Pistoleros (1967)

Ballata per un Pistolero – Dir : Alfio Caltabiano – Cast : Anthony Ghidra, Angelo Infante, Mario Novelli, Alfio Caltabiano, Ellen Schwiers, Monica Teuber


When two gunslingers are on the track of a notorious bandit for different reasons, it’s anybody’s guess that the film is merely a poor man’s For a few dollars more, but this might change when you here the following lyrics:

Thus saith the Lord, do not weep for the dead, who lie there, lifelessly But for those who kill them, cause they will be lifeless forever, eternally.

Pistoleros starts as a more violent, but tongue in cheek retelling of Leone’s second movie. But the middle section and conclusion are closer in spirit to Death rides a horse, while its strong religious undertones make it an almost unique spaghetti western.

As said, two gunman are in pursuit of a notorious bandit and his younger brother for different reasons. The first, a young bounty hunter (Infante), is after the reward, the second (Ghidra), an older man, has a personal account to settle. When the younger man proposes a partnership, the older one refuses, not - like Eastwood in Leone’s film - for financial reasons, but because he doesn’t like bounty hunters. Despite this refusal Infante stays on Ghidra’s track and even saves his life at a few instances. Ghidra’s behaviour changes when he sees that Infante wears a hanger in the shape of a pistol. It’s also at this point that the complete mood of the film changes. Instead of tongue in cheek but violent it becomes more serious and almost placatory in tone. When Ghidra finally kills the man he has been chasing for years, he does so almost reluctantly, and when he has revealed his identity to Infante and explained his scorn for bounty hunters, the latter makes a decision that seems contradictory to all the genre stands for.

Of course, being an Italian genre, religious symbolism is omnipresent in the spaghetti western genre. Still, most spaghetti westerns can hardly be called ‘religious’. Some of them are even profane and virulently anti-clerical, like many Italian (left-wing) films of the decade. Pistoleros is positively religious and emphasizes this position. This must have been a personal choice of writer/director/actor Caltabiano and as such it is definitely a polemic film. Like Corbucci in The Great Silence, Caltabiano seems to disapprove of Leone’s depiction of the bounty hunter in For a few Dollars More. Of course, Monco and colonel Mortimer are lethal, but they still are sympathetic guys. Caltabiano makes clear that it was a dirty job, and that the ones who did it couldn’t keep their hands clean. He seems also to be questioning the way collateral damage - or violence in general - is depicted in spaghetti westerns: there’s one very powerful scene (easily the best of the film and one of the most incisive I’ve ever seen in a spaghetti western) in which Ghidra pays his respect to the dead when he witnesses a funeral ceremony held in the streets after a bloody bank robbery.

The film is not without flaws. It veers to much from violent action to tongue in cheek humour and melodrama to be totally successful. And there’s one barroom brawl that is completely out of sync with the rest of the movie. It starts as a showcase for Ghidra’s martial arts (he performs some fine techniques) but soon turns into slapstick. But its assets outweigh its shortcomings. The gunplay is very convincing and Ghidra’s ‘shot behind his back’ is particularly impressive. Both Ghidra and Infante turn in excellent performances and their characters are far more interesting than the one-dimensional characters many spaghetti’s are peopled with. Even Caltabiano’s villain is not stereotyped: he kills dogs and beats women (and beats them very hard!) but he’s still concerned about his younger brother. While the script is a bit choppy, most individual scenes are well executed and the finale is particularly fine. The familiar Almeria locations are substituted by the Split area, also used for several Karl May adaptations. The score, by Marcello Giombino, is very nice too. It’s mainly a quirky guitar and a more dreamlike trumpet.

The Wild East DVD – still available, but be quick – has excellent video quality; there’s little print damage and colours are vibrant. The indicated aspect ratio of 2,35:1 seems more like 2,20:1 to me, but this causes only a minor problem in one scene, when Ghidra and Infante, taking distance from each other, are in danger of walking backwards out of the movie! The LPCM sound is very strong, but there are quite a few lip-sync problems (in fact some lines spoken by the actors are completely absent).

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