“ Genre: War & Western - Western / Theatrical Release: 1967 / Director: Giulio Petroni / Actors: Lee Van Cleef, John Phillip Law ... / DVD released 15 August, 2005 at MGM Entertainment / Features of the DVD: Anamorphic, Dubbed, PAL „
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A criminal gang goes to rob a $200 000 money shipment, and in the process end up killing the entire family of Bill Meceita, who 15 years later is coming after the, now "civilised", murderers. Also after the people is Ryan, who has just been released from prison after being put there by his ex-gang members as a scape goat. The two then end up clashing with each other, with Bill wanting vengeance through bullets, and Ryan wanting compensation for all the years he was locked up, both then ending up building a bit of a companionship do to their same objective, though the means of accomplishing this isn't exactly the same for them until the end. Death Rides a Horse is Giulio Petroni's most famous film, and is considered as one of the best spaghetti westerns ever made. Petroni was never a particularly prolific director and between 1959 and 1978 only directed 13 films. Of these only his Zapata western Tepepa of 1968 and Death Rides a Horse are remembered at all. Made in 1967, Death Rides a Horse features some of the most sure-fire success trappings of Italian westerns. It has plenty of action, some fine performances, at times witty dialogue and a classic story of revenge. Starring Lee Van Cleef as Ryan and John Phillip Law as Bill, the two play off each other rather well, though never really on the same level as Clint Eastwood and Van Cleef did in For a Few Dollars More, but there's still the same kind of young vs. old dynamic at play. Now Law may not really be one of the greatest actors there's ever been, but neither does he come across as somehow unlikeable or annoying, instead being a very competent leading man, if somewhat wooden at the same time. Lee Van Cleef, on the other hand, turns in a fine performance as always, and he does have quite the good presence to make him capture every scene he appears in with ease.
Also appearing are some of the spaghetti western mainstays, like Mario Brega as Paco and Luigi Pistelli as Walcott most notably. Pistelli in particular puts out a good performance that features a lot of his civilised air where money talks the best, while still seeming a real bad guy. What is a definite plus in this film comes from its air of being fairly light-hearted in tone. There's some quite fun little banter between the characters that brings in some much needed levity to not make the film too serious, and in many ways this is a film that never was meant to be taken as brutally serious as some of the others in the genre that at times were completely devoid of humour. A good example of this is when Ryan tells an old train station attendant to give Bill his horse back and a kiss, so when Bill shows up the attendant asks him quite seriously where he'd want to have that kiss. For the more dramatic moments of realisation, Petroni uses a lot of slashing flashbacks when ever Bill comes into contact with the men he is after, in which gunshots start blazing and the screen turns red as we see little snippets of scars or tattoos and stuff to identify the people in question, a technique Quentin Tarantino came to use as well in Kill Bill as an obvious homage. The score of Ennio Morricone is one of his less than melodic efforts and has a lot of avant-gardist touches to it, but works along with the film as well as always, while Petroni's direction is good, if not outstanding. Ultimately, Death Rides a Horse may not be one of the absolute best of the Italian western genre, but it's still miles apart from some of the dregg that the Italian film industry pulled off, standing as a good watch for any western fan. It's certainly no Leone - then again very few things were - but regardless of that this is definitely among the better ones amongst the hundreds of spaghetti westerns produced in Italy and one of the most representative of the genre. Recommended for anybody wanting to expand their knowledge on films of this type, as Death Rides a Horse is one of the purest examples of the Italian western.
© berlioz, 2009
"Somebody once wrote that revenge is a dish that has to be eaten cold. Hot as you are, you're liable to end up with indigestion."
- Lee Van Cleef
Down at the Mesito ranch outlaws go and gun down a family of defenceless people, trouble is they messed up and should have killed one more. Bill Mesito (Law) trains in his gunmanship for one reason - revenge, which is the only reason he lives even a girl who is interested in him and an offer to become deputy sheriff has no appeal.
Meanwhile a former member of the same gang, Ryan (Van Cleef) has just been released from prison after 15 years determined to make those who framed him suffer. Trouble is they both keep getting in each others way, with there conflicting ideas of vengeance will Bill the young, angry, hot-headed gunslinger and Ryan the veteran gun-fighter team up to get what they both want?
Lee Van Cleef - Ryan
We see Van Cleef at his best, yes he's older than a lot of the other characters but he portrays a tough ex-bandit looking for revenge very well. He has one of the best looks for a western he poses one of the best stares with his beady eyes. He looks intimidating and he delivers his lines flawlessly, giving some brilliant and funny quotes along the way. To me he was one of the only people to outshine Clint Eastwood in a western. And he's a good guy, which is a western role I prefer him in.
Ryan - Somebody tries to shoot me in the back, I defend myself
Sheriff - You defend yourself almost too well, mister. They're both dead as doornails.
Ryan -They came in the window. It wasn't to wish me pleasant dreams.
John Philip Law - Bill Mesito
Despite having the best name ever for a western actor, I felt his performance went from good, to slightly dodgy, actually I'm certain listening to the movie his 'voice' changes a few times, going from quieter to a bit deeper. I don't know if he wasn't sure of his western voice. All in all a good performance though, even though he does sound a bit wooden sometimes. Speaking of which the guy reminds me total of a cowboy action figure.
"I never leave without finishing ma drink."
Luigi Pistilli - Walcott (Played Groggy in a Few Dollars More)
Anthony Dawson - Burt Cavanaugh 'Four Aces'
Mario Brega - Paco
José Torres - Pedro
Richard Watson - Bartender
Guglielmo Spoletini - Manuel
Franco Balducci - Sheriff
Started directing in the late 1950's also credited as 'Jeremy Scott' (Got to love that western prejudice hey?)
In the film I loved his shots of Bill when he flashbacks as a child seeing the distinguishing marks that make him remember who his families murderers was. I also like how the camera pans round when Bill plays poker with 'Four Aces'
He has been writing screenplays since the 50's, till recently, varying in a number of genres. Credits to his name include The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and a Few Dollars More.
The script is a decent story despite the 'twist' that is promised on the DVD case is quite predictable. However I find its fun seeing Ryan and Bill trying to outsmart each other to get to the next town first (I won't spoil it, but the clue is in the title).
You haven't heard of Morricone? Well you've probably heard his music and never realised it. He has a huge list of films, programs, and adverts to his name where you have probably heard his music - which covers many decades. If you've ever seen a western parody on TV they probably played one of his songs featured in a spaghetti westerns.
His music is still being used to this day; though don't get me wrong they don't just use the old classics but new songs as well. Ironically despite being the composer he's probably more famous than the writer, director and two main stars put together. His music from this film has featured in Quentin Taratinos Kill Bill (which incidentally was heavily influenced by Death Rides a Horse).
I liked the use of guitar in this and the Indian chanting used in the soundtrack. Also the music when Bill goes head to head with 'Four Aces' was fantastic when he tells the piano player to hit three notes and it gives a 'dunn' (hard to describe) but it sounds good and builds up the tension.
Not Morricone most memorable music, but still good none the less
---Locations and Dress---
Van Cleef wears a dirty brown coat, probably to show that he's not had the time to buy anything new since coming out of prison as revenge is his first priority.
John Phillip Law as I said earlier looks like a cowboy action figure, he is all clean cut, with clothes that look all clean.
Luigi Pistilli was all smartly dressed up to look like a banker and the towns most respected citizen, though Ryan remarks, "You still have one of the toughest faces"
Anthony Dawson is also all smartly dressed as one of the most important people in the town.
Walcott's henchmen ranged from desperados to Mexican Bandits.
The wilderness was filmed on location in Spain and looked good as with the inside of canyons and the desert of the west.
The set design was good too as it looked quite realistic. It was probably more difficult to set-up though as we see four different towns first we see Bills local, then there is Burt Cavanaugh's casino and bar, which looked very authentic. Then we have Walcott's town and the bank he runs, before going across the border to Mexico, to see the white brick of people in slums.
When you put the DVD in you are given a lot of options of regions for example UK and Eire, Australia, Suomi etc. Though I don't think it makes a difference what you select except maybe putting the appropriate language or subtitles on.
You then go through that annoying trailer saying 'You wouldn't steal a car' etc.
Okay there are NO DVD extras.
The screen layout to start the movie is pretty poor and quite hard to understand, for example there's a picture of a book, which is your scene selection, and a sound picture, which is your sound selection. Why it can't just say 'Play Movie' Subtitles' 'Sound' is beyond me.
No animated menu just a still picture of John Laws character Bill giving an intense stare with the picture of Bill as a child behind him giving a intense stare as well.
No looped music playing in the menu either.
There is 16 Scenes to start watching from.
The cover features Lee Van Cleef riding a horse with John Philip Law stood at the side in painting/photograph picture (It's hard to tell really what it is so I'll say they've mixed both).
The back features the synopsis on the left with Lee Van Cleef smoking a cigar on the right.
The DVD itself features the same picture of Van Cleef and Law on the cover.
---Other Technical Information---
Genre: Spaghetti Western
Languages: English, German, French, Italian, and Spanish
Subtitles: French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Finnish, English (hard of hearing), German (hard of hearing).
Running Time 1 hour 50 minutes approx.
DVD Format: Widescreen 16:9
Death Rides a Horse Released 1967, released on DVD 2005.
Released by MGM
This review covers the Region 2 DVD release
Bad Language: None
Sex/Nudity: Scenes of rape, no nudity very brief
Violence: Lots of people getting gunned down, bit of fighting, bit of people getting beaten by a number of attackers.
John Wayne didn't like westerns like this as it broke the code. This one certainly guns down the code with it's back turned as the film straight away features women and children getting gunned down (showing Bills mother and sisters getting raped too - note not graphically just showing shots of anguish and them struggling).
I feel this scene gets the film going straight away and makes you want Bill to get his revenge.
I liked the flashback bit when Bill saw anything that he remembered from that fateful night and the screen goes red and he sees his family struggling.
I also liked the opening, as it got straight into the action and where in a Leone flick you'd see nothing happening in a desert scene, you get the action straight away of all the men pushing the cart. This rolls the title sequences with the atmospheric music where Walcott's gang make their move and you see some evil characters looking through the window at Bills sister.
What I didn't like was right at the end, it stopped quite abruptly. I know end credits where different back then usually being at the beginning but it felt like it was cut off, as the music stopped quite badly.
Although this isn't the best dubbed spaghetti western it was overall an enjoyable fun film and a reasonable running time so unlike other 'epic' westerns where I might have to plan if I have the time to watch, that is not a worry with this film.
R.I.P Lee Van Cleef