The Stranger and the Gunfighter (1974)

La dove non batte il sole / Blood Money / La brute, le colt et le Karate

Hoooooo boy. Every now and then you watch a movie that's so bad, it's awesome, because it has you laughing out loud. Antonio Margheriti's "The Stranger and the Gunfighter" (1974) is one helluva entertaining piece of crap. And boy, is it crappy. And really entertaining.

By 1974, the Spaghetti Western genre was on its last legs (as was Lee Van Cleef's career, as we shall see shortly). Meanwhile, in no small part due to the blockbuster success of Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon", the kung-fu craze was in full swing, with hundreds of  Z-grade "chop-socky" films being churned out on a regular basis. It even crossed over into the blaxploitation genre with "Black Belt Jones". And, of course it made its way into the Eurowestern genre as well, with films like Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe and this film, laying up on the novelty of a kung-fu guy out of his element in the Old West. Director Antonio Margheriti also gave us the godawful blaxploitation-spaghetti western hybrid, Take A Hard Ride, also starring Van Cleef.

Van Cleef and Lo Lieh

Lee Van Cleef shares a scene with a toupee and Lo Lieh.

This particular film starts off kinda strange, with Lee Van Cleef breaking into some safes and finding pictures of some naked girls. The scene then cuts to some bald, fat Chinese guy named "Wang" tattoing something on these girls asses.Wang then catches Van Cleef  breaking into his safes, is killed accidentaly in an explosion, and Van Cleef's Dakota character is sentenced to hang for murder. The scene then switches to China, where Lo Lieh's character named Ho, is ordered by some warlord to go to America and find out where his uncle's fortune is.

Thus begins the whole "fish out of water" thing, where Ho saves Dakota from the gallows and befriends him, and the main plot kicks in… to go and find those four girls and read the tatoos on their asses. I'm serious, folks. This is no Once Upon a Time in the West here. Over the course of the film, they're chased by some nutty Bible-quoting madman and his Indian sidekick, with the largest hat I've ever seen in any western. Eventually, they figure out the riddle, find the gold, and Van Cleef goes to China.

Looks like Torquemada

"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

This was put out by Columbia Pictures. The script and story may be Z-grade, but it looks good otherwise. It was so unbelievably cheesy, I found myself laughing out loud with one of those "I can't friggin' believe they're doing that!" kinda laughs. One of the best things was whenever there was a chase scene or a fight scene, this music starts up in the background that sounded like it could have been from Shaft or some other blaxploitation flick, big horns, wah-wah guitars, it's unbelievably inappropriate, yet a real hoot to hear. The fight scenes are awfully choreographed. For the most part the acting is pretty bad. But the best part of the film for me was seeing Lee Van Cleef play it on the light side, instead of the serious stuff he usually does. In this film, you'll see the full range of Van Cleef's acting abilities (surprisingly, not as bad as you'd think). You can also see him:

Van Cleef dressed like a Chinaman

...dress like a Chinese guy

Van Cleef makes fun of a Chinaman

...make fun of a Chinese guy

A drunken, rowdy Lee Van Cleef

...drunkeningly sing and dance in a burlesque show

He also autographs a girl's ass, acts like a drunken idiot, and spends the last part of the movie on a shirtless rampage riding behind a Gatling gun that he somehow straps between two horses. It really needs to be seen to be believed.

At this point in the genre, the ‘comedy western' was in full swing, due to the success of Terence Hill in They Call Me Trinity. I'm not a fan of those kinds of movies, especially the slapstick stuff, which for me went out of vogue in the 1930's, even though many Europeans still seem to love it. I suspect this movie was set up as a light comedy, and thankfully it doesn't get into slapstick territory. Its real humor lies in its over-the-top awfulness. And seeing Van Cleef in a different light. Zero artistic content here folks, and if you like your spags serious, by all means avoid this one like the plague. But if you like ‘em so bad they're good, check it out. This one is actually so funny you can watch it more than once. I loved this one. Here's the trailer:

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