Guest reviewer Lee Broughton returns with more vintage Spaghetti Westerns. Prolific Italo western star Anthony Steffen shoots first in Alberto Cardone’s gothic vengeance drama Blood at Sundown, and plays the revenge game straight up in Mario Caiano’s A Coffin for the Sheriff. The double bill disc also features appearances by genre stalwarts Gianni Garko, Erika Blanc and Eduardo Fajardo.
A Coffin for the Sheriff & Blood at Sundown
Wild East Productions
Color / Street Date January 8, 2014 / 19.95
Starring: Anthony Steffen.
Directed by Alberto Cardone & Mario Caiano
Blood at Sundown
1966 / 2:35 widescreen / 104 min. / 1000 dollari sul nero /
Starring: Anthony Steffen, Gianni Garko, Erika Blanc, Carlo D’Angelo, Sieghardt Rupp, Angelica Ott, Roberto Miali, Daniela Igliozzi, Gianni Solaro, Franco Fantasia, Carla Calo.
Cinematography: Gino Santini
Film Editor: Romeo Ciatti
Art Director: Amadeo Mellone
Original Music: Michele Lacerenza
Written by Ernesto Gastaldi, Vittorio Salerno
Produced by Marlon Sirko
Directed by “Albert Cardiff” aka Alberto Cardone
Johnny (Anthony Steffen) returns to the town of Campos after serving twelve years for a crime that he didn’t commit. He soon discovers that things have changed in his absence. His eccentric mother (Carla Calo) has moved into the grand gothic house on the edge of town where she used to be a servant thanks to the power that his wayward brother, Sartana (John Garko), now holds. In the intervening years Sartana has become a psychotic megalomaniac who enjoys the benefits of a protection racket that covers several towns in the area.
Worse still, Sartana has taken Johnny’s woman, Manuela (Daniela Igliozzi), and moved her into the Inca ruin hideout where he and his gang of enforcers are based. Following run-ins with Joselita Rogers (Erika Blanc), the daughter of the man that he was supposed to have killed, and Judge Waldorf (Carlo D’Angelo), the man who found the evidence that convicted him, Johnny sets out to discover who framed him while also seeking to curb Sartana’s extreme behaviour. Sartana has been keeping Manuela’s mute brother, Jerry (Roberto Miali), as his personal whipping boy but he manages to escape and duly offers his assistance to Johnny.
If such a thing as a Spaghetti Western themed pub quiz were to exist, you can guarantee that the trick question “in which film did John Garko first play Sartana?” would make an appearance. Garko played Sartana, the mysterious dandy-cum-sharpshooter created by Gianfranco Parolini, in the classic If You Meet Sartana… Pray for Your Death (1968) and he went on to reprise the role in three further related Westerns. But the Sartana that he played two years previously in Blood at Sundown is a different character altogether.
The way that Garko has his blonde hair styled here and some of the clothes that Sartana wears and the poses that he throws give the impression that Sartana was modelled on the look and the general characteristics of some of Klaus Kinski’s more memorable genre villains. Sartana is certainly mad, wild and sadistic enough for Kinski to have been in the running to play him. Garko would soon become a bankable star who mostly played anti-heroic good guys out West, so it’s great to have him playing such a memorable out-and-out villain here.
Blood at Sundown is a great looking show that appears to have had a fairly big budget. As a result, Anthony Steffen (Arizona Colt Hired Gun ) is given the space needed for him to give a slightly more nuanced performance than usual. Steffen remains a pretty impassive performer at the best of times but that kind of works fine when he’s playing stoic vengeance-seekers like Johnny.
Here Steffen sports a variation of the trademark outfit that he wore in a number of his other Westerns (a narrow-brimmed cowboy hat with a leather band and a brown leather box jacket — with its collar turned up when he means business — on this occasion). He also goes through his regular ordeal of being captured, severely beaten and shackled while also getting to shoot a number of bad guys from his favoured position of being laid low down on the ground.
Also giving a good performance here is Sieghardt Rupp who played Esteban Rojo in Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Rupp plays a similar kind of deputy bad guy in Blood at Sundown and he really looks the part decked out in a snazzy black leather outfit. Manuela’s brother Jerry is another character that adds an element of interest to the show. He’s been mute since Sartana’s rise to power but Johnny’s appearance results in him trying to find his voice again. Popular Italian genre cinema actresses Erika Blanc (Django Shoots First ) and Daniela Igliozzi work just fine as the show’s lead females who both have feelings for Johnny.
There are some really well staged action scenes to be had here. In addition to Johnny getting involved in fistfights and the like there are a number of really big action set-pieces present. These unfold when Johnny convinces the cowed inhabitants of a succession of local towns to stand up to Sartana and his men by taking up arms instead of paying over protection money that they can ill afford.
Blood at Sundown is a quite idiosyncratic genre entry that has an ambience all of its own. There’s lots of great location work present here that takes place within some of Spain’s more unusual vistas and makes use of a number of strange-looking geological formations. Some of the landscapes used are so striking and unusual that there are odd moments where it looks like the show’s action is taking place on another planet.
The strange landscapes work in conjunction with director Alberto Cardone’s seemingly intentional efforts to give the show an obviously artificial feel at times by presenting set pieces and episodic interludes that are noticeably mannered and formalised. Some of these interludes possess an almost music video-like quality such is the way that Michele Lacerenza’s brilliant music (which ticks all of the right boxes in terms of dramatic trumpets and jangly guitar sounds) and Cardone and cinematographer Gino Santini’s pleasing visuals come together in moments of sometimes quite transcendent synergy.
As well as being bold enough to have formal fun with these interludes, Cardone also takes care to make sure that enough time is afforded to developing the show’s many supporting characters, which allows them to become more fully fleshed out and rounded individuals. When all hell breaks loose during the film’s final shoot out — which features a fairly novel configuration of characters – the supporting players are all given camera time that captures the poignancy of their deaths amidst the chaotic and violent melee that they’re caught up in.
The show’s finale also features some unusual and striking elements that relate directly to the film’s title. Sartana swears that “before sundown there’s gonna be a bloodbath in this valley” and Cardone and Santini supply some well-used shots of the sun that are employed in a dramatic, ominous and metaphorical way. All the while, the sound of an apocalyptic windstorm rages on the soundtrack. Stylish and thoughtfully assembled, Blood at Sundown remains something of a minor gem that will please those who are looking for something a little different from their Spaghetti Westerns.
Wild East’s DVD presentation of Blood at Sundown is very good. The presentation’s picture quality is excellent: the picture is sharp for the most part, the show’s colours are strong and there’s next to nothing in the way of print damage present. The presentation’s sound quality is a bit of a mixed bag. It sounds as though a multitude of sources had to be drawn upon in order to construct the uncut English language dub track used here. While the presentation’s sound is very good in general, there are sections where the quality dips and a bit of background buzz can be heard. It’s not that intrusive but it is there.
A Coffin for the Sheriff
1965 / 1:85 widescreen / 87 min. / Una bara per lo sceriffo /
Starring: Anthony Steffen, Eduardo Fajardo, Arturo Dominici, Luciana Gilli, George Rigaud, Lucio De Santis, Jesus Tordesillas, Maria Vico, Fulvia Franco, Armando Calvo.
Cinematography: Julio Ortas
Film Editor: Antonio Gimeno
Art Directors: José Luis Galicia, Jaime Perez Cubero
Original Music: Francesco De Masi
Written by Guido Malatesta, David Moreno Mingote
Produced by Luigi Mondello
Directed by “William Hawkins” aka Mario Caiano
A vicious attack on a covered wagon serves to introduce the notorious bandit Lupe Rojo (Armando Calvo) and his gang of callous villains. Several heists later, the gang up their game by setting their sights on the big bank at Richmond. As key gang members stake out the town, it is revealed that one of them, Murdock (Eduardo Fajardo), has an abusive and controlling relationship with the town’s saloon owner, Lulu Belle (Fulvia Franco).
The mysterious stranger Shenandoah (Anthony Steffen) rides into town and uses his guile to surreptitiously foil the robbery and get recruited into Lupe’s gang. It transpires that Shenandoah is a vengeance-seeker who is working in conjunction with a local rancher, Wilson (George Rigaud), in order to bring the gang to justice. However, things get complicated and the duo’s plans go awry when Shenandoah discovers that Wilson’s ranch is the gang’s next target.
A Coffin for the Sheriff is one of the most derivative Spaghetti Westerns that I’ve come across in quite some time but it’s an entertaining enough little show nonetheless. The planned bank robbery at Richmond, aspects of Shenandoah and Wilson’s partnership and Shenandoah’s ability to find a legitimate way to join Lupe’s gang cannot help but bring to mind key plot points from Sergio Leone’s For a Few Dollars More (1965). Indeed, there’s even an incidental bit of business with a musical pocket watch included here.
Similarly, Shenandoah slips away from the gang at night and does a bit of hard riding against the clock (in an effort to warn Wilson about Lupe’s plans) that brings to mind Joe’s (Clint Eastwood) nocturnal horseback outings in Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. As in that film, our hero’s duplicitous actions are discovered when he returns to the gang’s hideout and the severe beating that Shenandoah receives at the hands of Lupe’s gang appears to have been closely modelled on the beating that Joe suffered in the Leone film.
Sadly director Mario Caiano’s work here isn’t as stylish as Leone’s and the show’s direction and cinematography remains fairly run-of-the-mill. The show’s writers also chose to load the film with a multitude of melodramatic subplots that serve to give it the feel of an American B Western from the 1950s at times. Lulu Belle clearly dislikes Murdoch but she is powerless to resist his nasty demands because she fears his short temper. Lulu Belle subsequently takes a shine to Shenandoah when he shows up in town but nothing comes of her interest.
Wilson has a pretty daughter, Jane (Luciana Gilli), who also takes a shine to Shenandoah after initially being rude to him. However, her main function is to serve as A Coffin for the Sheriff’s chief woman-in-peril during the film’s final chapter. There’s also a further quite interesting female character present here in the form of Elsie (Maria Vico). Elsie has become Lupe Rojo’s abused love interest after being kidnapped by the bandit, which presents a further scenario that serves to bring to mind a plot point from A Fistful of Dollars.
Not all genre fans care for Anthony Steffen’s work but I tend to enjoy his films. He looks the part and he was able to establish something of an iconic character image that followed him from Western to Western. A Coffin for the Sheriff doesn’t rank amongst Steffen’s best genre films but it does feature many of the tropes that genre fans came to associate with his characters’ adventures out West.
Here he befriends a slightly comical old coot, Slim (Jesus Tordesillas), receives an overly severe beating that leaves him bloodied and is placed in restraints that he has to escape from in an ingenious manner. And he does a bit of spinning and diving before shooting, which results in him dispatching his enemies from his favoured position of being laid low down on the ground. And his box jacket’s collar gets turned up when he means business.
However, this film is distinguished by its well-choreographed and action-packed finale. Everything happens very quickly once the violence erupts but the ensuing violent melee features a fairly unusual configuration of characters whose actions result in some quite surprising outcomes. This multi-character melee is actually something of a false ending that leads onto a more traditional bit of one-on-one gunplay. It’s all well worth sticking around for.
Genre stalwart Francesco De Masi’s soundtrack score for A Coffin for the Sheriff works well for the most part. It’s not the best Spaghetti Western score you’ll hear — it sounds more like a score for an American B Western from the 1950s at times — but it functions well enough. The film’s front titles sport a decent little ballad — ‘A Lone and Angry Man’ — that is sung in a convincing manner by Pete Tevis.
Interestingly, it was Ennio Morricone’s work with Tevis on an arrangement of Woody Guthrie’s ‘Pastures of Plenty’ that got him the job of scoring Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. And director Mario Caiano had previously helmed Bullets Don’t Argue (1964), the bigger budgeted Italian Western that Jolly Film produced back-to-back with Leone’s much cheaper debut Western.
This is a low budget genre entry but there’s plenty of action to be had and the quality of the show’s acting isn’t too bad. Steffen is often assessed to be quite wooden by his detractors but his impassive approach fits the bill in this kind of show. Sporting blonde hair and a few extra pounds, genre stalwart Eduardo Fajardo is virtually unrecognizable as the brutish Murdock. Leone regular Frank Brana and an assortment of familiar faces from the genre’s less prestigious efforts can be found in effective supporting roles.
Wild East’s DVD of A Coffin for the Sheriff is not one of their best presentations picture quality wise. It’s perfectly watchable but it has been mastered from a fairly grainy source and lacks the sharpness and clarity that most of the company’s releases sport. This is perhaps understandable given the film’s quite marginal status. The presentation’s sound quality is very good for the most part.
Reviewed by Lee Broughton
A Coffin for the Sheriff & Blood at Sundown
Movie: Sundown: Very Good; Coffin: Fair / Good
Video: Sundown: Excellent; Coffin: Good
Sound: Sundown: Very Good / Good; Coffin: Very Good
Supplements: two image galleries, three trailers
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 30, 2018
Text © Copyright 2018 Lee Broughton
CineSavant Text © Copyright 2018 Glenn Erickson