The characters, narratives, and mise-en-scene of the Western are so familiar to us that, when a film tries to do something more, there’s a risk we won’t be able to see past the genre tropes. A Pistol for Ringo is one of those films. The setting, characters, props, and music may seem overly familiar, but writer/director Duccio Tessari has so many stylistic, story, and dialogue tricks up his sleeve that the film emerges as both a terrific Spaghetti Western, a trenchant anti-Western, and an intellectual study of the nature of Westerns. It turns so many Western archetypes upside down that it’s surprising how closely it actually hews to the most popular Western themes.
Major Clyde (Antonio Casas) owns the plantation; he flirts openly with Sancho’s main squeeze, Dolores (Nieves Navarro). Clyde’s daughter Ruby (Lorella De Luca) openly despises the bandits. The Sheriff and his trusted deputy Tim (Manuel Muñiz) decide to spring Ringo from his jail cell and send him to the plantation to infiltrate the murderous gang. Can Ringo insure that justice is meted out to the bandits? What if young Ringo decides to join the bandits instead? Did I mention that Ruby was the Sheriff’s girlfriend? Why in the hell does this film take place at Christmas?
Not that I mean to get all political all up in here, but it is hard to watch the film and not notice what Tessario is trying to say about economic politics. In fact, the film stretches the point to such absurdity that these portions of the film come off as surreal, like a political cartoon brought to life. Once the bandits take over the plantation, they begin to kill two farmhands a day to prove to the authorities that they are serious about wanting to be left alone. While all of the cold-blooded, senseless murder of the hired help is going on, the rich Major, his daughter, and their house servants continue their normal activities as if nothing unusual is happening. A formal dinner is interrupted by shots being fired outside (This being a Spaghetti Western, the sound of guns firing sounds more like cannons.) and those assembled inside barely pause their dinner conversation. Tessario seems to delight that he can keep this many plates spinning at one time, making a film that is an exciting Western, a deep character study, a refutation of genre stereotypes, and a timeless reminder that the poor in this world get fucked by the rich on a pretty-much daily basis.
At least that’s how I interpret it.
I have been watching so many of these 1960s Spaghetti Westerns that I am beginning to recognize some of the popular locations in Almeria, Spain that are featured in many films: the washed out, white sand “pass” that figures in A Pistol for Ringo and the later Giuliano Gemma film, Day of Anger, for example. Many of the buildings on the standing Western sets in Spain, even with different paint jobs and signage, are beginning to seem as familiar to me as the European village set that was once used in so many of Universal’s famous horror films.
Arrow’s new Blu-ray disc of A Pistol for Ringo makes me glad I lived long enough to see the proper home video respect paid to these films. The disc looks so damn good, it caused me to ruefully remember all of the indifferent or incompetent VHS transfers I suffered through in my younger days when I too carried a pistol, rode a horse, and triumphed the cause of justice in my simple little town.
(Many action set pieces, extensively choreographed and beautifully filmed)
(The sheer viciousness of the characters becomes scary at times.)
(Stunts, shoot-outs, robberies, duels, and fistfights done the old-fashioned way)