Wednesday 21 May 2014

Last of the Badmen [1967]

LAST OF THE BADMEN is an Italian western that was directed by Nando Cicero and originally released in August 1967 under its original title Il tempo di avvoltoi.  It stars George Hilton, Frank Wolff, Eduardo Fajardo and Pamela Tudor.  Hilton plays Kitosch, a cowboy working for brutal cattle baron Don Jaime (Fajardo).  After enduring various punishments Kitosch quits and falls in with mysterious man in black Tracy (Wolff) and together they set off to track down Tracy's former partners who made off with his share of a bank robbery.

I've written about spaghetti westerns before but just to recap they differ from American westerns in that, generally speaking, they are more violent, more stylised, cheaper and morally ambiguous.  The best of them, made by the likes of Sergio Leone, Sergio Corbucci and Sergio Sollima, are the equal of anything Hollywood produced.  Even the lesser ones are usually worth a look if only because you will see in them things you never see in mainstream Westerns.

Unfortunately, LAST OF THE BADMEN is not one of the best spaghettis you'll ever see; in fact it's not enough a lesser example.  It's what I call a tinned spaghetti western, that is to say an inferior, ersatz version of the real McCoy.  In a sense, and without wanting to sound too wanky, you might even describe it as a meta-spaghetti by which I mean it apes a genre which is itself aping a genre.  You can usually tell a poor spaghetti western, or a poor genre film of most types, because it will have little to offer besides its violence and sadism.  This movie is a prime example: it is full of tedious fist fights and gun fights which go on too long and do little advance the plot or characterization.

Neither does it have any of the visual flair of many spaghettis.  It uses a very drab grey / brown / green palette and aside from a few breathtaking mountain backdrops it seems to take place in muddy fields.  More than anything it just looks so cold.  What I want from spaghettis, and to be fair what I usually get, is the feeling of intense baking heat which inflames the passions, makes good men bad and bad men worse.  In Leone's westerns in particular the amount of people you see sweating profusely is quite incredible.  You never get that sense here; it's a bit like those CARRY ON movies set on camp sites in what appear to be sodden, freezing field.

These stills are examples of the dull landscapes in LAST OF THE BADMEN

Another element missing from this movie is the socialist / revolutionary aspect which is common to most of the good spaghettis.  Kitosch is a essentially a good man, it's true, but he's not motivated by any desire to help the working man against the robber baron.  Indeed, the only man he really helps to any significant degree is the psychopathic killer Tracy.  Furthermore, at the end of the picture, Kitosch actually hands back to Don Jaime the $90,000 he had previously stolen from him.  Such a thing would be unthinkable in the westerns directed by the men I listed above.

You can't say that LAST OF THE BADMEN lacks action.  In the first twenty minutes alone Kitosch is whipped, beaten up, branded, lassoed twice, double crossed and thrown in jail.  And that's before the shooting starts. That hectic pace slows down little but not much because, as I said above, that's pretty much all it has to offer.  Most of the standard western tropes are present but here their use feels like a checklist more than anything truly creative.

Familiar western tropes: the barrel bath tub (full of bubbles and Pamela Tudor)...

...and lynching rescue...

...and saloon complete with Mexican bandits

Leading man George Hilton made a lot of spaghetti westerns in the '60s (including Frontera al sur, a prequel to this film, released in March 1967) before moving with the times into giallos in the '70s.  He has quite a cult following based on these genre movies but I've never been a big fan: he's good-looking in a bland sort of way but can't emote worth a damn.  I suppose that's why Cicero gave him plenty of support in Wolff and Fajardo, both of whom turn in good performances.  It may be an invidious comparison but Hilton just isn't as talented or charismatic as Franco Nero or Lee Van Cleef, let alone Clint Eastwood.

George Hilton as Kitosch

Frank Wolff as Joshua Tracy

Woolff and Fajardo are good value though.  I've written about Wolff before (here) so will limit myself to saying he's the best thing in it and I could have done with more of his backstory - his past exploits with erstwhile partners in crime Traps and Big John.  If you watch enough delirious movies you'll come to know the Eduardo Fajardo very well because he was a very busy actor for whom the word prolific is an understatement.  He was in countless spaghettis and occasionally crossed over into mainstream Hollywood pictures.  Still alive is old Eduardo - 90 this year - and, as I always say of actors of that vintage - I hope someone is writing down his reminiscences of the movie business because once they're gone they're gone for good and let's face it, there will soon be no-one around who can remember film-making in the '40s.

Eduardo Fajardo as Don Jaime Mendoza

Nando Cicero was basically a bit of a hack who tried his hand at various genres without advancing the form in any of them.  His journeyman status goes some way to explaining why this film is so lacklustre.  That said he did work with a lot of the stars of European cult cinema - Klaus Kinski, Edwige Fenech, Marisa Mell - so I'm sure he'll crop up on Cinema Delirium again at some stage.  let's hope it's in connection with something a little more individual and inspiring.

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