As I've probably mentioned numerous times in my reviews, often part of the fun of reviewing some of these films is that I just pick one out of my collection at random, without knowing anything about it. Sometimes it's a disappointment, other times it's a thrill. And so it went with Sidney W. Pink's 1967 outing, The Christmas Kid, a joint USA/Spanish venture. About fifteen minutes into it, I knew I wasn't really watching a spaghetti, more so something of an Euro-American hybrid.. Although not perfect, it was a decent film, and in some ways unique.
Jeffrey Hunter stars as Joe Novak, who was born on Christmas Eve. His mother died during his birth, which set his father off on a path of alcoholism and resentment towards Joe. The night of his birth, three men from the local town of Jasper (their mayor, doctor and lawyer) stop by to assist and eventually Jow and his dad settle down in Jasper. Joe's dad, ever more immersed in the bottle, is of little use to him. The town's mayor, a Louis Carillo (played by A Bullet for Sandoval's Gustavo Rojo), takes Joe under his wing, teaching him how to fight and shoot. As Joe grows up, we see he's rather quick to use violence, much to the dismay of those who watched him grow up.
After copper is dicovered near Jasper, the town begins to boom and grow, much to the dismay of the older residents. Soon, a wealthy investor named Mike Culligan (veteran actor Louis Hayward) comes to town, with his head prostitute Marie (Perla Cristal) in tow, and opens up a saloon. He's not a good guy, as one of his first actions in town is to burn down the local store because they refused to sell to them. He pays off the local sheriff, and eventually has Joe on his payroll. When Joe falls for Marie and gives her money to leave, Culligan has her killed, and in a shootout with her assailants, Joe accidentally kills shoots his father, who happened to be walking by. In retaliation for the beloved Marie's death, the townspeople burn down Culligan's saloon. He uses the opportunity to frame Joe for murder, to be "hanged by the neck until dead". I won't give away the ending.
More than anything else, what set this apart from a spaghetti was the amount of character development, especially in the part of Joe. Often, in spags, there is little to no character development. Sometimes, that's fine, and other times it gives us characters that we could ultimately care less about. We see Joe's development into an adult, and understand why he is the way he is, due to the rejection of his father, as well as Luis' constant insistence that he learn to throw a punch. There's also a loose Christ analogy woven throughout the tale... Joe is born on Christmas eve, visited by the town's three wise men, is tempted by a prostitute, and battles Culligan/Satan. Yes, it's subtle, but adds another layer to the film. By and large, it's well-written; characters in this film actually have conversations of substance and care about each other in ways that aren't superficial. The only exception is the Joe/Marie relationship. Their dialog is rather forced and shallow at times.
The cinematography is more American than European; the close ups and odd angles we know are nowhere to be seen, but it doesn't detract from the film. It was filmed around Madrid, so the scenery's a bit different than Almeria, too.
As far as I know, there's no DVD release of this film. I saw an old VHS copy that I was able to get off of BitTorrent. Nevertheless, it's worth a look. The pacing could be slow at times, but it had a somewhat intelligent story of substance, making it worth a recommendation.