masterpiece, he thinks it's dross. However, Johnny Oro is no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. It's a mediocre affair, but there are a few inspired moments amidst the mediocrity, and it's interesting within the context of Corbucci's career.

Johnny Jefferson Gonzales, knicknamed 'Ringo', a bounty hunter, kills three Perez brothers when they leave church after the shotgun wedding of the oldest brother. A fourth one, Juanito, is saved because he has no price on his head. Juanito assembles a gang of Mexican outlaws and renegade Apaches and swears revenge. In the meantime Johnny has been thrown in jail, for the use of dynamite in a town here fire arms are not allowed. Juanito threatens to raid the town if Johnny isn't handed over to him, but the sheriff refuses. Most townspeople leave town, only the sheriff, his wife and son, and a old man stay behind to defend Johnny, who's still in jail...

Johnny Oro is a bit of everything, but often nothing in particular. It's clearly inspired by Howard Hawks Rio Bravo, but also makes a wink at Duccio Tessari's first Ringo movie, A Pistol for Ringo. It's half serious, half tongue-in-cheek, but only occasionally funny or compelling. The first twenty minutes, with the shoot-out outside the church and the killing (by Juanito) of the bride, priest and altar man of the shogun wedding, are very good, but afterwards it quickly loses focus. Johnny, the intended hero, spends more than twenty minutes in jail and not very much happens until the explosive finale, with Johnny (literally) blowing up the villains (and part of the town). But, as said, there are a few inspired moments; there's for instance a wonderful scene in which Damon, not wearing his famous golden gun, is surprised by three musical opponents, who are hiding their guns in their instruments: before they're able to shoot, it's their turn to be surprised by Damon, who uses dynamite to blow them away. On the plus side there's also a nice (if somewhat typical) score by Carlo Savini, a wonderful costume and production design (by Carlo Simi), and a good performance by Mark Damon, who adds a welcome touch of irony to the part of the ever-smiling, cynical bounty hunter.

Alex Cox called this movie the first Italian western to attempt self parody, to treat the western as pop art. I guess that is exactly what Corbucci's art is all about, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Basically the spaghetti western is pop art, a throwaway form of a more dignified genre, but the very best outings managed to transcend their own modesty, and become high art. Johnny Oro, the character, anticipates genre icons like Sartana and Sabata, as well as some of the more sophisticated, well-dressed characters in Corbucci's later movies, like the Polish mercenary Kowalski or the Swedish gun-runner Petersen. The theme song tells us Johnny is not interested in women, for his only love is gold: his gun, his spurs, his cigarette holder, they're all made of gold. The Kowalskis and Petersons of this spaghetti world were also self-obsessed, greedy personalities, but the situations they were entangled in, and the cruelties and injustice they were confronted with, gradually woke their social awareness and revolutionary fervor. Johnny Oro, the character, does not evolve, like some cartoonish characters who never grow older or feel any existential angst, he seems to exist in a universe beyond time and place: to explain his unique predilection, we're not given any psychological or social reason, but instead are told he was born in a goldmine. This puts him in line with Asterix' friend Obelix, who owns his superhuman strength to the fact that he fell into a cauldron with magic potion when he was a small boy.

Reportedly Corbucci wasn't very fond of the movie himself. On the very set he discussed (and started to write) a future, much darker, movie with star Mark Damon, with whom he got along very well (when Corbucci was offered the Django project, he wanted Damon for the main part, but producer Bolognini and his wife Nora convinced him to take a young Italian actor, Franco Nero). In spite of all this, several story elements would pop up in later movies: the gun-free town in The Specialists, the besieged town in both Navajo Joe and the Specialists, the double-crossing citizen (in this movie the bar keeper) and the killing of defenseless people, notably priests and women, in many of his films. If you don't like Corbucci, there's no special reason to watch this movie. If you do love him, it's essential viewing.

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